How often do you use Wikipedia? If you’re anything like me, probably a lot! I’ve been interested in exploring the relationship between libraries and what I’m pretty sure it’s the only encyclopedia I’ve ever used for a long time (giant physical copies were already on their way out by the time I was old enough to use one). Sad story, though: when I was an undergrad preparing to apply for library school, I included a link to the Wikipedia page on stereoscopes in a post on my personal blog about my university’s special collections. I was soon told by a librarian that I would be looked down on as a future library professional if I included links to Wikipedia in a post I wanted to be taken seriously. I remembering wondering right then if I would fit in in the library world–I wasn’t citing it in my dissertation, I just wanted readers to see a picture and get a brief overview of what the contraption was. From then on, I was constantly aware of this Wikipedia/library tension boiling under the surface, but I wanted no part of it.
During my time in grad school so far I haven’t done much to escape Wikipedia; I’ve taught information literacy sessions that deliberately incorporated Wikipedia and helped organize a Wikipedia edit-a-thon in our University Archives. And though Wikipedia can be a contentious issue for some librarians, particularly those from a different generation, Wikipedia’s GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) project is making new strides toward partnerships with cultural heritage institutions. The reason many disparage Wikipedia–it’s not necessarily a credible information source, they say–is exactly the reason it needs librarians! The project started as a means to tap into the wisdom of those working at cultural institutions, people who are often subject experts on countless treasures. There is growing awareness that by acknowledging Wikipedia’s existence and matching our teaching and outreach activities accordingly, we can stay relevant to our patrons and create new opportunities to share our incredible, often unique items and materials. Sure, the criticisms are there… but being real about what Wikipedia is and isn’t and doing our part to make it better is vital.
If you’re so inclined, here are some ways to get involved, from least time-intensive to most:
- Talk to peers and colleagues who are skeptical of Wikipedia. Maybe this recent OCLC webinar will change a negative opinion.
- Spread the word about the GLAM Project and encourage your library to participate.
- Start editing articles related to your institution’s collections (be sure to adhere to the conflict of interest guidelines, though… and you may want to take a look at the National Archives’ stance for additional guidance)
- Organize an edit-a-thon in your GLAM institution.
- Be a Wikipedian-in-Residence. If you have specialized knowledge in a particular subject area and Wikipedia editing skills, you’ll be in demand. (If you’re a beginner, you might not be selected for these positions in prominent institutions. However, suggesting this role for yourself at a local museum or archive is completely acceptable!)
So, what do you think? What sort of relationship should libraries, archives and other cultural institutions have with Wikipedia?