Wikipedia and libraries are allies and need to work together, according to Alex Stinson and Jake Orlowitz of the Wikimedia Foundation. Their forum, “Library Engagement and Wikipedia,” at the International Federation of Library Associations’ 2016 World Library and Information Congress in Columbus, Ohio, expanded on that theme, explaining how and why the two often at-odds factions should join forces to provide more complete and accurate scholarship.
Stinson and Orlowitz began with a general Wikipedia overview, and the stats were staggering. Wikipedia ranks in the top five visited websites on the planet, with 15 billion page views each month. It features 40 million articles; has 80,000 monthly contributors; contains 32 million media files in its Wikimedia Commons; and has 280 different language versions.
The breadth and scope of information available on Wikipedia leads to questions of authenticity. With so many encyclopedic entries, all written and sourced by volunteers, how can the content be verified for accuracy? Librarians are key to closing those gaps, according to Stinson and Orlowitz. Although librarians have viewed the encyclopedic website with suspicion for years, they have softened, the speakers said, and collaboration will be beneficial for both sides.
Wikipedia needs librarians to help confirm references. The contributions help provide factually accurate Wikipedia pages and also legitimize them. In January 2016, the organization started the #1Lib1Ref campaign to recruit help in this task, inviting libraries to host referencing events where participants confirm citations on Wikipedia entries. Twelve libraries and institutions from three countries hosted events in January, and another round of the campaign is in the works.
Libraries can use Wikipedia as a gateway into their communities as well by hosting local history documentation events, Stinson and Orlowitz said. They encourage libraries to invite their communities to document their cultural heritage onsite and then submit the pages to Wikipedia. They described the efforts of a network of public libraries in Catalonia, which organized events at 950 libraries to document the history and culture of the region for Wikipedia.
Vicki McDonald, a librarian at the State Library of New South Wales who joined Stinson and Orlowitz midsession, detailed additional collaborations. McDonald traveled around Australia training librarians to edit Wikipedia entries. She further stressed the importance of library and Wikipedia pairings, noting that the intense research can help build library staff competencies.