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Librarians edit diversity into Wikipedia content

Temple hosted the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon last Friday.

A group of Temple librarians spent last Friday in the Paley Library basement looking through what is often touted as one of the most unreliable online sources—Wikipedia.

One of the numerous reasons for the doubt of the world’s largest online encyclopedia comes from a 2011 survey of Wikipedia editors conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation. It found that only about 13 percent of all contributors were women, which led to further investigation of there being a lack of content about women.

That’s why Temple took part in the third annual Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on Friday, a worldwide initiative where people gather to generate more coverage of women in the arts on Wikipedia and encourage female editorship. This year was Temple’s first time getting involved with the event, partnering with the University of the Arts, which held its Edit-a-thon earlier that day.

As an art librarian at Temple, Jill Luedke led the charge in hosting the event and putting together the list of Philadelphia-area artists, institutions and organizations that attendees would either help create new articles about or help expand with edits. This was her first direct involvement with a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, but with plenty of help from other librarians, she felt the event was a good chance to learn about the ins and outs of Wikipedia as a source.

“With events like this, there’s an attempt to improve the quality of it, and I think if you’re involved in an event like this, you can see ways in which you could evaluate the quality or evaluate articles on Wikipedia when you learn more about it and learn more about how to edit it,” Luedke said.

Some of the librarians, like Caitlin Shanley and Doreva Belfiore, had previous experience editing or writing articles on Wikipedia, which helped with the training sessions they held for those new to the platform.

Alison Miner edits Wikipedia entries on Friday. | DANIEL RAINVILLE TTN

Alison Miner edits Wikipedia entries on Friday. | DANIEL RAINVILLE TTN

Shanley, an American, Asian and women’s studies librarian at Temple, completed a new article on Barbara Sizemore, the first African-American woman to head the public school system in a major city, at a previous Edit-a-thon she attended. She said her experience as a librarian made her more meticulous and careful with the wording, citations and sourcing for the article, but even then, there were continuous edits made to the article after she published it.

It speaks to the intricacies of Wikipedia’s rules and guidelines, like someone having to be “notable” enough to even have an article written about them. The difficulty may be a byproduct of the lack of diverse editorship at Wikipedia. But as a librarian, Shanley feels a responsibility to make contributions, even if they may be smaller ones.

“Just knowing that it’s such a widely used resource, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing but it does, I personally feel, obligate us to try to make it more diverse and more representative of our world,” she said. “I think it’s helpful to start small.”

Kristina DeVoe, an English and communications librarian at Temple, started making edits on Wikipedia last year and has had a run-in with one article that contained “clear biases and omissions”—North Philadelphia. It was just one example of why she feels the need to have many voices share their perspectives.

“To me, that’s what this is, joining a conversation and kind of sharing a story and making a story longer, better, bigger, more interesting, more fascinating, more compelling,” DeVoe said.

With Tyler adjunct professors like Jennifer Pascoe and Alice Price at the event offering their input on articles for women in the arts like Hedi Kyle and Jane Golden, the organizers felt the event was a success for its first run at Temple, even though its attendance rate was hampered by the fact that it was held during spring break.

For next year’s Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, Luedke hopes to connect with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which hosted its own event Saturday, to make it a citywide initiative. Jenifer Baldwin, a film and media arts librarian and one of the other organizers, said these kinds of events can welcome any variety of people.

“We each have particular identities, but also occupations, pursuits and repositories of knowledge we can contribute to,” Baldwin said. “So hopefully there may be many thematic events and Edit-a-thons where we could address a wider array of those too.”

Albert Hong can be reached at albert.hong@temple.edu.

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