For many students, research begins with Wikipedia.
Temple University Libraries is looking to give an “experienced Wikipedian” access to library resources to create or improve articles on the history of Philadelphia, history of African-Americans in Philadelphia and the Holocaust.
Steven Bell, an associate university librarian at Temple, wants to embrace Wikipedia by creating more diverse content for students and helping them understand the research process as critical thinkers.
Bell welcomed the idea after learning about Wikipedia’s Visiting Scholar program, which has been implemented at other schools like University of Pittsburgh. Wikipedia Visiting Scholars “tap into your university’s digital resources to write high-quality Wikipedia articles,” according to the website.
“The Wikipedian can then use those resources to research the article to hopefully help improve the quality of the writing whereas Wikipedians who are a member of the public would not have access to these resources or a research database that’s within our network,” Bell said.
The program was developed through the Wiki Education Foundation, which works to bring Wikipedia projects into communities and education.
Bell thought Paley Library should try the program to give their digital collections exposure to a larger population while also enhancing current Wikipedia pages with more content for student research.
Bell said the “real value” is having the library’s digital resources, like the photos from the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection in Sullivan Hall, exposed to a larger number of people.
“You could have someone from any part of the world using your collections remotely,” Bell added.
Paley Library began the process by posting an advertisement on Wikipedia that gives an overview of the library’s resources along with their focus for the program in early August.
The advertisement includes details about the Special Collections Research Center at Temple, which focuses on the history of Philadelphia in the 20th century with content that is relevant to the history of the university.
A scholar would work six months to a year improving Wikipedia pages based on their perspective of the shared information, Bell said.
Bell said that’s where the library had its “best digital content,” but also where some areas had a lack of information.
One article would focus on a former Temple religion professor, Franklin Littell, who established the nation’s first doctoral program in Holocaust studies here in 1976. He witnessed the Holocaust firsthand and documented his experience in a journal, which Paley has in its archives.
Currently, Littell’s Wikipedia page is short and lacking information. Bell hopes the visiting scholar can add to that.
“It would have references to Temple University digital collections, and people who were studying the Holocaust or Franklin Littell would have access to more information,” Bell said. “That way we would expose our holdings to a much larger population. [It’s] this idea of discoverability.”
Ed Galloway, the head of the archives service center at University of Pittsburgh, worked with two visiting scholars last year.
Barbara Page, a Pittsburgh resident, worked on writing completely new pages about women’s health, while Casey Monaghan, who studies at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, edited pages about Stephen Foster, a 19th-century songwriter from the city.
“Because we have done this, they are providing access to brand new knowledge that is now universally available to anyone in the world that was never there before,” Galloway said.
Ryan McGrady, who works as community engagement manager for the Wiki Education Foundation, said university instructors should be more “realistic” about student’s use of Wikipedia.
“It is an unreliable source for a paper or a final stop in research, but it is a great first stop because everything has to be sourced to already existing sources in the world,” McGrady said.
Besides diversifying Wikipedia, Bell hopes that this program will help students have a better experience using Wikipedia.
“Most students are unaware of their resources, including talking to a librarian,” he said. “If we can help them discover valuable content then I think we have accomplished something good.”
Madison Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.