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Top Wikipedia Tips for Librarians: Why You Should Contribute and How You Can Support Your Users

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 May 2014

Making a Difference: Libraries and their Communities

On Thursday 15 May I am giving an invited talk at the CILIP Cymru Wales Library and Information Conference 2014. The theme of this year’s conference is “Making a difference: libraries and their communities“. My contribution to this theme is entitled “Editing Wikipedia: Why You Should and How You Can Support Your Users“. In the talk I’ll be explaining why librarians and information professionals, whether working in academic or public libraries, should have a good understanding of Wikipedia and be able to support their users not only in consuming Wikipedia content but also in creating and updating Wikipedia content.

Top Tips for Librarians on Editing Wikipedia: Why You Should and How You Can Support Your Users

The top Wikipedia tips for librariansIn the talk I’ll be giving my top ten tips for librarians who wish to use Wikipedia to support their community. These are summarized below.

1: Understand why Wikipedia is important to librarians

In a talk entitled Wikipedia in the library – the elephant in the (reading) room? presented at the LILAC 2014 conference Nancy Graham and Andrew Gray pointed out a perceived problem: “The kids these days are reading too many encyclopedias“. However rather than regarding the popularity of Wikipedia as a problem librarians should welcome the opportunity this “perfect teaching moment” can provide. We can help students how to tell the good from the bad; how to think critically about online material and how they can engage with the means of production.

We should also be prepared to question what librarians and academic mean when they say “don’t”. The Wikimedia UK’s Expert Outreach page provides some example of the benefits of use of Wikipedia in education. For example in the Wikimedia UK Annual Review 2012-13 [PDF] Cameron Neylon, Public Library of Science, argued that:

If you’re serious about ensuring public engagement in your research then you need to make damn sure your work can be incorporated into Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the most important engagement channel for your research.

and in an article entitled “21st-century Scholarship and Wikipedia” published in the Ariadne ejournal Amber Thomas, a former JISC Programme Manager, described how:

Wikipedia is an illustration of the way that academic work needs to change to benefit from a more educated public, a more networked world, in an age of information abundance. 21st-century scholars should be working with it, not against it.

In light of the popularity of Wikipedia with the user community, it is suggested that librarians should gain an understanding of the value it can provide.

2: Understand how Wikipedia is being used in education

The Eduwiki (UK) 2013 conference was held in Cardiff on 1-2 December 2013. The event, the second EduWiki conference held in the UK, included case studies on use of Wikipedia in higher education and the schools sector. Two of the presentations were of particular relevance to librarians:

  1. Nancy Graham and Lisa Anderson outlined work at the University of Birmingham on Safe use of Wikipedia in the transition from school to University.
  2. Humphrey Southall’s talk on Introducing Students to Independent Research Through Editing Wikipedia Articles on English Villages described how “Each student on a large first year human geography course at the University of Portsmouth is assigned a different Wikipedia stub article, unedited for at least a year, about an English village. They are required to extend it “to provide a rounded description of the place and … an account of its historical development””.

In brief, librarians should seek to gain an understanding of the approaches being take to use of Wikipedia within the education sector. The

3: Gain a better understanding of the Wikipedia service

Librarians would be expected to understand advanced how search interfaces work in order to be able to support their user community. Similarly librarians should gain an understanding of the development of Wikipedia articles which can be seen from use of the View History option. The Talk page may also provide useful summary of discussions about the evolution and scope of Wikipedia articles.

4: Be willing to update Wikipedia articles

The entry for Ely in the Wikipedia article on Libraries in Cardiff states that:

Ely Library is due to undergo development Mid 2014, with plans to move into the Jasmine Centre on Cowbridge Road.

At some point during 2014 this will need updating. In addition to changes to the date this sentence doesn’t read very well – wouldn’t “Ely Library is due to undergo development by mid 2014” be an improvement? If you are a librarian or information professional should you take responsibilities for updating incorrect information and improving its readability, especially if such updates could be done in seconds?

5: Create a Wikipedia account

You can make updates to Wikipedia articles without having a Wikipedia account. But having an account and signing in when making updates has several advantages: as well as keeping a record of your contributions you need to be signed in in order to create new articles, join in discussions and have customised preferences.

6: Create a Wikipedia profile

lawsonstu rofileAlthough you do not need to create a profile page, such pages can be used to provide a summary of your interests and your involvement with Wikipedia. Creating a user profile can also provide an opportunity to learn Wikimedia markup language.

A good approach to creating your user profile is to browse existing user profiles and make use of the markup of one’s which appeal to you. For example Msnancygraham’s profile is a good example of a simple profile whereas Lawsonstu’s profile contains more advanced markup features, as illustrated.

7: Be ethical

When showing others how to use Wikipedia it’s not a good idea to encourage them to vandalise a page in order to demonstrate how quickly such updates are removed – remember that Wikipedia volunteers may have to remove such vandalism.

8: Be prepared for your contributions to be changed (but be willing to get involved in discussions on Talk page)

The fact that anyone can edit Wikipedia articles has been regarded as a weakness of the service but it is now increasingly being acknowledged as a strength. However you should be aware that updates that you make may be removed or new articles deleted. If you are thinking about making significant changes to an article it would be advisable to use the article’s Talk page to state your intentions.

9: Understand the Wikipedia principles

The reason that updates are removed or new articles deleted is likely to be due to a failure to observe the five fundamental principles by which the Wikimedia community operates. Wikipedia:

  1. is an encyclopedia
  2. is written from a neutral point of view
  3. is free content that anyone can edit / use/ modify / share
  4. editors should respect each other
  5. does not have any firm rules

In particular note that original research should not be published in Wikipedia articles. All research must come from published sources such as peer-reviewed journals and books; University-level textbooks; magazines, journals and books published by respected publishing houses; mainstream newspapers; etc. Also note that content should be provided from a neutral point of view:

  • If your viewpoint is in the majority, then it should be easy to substantiate it with reference to commonly accepted reference texts;
  • If your viewpoint is held by a significant minority, then it should be easy to name prominent adherents;
  • If your viewpoint is held by an extremely small minority, then — whether it’s true or not, whether you can prove it or not — it doesn’t belong in Wikipedia, except perhaps in some ancillary article.

10: Support others (and feel free to reuse existing materials)

Librarians will be well-positioned to support their users in making effective use of Wikipedia. This is particularly appropriate for the CILIP Wales conference in light of this year’s theme: “Making a difference: libraries and their communities“. As might be expected, the Wikipedia community is very supportive of openness and sharing so there is no need to design your training courses from scratch.

11: Don’t forget Wicipedia!

This post has provided ten tips for librarians wishing to support use of Wikipedia. Since the talk I will be giving will take place at the CILIP Wales conference I felt it would be appropriate to provide an additional top for Welsh librarians or librarians working in Wales: Don’t forget Wicipedia!

Slideshow

Note that the slides to be used in the presentation are available on Slideshare and embedded below:

Beyond the Presentation

Each year the Cetis conference provides an opportunity for developers, learning technologists, lectures and policy makers to come together to discuss recent innovations in the domain of education technology. This year’s conference, Cetis 2014, has the theme “Building the Digital Institution: Technological Innovation in Universities and Colleges“. In one of the parallel sessions myself and my colleague Simon Grant will be facilitating a half-day session on Open Knowledge: Wikipedia and Beyond. As described in the abstract:

Wikipedia is great resource for open education, but what challenges need to be faced to make it into an even more valuable educational resource? It remains the most significant encyclopaedic reference based in user generated content which seeks to develop an “open commons” based on consensus approaches and use of Wikipedia’s “Five pillars” principles which includes content being provided from a neutral point of view.

Participants with no experience of Wikipedia editing will be invited to create a Wikipedia user profile, and to understand the basics of creating and editing Wikipedia content. Experienced Wikipedia editors will have the option of sharing a lightning talk on what they consider to be its most significant challenges.

The session will go beyond the basic of editing Wikipedia articles and provide an opportunity for participants to address:

challenges include[ing] a skewed demographic of editors, and a culture that can too easily descend into edit wars, and conflict between “inclusionists” and “deletionists”. Can we envisage changes to make Wikipedia better, or that could seed a better alternative? Could aspiring editors be required to learn and prove their understanding of the governance principles before being allowed to edit? Can consensus process be trained? And would different approaches such as those taken by GitHub, the P2P Foundation, etc. help to improve the culture?

If you’ve an interest in going beyond the basics you may wish to consider attending the Cetis 2014 conference. Note that the online registration form is open for bookings.


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One Response to “Top Wikipedia Tips for Librarians: Why You Should Contribute and How You Can Support Your Users”

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