How Wikipedia works, the anatomy of an editathon

Last year, at the RBMS preconference in Minneapolis, I was joined by Bob Kosovsky (New York Public Library) Ryan Cartwright (MNopedia Associate Project Editor, Minnesota Historical Society) and János McGhie (St. Paul Public Library) for what I thought was a great session on the connections between Wikipedia and libraries (you can find a link to the audio from the session by scrolling down here). We had a great turn out (standing room only!), and a lot of interest for further involvement. So for the 2014 preconference in Las Vegas, Bob and I put in a proposal for a workshop on Wikipedia, hoping to capitalize on the interest showed by our colleagues. Unfortunately (for us), there were too many fantastic workshop proposals put forward and we were asked to reapply for 2015. 

Bob and I were disappointed but regrouped — all we really needed, we reasoned, was a room with wireless and projection, and a place where people could sit with laptops, someplace not too far from the conference venue. So, in be bold fashion, we approached the University of Las Vegas Libraries. Fortunately, they had a conference room available that fit the bill so we were back on! Thank you, UNLV!

Editing libraries into Wikipedia [Wikimedia Commons]

Editing libraries into Wikipedia [Wikimedia Commons]

Held on June 27th, the first ever RBMS Wikipedia Editathon was more “how to” than an actual working session (although we did get some editing done!). We covered some basics like editing and creating citations (and took a tour of the Visual Editor — if you have a Wikipedia User account and install this, it will make your editing life much easier, unless you are already a Mediawiki markup wizard). We also looked at Wikimedia Commons, a repository for image and other files. Participants exchanged tips on how to host an editathon for different audiences (I loved hearing about what Mt Holyoke has been up to, with students, staff, faculty and alum all participating). We discussed conflict of interest (an important topic for GLAM professionals) and notability. We also talked about how to react when our edits or contributions are reverted.

So, did we achieve all of our goals and objectives? On the one hand, there was very little “product” in terms of improving articles that came out of our time together. On the other hand, most of our participants came into the workshop with a Wikipedia user account but had not done a lot of editing. Everyone had a little knowledge, but I feel like we are all stronger editors for having shared experiences with one another.

My personal takeaway is that I’d like to do more of these events, however informal, at professional conferences I attend in the future. Fortunately, the next meeting I’ll be attending is Wikimania (which will be wall to wall inspiration) followed by the Society of American Archivists meeting, where Dominic McDevitt-Parks (NARA) and Sara Snyder (Smithsonian Archives of American Art) will be hosting a session called “Editathon: You Have One Hour to Increase Access to Archival Science Info on Wikipedia…Go!” So, the next time you see me at a meeting, please ask about editing libraries and archives into Wikipedia!

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