Wikicite 2018: conference report

On November 27-28 I attended Wikicite in Berkeley, California. This was the third meeting in a series that started in 2016, and the first meeting held in North America. I have had the pleasure of attending all the meetings in the series (in the spirit of disclosure I will add that I was on the organizing committee for the 2018 meeting). 

DarTar, Wikimedia Commons CC0

Wikicite started with a premise: what if every citation in Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects were supported in Wikidata, or in a separate Wikimedia project built in Wikibase? Instead of strings in <ref>tags, we would have identifiers which would allow us to see what sources Wikipedia rests on, and also reveal gap areas. Since that time the conversation had advanced to include the (tantalizing for some and horrifying for others) possibility of a bibliographic moonshot which is “one database to rule them all,” at least in terms of things that are citable. The event brings together Wikimedians, librarians (including a number from national libraries), programmers, data science geeks, ontologists and folks from the publishing world. 

If you want to view two presentations that will give you a feel for the event, look at the slides for or watch Dario Taraborelli ’s opening talk Here be dragons: Uncharted regions of the bibliographic commons (video starts at 17:00) or Phoebe Ayers talk which unpacks what citations are all about in WikiCite: Imagining the future (video starts at 21:00) (also see her 2016 essay What’s a citation good for, anyway?)

This Wikicite event was structured to build on previous events and drive toward future progress:

  • Day one was retrospective, with 10 minute presentations that covered projects and efforts that were somehow related to the Wikicite effort.  
  • Day two was focused on discussing one of three future scenarios for Wikicite, drawn from a roadmap document (in this effort, scenarios 1 and 2 were combined). For those who wanted to opt out of the scenario discussions, there was a tutorial track. 
  • Day three was a do-athon / ideation day in which attendees pitched ideas that were outcomes of day two discussions or that were inspired by other parts of the program.

Libraries and Wikicite

Libraries and librarians are seen as playing a central role in Wikicite. This was reflected in day one of the program where the first of three sessions put a spotlight on library projects. The National Library of Sweden and the National Library of Wales talked about their plans to contribute bibliographic data to Wikidata – both are smallish projects– but very much seen as a first step toward larger contributions. The French organization ABES (which works with higher education libraries ) talked about a planned project  for managing authorities in Wikibase – they are working on this with the Bibliothèque nationale de France. There were also presentations from the LD4P project as well as from the OCLC Linked Data Wikibase Prototype

Discussions around use of Wikibase by libraries and library organizations bring forward some underlying differences between two library and Wiki communities. Library culture and values support cautious, measured and iterative approaches undertaken by a small number of trusted partners.  This can come into conflict with the Wikimedia ethos of “everything open” and “be bold”.

Gaps and inclusion

A question that is asked often at Wikimedia meetings and was asked at Wikicite is “who” or “what” is missing. What knowledge is not being represented, because of biases or lack of documentation? Whose voices are missing from conversations, because those people are unable to travel to the US, or can’t afford to be included. Because they don’t speak English? This is an area where libraries are both positioned to make a difference (because of attention to issues around Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) or be held up as part of the problem (for the most part, large libraries are currently engaged, leaving out the voices / perspectives of smaller, less well-resourced institutions).

Tools for Wikidata

At any Wikidata event, there are demonstrations of a variety of tools that have been developed by members of the community. Some of the tools and import effort are built around using Wikidata to lodge and measure scholarly outputs, seeking to emulate some of the functionality of commercial RIM systems. The main effort travels under the name of Scholia.

What’s next?

The Wikicite conversation continues, and over the next year there is a plan to have satellite events, in conjunction with other conferences and in a variety of geographic locations. Plans are afoot for Wikicite 2019. To stay up to date and join the conversation, join the Wikicite list and follow the #Wikicite hashtag on Twitter, where there continues to be fairly robust discussion.