In April 2017, the William H. Hannon Library partnered with faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies to host an all-day Wikipedia edit-a-thon to support teaching information literacy and digital literacy skills to students enrolled in “Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Contemporary Society” (WGST 1100). Students from these classes were invited to drop-in anytime during the 8-hour event to learn basic techniques for reading, analyzing, and editing Wikipedia articles.
In higher education classrooms today, there is no avoiding Wikipedia. It is the fifth most-visited website on the Internet. Recent studies by the Pew Research Center, education scholars, and librarians show that use of Wikipedia has increased not only among students as part of their research process, but also among faculty who integrate the use of Wikipedia into their assignments. Moreover, use of Wikipedia tends to increase as students progress from first-years to graduating seniors.
A major part of Wikipedia's success is that anyone can contribute to its content. It is the largest encyclopedia in the world, comprised of over 45 million articles in almost 290 languages. However, surveys conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation show that the majority of Wikimedia editors are white, male, and English-speaking. To counter this hegemonic narrative, cultural institutions and institutions of higher ed have hosted hundreds of Wikipedia edit-a-thon of the past decade. These edit-a-thons bring together people from marginalized or underrepresented groups to collectively edit and improve Wikipedia's content, with an eye toward greater inclusivity and broader perspective. By providing edit-a-thon attendees with access to credible resources (e.g. library databases, museum archives) in a communal, engaging environment, it is hoped that at least a portion of those who participate will go one to become regular contributors to Wikipedia.
The skills that librarians can bring to Wikipedia — specifically the ability to critically evaluate and synthesize multiple sources, locate credible information and deconstruct bias — and their talent to teach those skills makes us uniquely qualified to host an edit-a-thon. As part of the LMU Library edit-a-thon, librarians pre-selected a list of Wikipedia articles related to the topics discussed in WGST 1100 and that needed improvement (in some cases, articles for the topics discussed in class did not yet exist). Librarians were on-hand all day to help students set up Wikipedia user accounts, understand the editorial philosophies of Wikipedia, and learn about basic editing techniques. Students were encouraged to explore pages related to class topics that interested them, to examine what voices or perspectives may be lacking, and to use library resources to in order to supplement existing articles with that content. If it was the case that an article on their topic did not exist, students were encouraged to create one!
By the end of the day, over 80 students stopped by to spend at least one hour learning about and using Wikipedia.