Written by Emily Jack, Digital Projects and Outreach Librarian, North Carolina Collection Gallery, UNC-Chapel Hill
The trend of libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions hosting edit-a-thons takes place amid a unique cultural moment when it comes to Wikipedia.
The online encyclopedia’s name was once met with almost universal derision, scorned for the appearance of inaccurate information contributed by fools or by devious editors with an axe to grind. But that negative perception has been changing for several years. Even university professors, who used to tell students to avoid Wikipedia like the plague, are increasingly assigning projects that include editing Wikipedia.
Changes in the public’s perception of Wikipedia have come about partly because nearly everyone uses it. Wikipedia’s ubiquity, thoroughness, and ease of use far outweigh users’ concerns about its accuracy.
Wikipedia’s image has also been bolstered by the Wikimedia Foundation’s dedicated efforts to engage professionals from the cultural heritage sector. The Foundation recognizes that, as custodians of the world’s information, librarians and archivists have much to contribute to the world’s largest encyclopedia. And, reciprocally, we recognize that putting information in Wikipedia is a natural extension of our mission.
Libraries share information. It’s why we exist.
Historically, people seeking information had to come to us, either physically or virtually. Of course, it’s been a long time since that was the case. People still do come to us for deeper research questions and for the many other affordances we offer. But for the quick question, prompted by curiosity or need, they turn to the easy, thorough, ubiquitous tool: Wikipedia. Since we’re giving away information for free, shouldn’t we put it where people will look for it?
Hosting edit-a-thons helps us carve out the time and space to do that, while harnessing the enthusiasm of event attendees.
Here are eight other reasons why hosting an edit-a-thon might align with the goals of your institution:
If you’re convinced of the reasons why to host an edit-a-thon, this toolkit can tell you how. All you need to do is come up with the where, the when, and the who.