Thursday, February 27, 2014

Diversity and the Hive Mind: A few thoughts on Wikipedia Edit-a-thons

On Tuesday, Grace Yoo posted about the well-documented gender gap among Wikipedia editors, and I want to add to that with a few thoughts on why I think contributing to Wikipedia is exciting and worthwhile.

A few weeks ago, as we were finalizing logistics for our upcoming Seven Sisters Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, I was greatly inspired to hear about the huge success of the recent Art+Feminism Edit-a-thon. Based in NYC but with satellite locations all over the world, participants created 101 new Wikipedia articles for women artists previously not represented in this popular crowd-sourced encyclopedia. Such a monumental show of effort speaks to what we can accomplish if we all pitch in at once.

A headline about the the Art+Feminism Edit-a-thon caught my eye in The Guardian last week, and I was disappointed when it took me to an opinion piece on an Art & Design blog questioning the value of this effort. The author is cynical about the project of “editing truth” as a collective and asks if Wikipedia is really the best place to promote women in art. To my mind, it’s not exactly a promotional campaign to make sure information is available when people go looking for it, but I certainly think it’s worthwhile (being a librarian, this is pretty much what my career is about). Also, and perhaps most crucially, editing Wikipedia is not an activity that defines truth; it’s an activity that improves a reference source. Wikipedia itself makes clear that it is a place to aggregate knowledge, not to create or publish new knowledge. As is true for any reference source, what information is gathered and how it is presented depends on the editors. We trust scholars in different fields to appropriately aggregate and present important information in the Encyclopedia Brittanica (for an easy example). When it comes to Wikipedia, this responsibility falls to all of us.

The great idealistic vision underlying Wikipedia is that if we have a big enough and diverse enough group of editors, we can achieve a level of neutrality and of accuracy unheard of in any other encyclopedia. Diversity in the hive mind isn’t easy, and the recent struggles of Wikipedia illustrate that clearly. But the ideal is a good one. At Mount Holyoke, as at any college, we have privileged access to scholarly information through the library’s collections and databases. Let’s pull out these books and journals and share some of this information with the rest of the world. 

If we keep it up, we just might make a difference. 

I hope to see you at the edit-a-thon on Tuesday!

Event details:

Date: March 4, 2014
Time: 4-8pm (stop in for as long or as little as you like!)
Location: Williston Library, atrium
What to bring: You! Laptops are useful but not necessary.

All are welcome! There will be popcorn and progress!

Check out our event page on Wikipedia for details about concurrent events at Barnard and Smith and events later this month at Bryn Mawr and the Radcliffe Institute.

No comments:

Post a Comment