On June 7th, 2017, Touro College librarians gathered at the Midtown campus for a Wikipedia editing event facilitated by Lane Rasberry, Wikipedian-in-Residence at Consumer Reports. Lane has visited the Touro Campus several times before for student events, but this was the first time that our librarians would be loosed on Wikipedia’s entries. If you thought Wikipedia and librarians (always carrying on about scholarly sources this and databases that) don’t mix, you’d be surprised! The model Wikipedia article is based on authoritative, often scholarly, information sources, and each fact included in an entry should be supported with an appropriate citation. In fact, the criteria for becoming a “Featured Article” on Wikipedia sound a lot like a good literature review: well-written, comprehensive, well-researched, and neutral.
Read on to hear about Touro librarians’ experiences editing Wikipedia in their own words:
This past week many of the Touro Librarians got together and with Lane Rasberry, the Wikipedian-in-residence for Consumer Reports as our Wikipedia leader, we officially had our first Wikipedia edit-a-thon session. The participating librarians came in with diverse topics, from the history of the Library of Pergamum to the Alpha-gal allergy to Intermittent Fasting. They all had done their research beforehand and had detected problems with articles on their chosen topics in Wikipedia. After Lane explained the steps of how to edit an article, our librarians jumped on the opportunity to use their expertise to improve and correct the entries. They did that by filling in gaps in information, by substituting older sources with more recent and academic resources, and by fixing the language to make it sound more objective and less biased. It was not long before the first duo added a missing date and its related citation. Though I did not get a chance to edit an article during this session, I enjoyed watching my colleagues turning into geeks surrounded by articles and books and delving into the vast realm of Wikipedia. I hope that this summer, I will get the opportunity to edit some articles as well.
-Sara Tabaei, Library Information Literacy Director
The Wikipedia edit-a-thon was a valuable experience for me, because while I have made many edits on Wikipedia going back to shortly after its inception, having Lane present to walk us through the various filters, features and analytics gave me an entirely new understanding of the process. Just adding a photo to an article proved much more complex than I would have thought prior to the workshop [due to their preference for freely-licensed or public domain images]. On the other hand, citing a scholarly article was a breeze, thanks to Wikipedia’s functionality and support.
-Philip Papas, Archivist
The edit-a-thon was informative and it was also interesting to get an insight into how Wikipedia works and the general principles under which it operates.
-Sal Russo, Assistant Director of Libraries for Public Services
I enjoyed learning the ins and outs of editing Wikipedia and adding a citation from Lane Rasberry. He told us of fascinating account of how he was recruited by Consumer Reports to be a Wikipedia specialist after they noticed his active involvement in editing it. He explained that though Wikipedia is a summation of printed sources on various topics, information can nonetheless be brought together in original ways on Wikipedia, e.g., his fascinating compilation of divergent sources to create the Wikipedia entry on the domestication of the Syrian hamster. This information had never before been brought together to create this entire narrative.
-Michoel Rotenfeld, Associate Director of Libraries
Phil and I edited a post on cats’ hearing. He also edited a post about hipsters and bicycles.
-Annette Carr, Business Librarian
I really enjoyed working with Carrie on improving the article on the science fiction concept the Prime Directive. It’s an unusual topic so the sources we found were unusual too. It was pleasantly surprising to find more than one law review article discussing the subject. While we mostly searched for tidbits in the Wikipedia article that had the “citation needed” notation and provided a citation when we had one, we were actually able to correct and improve some of the information as well. Altogether a fun and satisfying experience!
-Toby Krausz, Judaica Librarian
I really enjoyed the edit-a-thon. My editing partner [Toby] and I picked an entry about a concept from Star Trek that we saw needed some citations added, but I think we were both surprised by how quickly we went down a rabbit hole of research trying to find the original sources for supposedly well-known facts about the show! I was happy that we were able to add citations for a few facts using books, journal articles, and other sources, and hope that they will be useful for people viewing the entry. I enjoyed it so much that I think I’ll look for other entries to add information to!
-Carrie Levinson, Scholarly Communications Librarian
My impression is that it would probably be easier to add original content to Wikipedia in the “what you see is what you get” mode than it was for me to add a multi-authored citation while viewing the coding. It kind of drove my crazy. It also drove home that these Wikipedians are a dedicated bunch, and although editing may be a necessary task, I would never view it as fun. And of course the best was meeting the author of the article “Domestication of the Syrian Hamster”. It is not everyday that you meet a hamster enthusiast, or someone who agrees with your view on which images are offensive (dissected animals) and need to be replaced with real live furry cuteness. I am excited to say that photographs of the Hamsters Schapiro will be soon be debuting as the official hamsters of Wikipedia.
-Carol Schapiro, Librarian, Midtown
What I liked the most was that while preparing for the training I learned some new and interesting facts of the topic of my interest (the Library of Pergamum). It was very informative and a lot of fun really.
-Marina Zilberman, Chief Midtown Librarian
It was a fun and eye-opening experience. It made me appreciate how much work goes into make a good Wikipedia article, from tracking down authoritative, primary sources to distilling complex ideas and the challenges of writing collaboratively. Looking at articles critically to find places for improvement also made me more aware of the unevenness of many entries – although there are checks and balances to ensure that the information presented is sound, there still may be gaps or imbalances. Wikipedia is an impressive and complex system with much more going on under the surface than I think many realize.
-Chelsea DeGlopper, Instructional Design Librarian
Yesterday was great, we definitely learned a lot! A few tips for others that might make their experience go quicker and be more efficient in a quick session like yesterday’s. We showed up to the event prepared, by bringing 3 scholarly, but related, journal articles about the alpha-gal allergy. It’s a good idea to be familiar with what the original Wikipedia post says, so you know where there are inconsistencies or missing information in the original post. Creating a Wikipedia account was very easy and passwords did not have to be complex. We loved the ‘page views’ and tracking the history of the particular webpage.
-Keith Pardini, Librarian, Bay Shore
I was especially impressed with the documentation and the metrics available on Wikipedia. It’s really helpful that you can see the history of every update that is made to an article, as well as all the edits done by a particular group (i.e. Touro). Seeing the number of views that an article gets by date and time was also eye-opening. I love how transparent the process is. I would love to have the opportunity to bring this experience to our students – I think they would find it very interesting.
-Laurel Schienfeld, Librarian, Bay Shore
I was excited to go, and the experience didn’t let me down. Lane did a good job. I liked how he got us going right away in the beginning. He worked the room well. I did learn a lot. Considering how many times I am on Wikipedia, I never took advantage of all the features. Lane spoke last time about anyone could do edits. From then I wanted to do some editing but just didn’t. So now I have, and I feel good about it. I want more! I was pleased that Laurel picked alpha gal. Her thinking was that I knew something about it. I looked at the entry and I knew right away there was a missing citation. Of course one thing leads to another. Laurel and I had a fact finding session and had three articles ready to cite in the entry. We should do it with the PA [students] here. It is very empowering. You become part of the process and can make a difference.
-Joan Wagner, Chief Librarian, Bay Shore
The recent collegiate esprit du corps at the Wikipedia workshop, where a number of librarians from various branches came together as a team to contribute to jointly-authored Wikipedia articles, was exciting and exhilarating. The event made us more conscious of how Wikipedia is part of a phenomenon that characterizes the post-modern technological revolutions we are living through.
-David B. Levy, Librarian, Lander College for Women
The Wikipedia session was both enlightening and entertaining. I am amazed at how many people volunteer their time to edit and correct Wikipedia entries. We were shown how to make corrections and add information to articles. I found it very empowering.
-Bashe Simon, Director of Libraries
During this event, Touro librarians edited 14 articles, adding over 2000 words of text and citations.