Last Friday, the Libraries was treated to a visit by Michael Barera, the University of Michigan School of Information student who served as the Wikipedian-in-Residence at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library last winter. Michael gave a public presentation and met with a number of individuals and groups here at the Libraries to talk about his experience. He gave a great overview of the work he did at the Ford, and of how Wikipedia works behind-the-scenes. I attended the presentation and a small group meeting, and left with some interesting takeaways that I wanted to share. These were by no means the focus of his talk, or of the majority of the conversation, but they are the bits that jumped out at me.
Wikipedia v. Flickr
Michael is a prolific photographer, and he posts his images to a gallery on Wikimedia Commons. Following Commons policy, he releases his photographs under a Creative Commons license (his choice is CC BY-SA). In the Q&A period after his talk, someone asked Michael why he chooses to share his images on Commons, rather than Flickr. His answer should provide food for thought for libraries who share their images on third-party sites. He gave two main reasons. 1. He prefers that his images support a non-profit entity such as Wikimedia, rather than a commercial outfit like Yahoo! (owner of Flickr). 2. While there are fewer images on Wikimedia Commons (and partly because there are fewer images), the description and categorization functions are far superior to Flickr’s. He described some interesting uses of his work that were made possible by open licensing and discoverability. Both of these are legitimate considerations for libraries, and his answer inspired me to put Commons on my mental list of options for increasing access to digitized library collections.
Getting started with Wikipedia
Michael was asked a number of times how we could ‘grow our own’ Wikipedians. His answers invariably stressed that it is easier to incorporate an existing Wikipedian into the library than to turn a librarian into a Wikipedian. He gave as reasons the patience and persistence required to become an editor, and the need to develop the trust of the editing community – neither of which is a trivial undertaking. When pressed, however, he gave a great piece of advice on how to get started editing Wikipedia. First, create an account on the site. Second, sign into it whenever you visit Wikipedia. Third, if you find a typo while you’re reading, correct it. Fixing typos is not glamorous work, but it will build your confidence and start to develop a solid editing record that is visible to the community through your user page. Guess what’s on my to-do list for this week?
Before meeting Michael, I was unaware of the extent to which the Wikipedia community supports using its various sites as teaching tools. In fact, there is an entire Wikipedia Education Program. There’s also a lot of great information on the Outreach Wiki about other education-related initiatives, including Wikipedia student clubs, and the GLAM project. Michael also shared with us this video on a project by a Michigan chemistry professor to improve student writing by having them edit Wikipedia.
I believe we are still exploring the possibility of having our own Wikipedian-in-Residence at the Libraries, and I hope we find a way to make it happen. It would be a challenging assignment at a place this size, but last Friday’s event convinced me that the opportunities are definitely worth it.