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Improve access to knowledge and empower citizens: Amplify libraries and communities through Wikipedia

Library staff will learn to contribute to Wikipedia, engage their community members, and better leverage collections.

Photo of Sharon Streams
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Describe your project.

English Wikipedia is the sixth most visited website in the U.S. and attracts up to 15% of all Internet visitors per day.* Wikipedia is frequently a starting point for researching a topic, but libraries can extend and strengthen the path of learning on and beyond Wikipedia. This project will support libraries to meet information seekers where they are and improve their quest for knowledge.

A community of volunteer Wikipedia editors (“Wikipedians”) works collaboratively to make as much knowledge as possible accessible to all. A limitation in this endeavor is that a great deal of knowledge is out of reach, due to the digital and economic divide. This is where libraries come in.

Public libraries provide free, open access to authoritative materials, such as published books, monographs and peer-reviewed journals; most also hold collections related to or produced by the local community. And for many people, libraries are their only affordable connection to the world of online information, thanks to public computers and internet access. This project will help make library resources more visible to Wikipedians, most of whom currently rely on free online sources for building Wikipedia content, and library staff be more effective Wikipedia guides for community members.

This project will reinforce libraries as stewards of quality information, standard bearers for information literacy, and curators of authoritative collections. While anyone can contribute to Wikipedia and its growing base of knowledge, knowing how to edit Wikipedia remains a mystery to most people, even information professionals. This project will equip library staff to become Wikipedia editors and to engage community members to join them and other local Wikipedians toward collecting and extending access to knowledge.

WebJunction and OCLC Research will work with a Wikipedian-in-Residence to deliver a national training program that will build library staff skills to create and edit Wikipedia articles and implement a Wikipedia outreach program in their local community. This will include teaching library staff the basics of Wikipedia editing and community norms, and giving library staff tools to engage local, experienced Wikipedians in related library events and activities.

To achieve a national scale, training will mostly be delivered online, through WebJunction’s learning platform; additional in-person training sessions will be held in conjunction with select regional library conferences. A facilitated community of practice will support librarians and Wikipedians as they ignite and feed interest in finding, creating and synthesizing knowledge in their community.

*http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/US, http://www.economist.com/news/international/21597959-popular-online-encyclopedia-must-work-out-what-next-wikipeaks

How does this project advance the library field?

Leading up to and through the 20th century, users went to the library as a reliable source of information and knowledge. Today, users search Wikipedia and Google from the convenience of computers and other devices and find a great deal of content, but with less assurance about the quality and veracity of that information.

Wikipedia helps to address this situation by providing a framework to assess whether Wikipedia articles are supported by quality sources and have been verified as accurate, neutral and complete. Only 4,727 of the 5,104,308 English Wikipedia articles (0.1%) fully meet these standards.* Libraries have the authoritative materials and librarians have the reference expertise to help close this gap.

Wikipedia has been around for fifteen years, which begs the question: why hasn’t this already happened?

Two examples of how Wikipedia has been working to engage libraries and librarians are Wikipedia Loves Libraries and GLAM-Wiki (GLAM stands for galleries, libraries, archives, and museums). These initiatives have been in place since 2012 and 2011, respectively, and have produced many resources for library staff to use. However, in spite of these efforts, at present only 318 Wikipedians identify as librarians (0.001% of all Wikipedians and 0.2% of U.S. librarians).**

One reason that libraries don’t actively work with Wikipedia may be the persistent questions about its quality. Other reasons may be that library staff don’t understand how Wikipedia works, find editing Wikipedia intimidating or see the Wikipedia editing community as impenetrable. However, the most significant barrier may be that library staff don’t see why libraries and Wikipedia should work together.

This project will illustrate to libraries how working with Wikipedia can advance libraries locally and nationally. By connecting library staff with Wikipedians in their respective communities, libraries will engage local users who are both eager for knowledge and interested in making knowledge more accessible. Library staff will also learn how to involve Wikipedians and community members in increasing the volume of library content and community resources cited on Wikipedia. The sum result of this project will be to amplify the role of libraries as information literacy leaders in their communities.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Featured_articles
** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Wikipedian_librarians, http://www.ala.org/tools/libfactsheets/alalibraryfactsheet02

Who is the audience and what are their information needs?

The audience for this project is the general public. The information needs are for increased information literacy, for more access to both quality information and authoritative sources in the digital age, and the need for more information representing diverse perspectives.

This project positions libraries to present Wikipedia to their communities as an information literacy laboratory that supports learning about collaboratively synthesizing and evaluating information on the Web. In this context, existing doubts and perceptions about the quality and validity of Wikipedia as an information source becomes a strength rather than a rationale for ignoring Wikipedia.

Compounding the need for information literacy in a digital age is the need to promote and include diverse perspectives in libraries and on the web. Through effective community outreach, libraries can encourage a diverse array of community members to create and edit Wikipedia articles. The project is likely to inject more gender diversity into the ranks of Wikipedia editors: current estimates show that over 90% of Wikipedians are men; conversely, over 80% of librarians are women. *
 
Given the tremendous popularity of Wikipedia and its stringent rules of verifiability, making the general public more “Wikipedia literate” will help build a more informed citizenry that understands how to assess the quality of an information source whether it is found in Wikipedia, on other websites or their local library. As a result of this project, users will better understand Wikipedia’s value as a place to start their research activities and the role of the library and other information sources in exploring a topic further. The project will also help increase the quality of Wikipedia articles by making library collections and services more visible on Wikipedia as more Wikipedians become familiar with the resources available at their local library and, as a result, create citations that lead readers to the closest library where they could access those materials.

This project is being developed for public libraries. While the current scope could accommodate the full range of library types (e.g. school, academic, and tribal libraries), the distinct needs of the users served by these different libraries would be best served by creating separate communities of practice for each library type.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedians#Demographics
http://ala-apa.org/files/2012/03/Library-Workers-2011.pdf

Please list your team members and their qualifications.

Sharon Streams, Director, WebJunction. WebJunction is a program managed by OCLC that builds the knowledge, skills and capacity of public libraries at scale. Founded in 2002 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WebJunction is an active online learning network that strengthens libraries by connecting library professionals to transformational learning opportunities and resources. With support from OCLC, state libraries, and funding organizations, learning is free and open to all on WebJunction.

The WebJunction team includes seasoned personnel who regularly manage projects designed to engage library professionals with learning opportunities. Staff bios can be found here: http://www.webjunction.org/about-us/our-team.html

Merrilee Proffitt, Senior Program Officer in OCLC Research. OCLC Research is one of the world's leading centers devoted to exploration, innovation and community building on behalf of libraries and archives. Merrilee provides project management skills and expert support to institutions represented within the OCLC Research Library Partnership. Her current projects and interests include: looking at developing better relationships between Wikipedia and cultural heritage institutions, how rights statements adversely impact the discovery and reuse of cultural heritage, and how Massively Open Online Courseware (MOOCs) may impact libraries. Merrilee championed OCLC’s first Wikipedian in Residence position.

The project team will partner with the Wikimedia Foundation’s Wikipedia Library and rely on their advice, help engaging Wikipedians and consultation on outreach and training activities.

The project team will also work closely with and rely on guidance and input from Wikimedia DC and Wikimedia NYC.

Organization name and location (City, State).

OCLC is headquartered in Dublin, Ohio. The work will be perform in our regional offices in Seattle, WA (WebJunction), and San Mateo, CA (Research).

What are the obstacles to implementing your idea, and how will you address them?

Evidence shows that Wikipedia content is on par with textbooks and other academic literature; however, many information professionals remain unconvinced that Wikipedia is a reliable information source and may discourage its use. Therefore, our key challenges are to convince library professionals to confront their negative perceptions of Wikipedia, learn more about Wikipedia’s inner workings, and engage with it directly as editors to make it a more effective resource for community members’ information needs. We will also need to persuade library professionals that engaging with Wikipedia can promote information literacy. Fortunately, this project and our team is designed to tackle those obstacles head on.

OCLC Research is regarded as a thought leader in the theory and practice that shapes the library field. One facet of our work has been to demonstrate* Wikipedia as an opportunity for libraries. In the initial project phase, we will conduct activities to reduce negative perceptions about Wikipedia held by public library professionals, illuminating the shared values and missions of public libraries and Wikipedia.

New contributors to Wikipedia content can feel discouraged when they find their edits to a Wikipedia page immediately changed or challenged by the volunteers who monitor content for quality and accuracy. Therefore, we will introduce library professionals to the behind-the-scenes Wikipedian culture, to cultivate connections and understanding between these two affinity groups.

We will also address the scalability and sustainability issues of this venture. WebJunction has 14 years of experience delivering effective online learning programs: we’ve worked with cohorts and communities of practice ranging from 12 to 500+, within specific states, across the nation and the globe. Our plan is to “right size” the learning cohort that will result in engaged participants who put their learning into practice, using a replicable model that can continue to spread these ideas and practices. We will produce an online training curriculum, conduct an enrollment process, and facilitate an active peer learning community to support those outcomes. WebJunction will also curate and publish the gathered and developed resources, so they remain freely available to all after the project ends.

We know of some self-directed resources that have been produced by the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) Wiki initiative and Wikipedia Loves Libraries. This project will not duplicate those resources, but rather build on them in a new and scalable way that supports effective learning and application. We will partner with The Wikipedia Library Project of the Wikimedia Foundation, and also work closely with Wikimedia NYC and DC chapters; we appreciate their enthusiastic interest in connecting with the library community.

* http://www.oclc.org/research/search-results.html?q=wikipedia&rfilter;=allfilter

How will you spread the word about your project? Who are you trying to reach?

Our project will build new understanding in the library profession about Wikipedia and its affinity to libraries. To do this, we’ll reach out to public libraries of all sizes and locations across the U.S. This is also WebJunction’s primary audience, so we will deploy our existing communication channels to talk about and engage library professionals with the project. These channels include our
• website, http://WebJunction.org, which receives an average of 35K unique visitors each month;
• biweekly newsletter, Crossroads, which is broadcast to 25K subscribers;
• active social media feeds on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; and
• free webinars, which attract an average of 200+ attendees to the live session and hundreds more to the recorded archives.

Last year, WebJunction engaged 45K library professionals through these various outreach networks. More than 70% of all U.S. public libraries across all 50 states have used WebJunction for continuous learning opportunities since we started in 2003. In addition to our in-house channels, WebJunction will provide information to state library agencies about the project, so that they may promote it to their libraries.

OCLC Research, in particular Merrilee Proffitt, has an established connection to the Wikipedia community and will regularly write/blog* about this work over the course of the project, as will our Wikipedian-in-Residence. In addition to WebJunction channels, the OCLC Next blog, Abstracts newsletter (40K subscribers), and social media feeds (50K+ followers) will promote the project to the OCLC membership and library community at large.

The Wikipedia Library has primed the library community through recent global, networked outreach initiatives. For example, the #1lib1ref campaign** attracted 30,000 viewers and 5 million impressions on Twitter. As a partner, The Wikipedia Library will continue to nurture those established outreach channels throughout the project.

* http://hangingtogether.org/?cat=51
** https://twitter.com/search?q=%231lib1ref%20&src;=typd

How much do you think your project will cost, and what are the major expenses?

We estimate the cost of the two-year project at $435,000. This budget includes the following expenses:
o WebJunction personnel to administer and manage the project schedule, team and deliverables; create and deliver the learning curriculum; and communicate about the project on an ongoing basis. We will apply 3,600 staff hours in total toward the project.
o Full-time Wikipedian-in-Residence who will work with OCLC Research, participating libraries, and Wikipedians over 18 months of the project.
o Some travel, including participant travel to in-person training sessions and library site visits, Wikipedian travel, and a small amount to support library Edit-a-thons.
o Hosting and support costs for the learning management system we’ll use for online training sessions.

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Photo of Lane

As a contributor to Wikipedia projects in New York City and beyond I am thrilled with OCLC's continued support and engagement in presenting Wikipedia and its open content mission to libraries. I feel that Wikipedia partnerships are a critical part of matching general online search and reference with deeper resources that are still only maintained by libraries. With Wikipedia being the most popular nonprofit website and libraries being one of the best loved community resources, the partnership between the two is a natural fit and OCLC is a great organization to promote introductions and collaborations. I am so happy to see this project advance to semifinals - it means a lot to me just knowing that more people will reflect on the idea of a Wikipedia partnership with libraries.

Photo of Sharon

Thank you for the kind words of support, Lane!