Librarians Who Wikipedia: Allison Frick, Glenside Free Library

Monika Sengul-Jones, OCLC Wikipedian-in-Residence /

Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together is an OCLC project that is building bridges between public libraries and Wikipedia; featuring an online training program for US public library staff hosted by WebJunction in the fall of 2017. Librarians Who Wikipedia is a series of interviews with library staff who engage with Wikipedia

Allison Frick, Youth Services Librarian at Glenside Free Library, a branch of the Cheltenham Township Library System (Glenside, PA), recently began to use Wikipedia as a tool to teach information literacy skills at her library. She finds that engaging with Wikipedia can help computer users of all levels critically evaluate and improve their online experiences. 

Photo of Allison Frick

Allison Frick, youth services librarian, uses Wikipedia to teach information literacy
at her library. Credit: Courtesy Allison Frick

How do you use Wikipedia with your community members?

Wikipedia is great for teaching information literacy—use it as a jumping off point! At our recent event, the barriers to entry were low. We provided laptops, snacks (the gummy worms were a big draw!) and coffee. Participants started by learning how to turn the computer on and find the browser; we started at that level to make sure that people were not nervous. We went to Wikipedia, looked at a couple of articles and talked about how editing works. Then we made user accounts and discussed privacy online—this is all information literacy.

We also demonstrated how an internet search that goes to Wikipedia can guide you to library resources. Now ISBN citations take you to WorldCat, to library catalogs, then you can check out books for free! Wikipedia provides ways to direct more people to free and helpful resources and to teach important things to know about the internet. It was all a big intro, but by the end our one-hour event we had, as a group, successfully added one citation to one page.

How do you approach the reliability of Wikipedia?

When someone says they shouldn’t use Wikipedia because it’s unreliable or because their teacher said not to, I respond: well, yes you can! I recommend using Wikipedia articles as a jumping off point, and then checking their bibliographies for other articles that could help your investigation. This will help get your brain ready to do more research. Even in good articles, there are going to be biases—based on what kinds of topics have or haven’t gotten coverage or how something is organized. But these kinds of gaps are not a good reason not to use Wikipedia! If you see a gap, use that as an opportunity to figure out how to do it better. You can edit Wikipedia. Don’t accept that other people are not writing about things that matter to you, you have permission to do something too. 

Who came to your event?

It was open to teens and adults; seven teens and four or five adults came. Diversity is a strength of our library; there were a lot of people of color. One young woman came who wanted to start a paper but she didn’t own a laptop. This was a chance for her to get started. The teens were more comfortable online; the adults were new to computers. It was nice having a mix. The teens brought a happy, positive energy and everyone was excited to try something new. An hour was just enough to get started, to think about Wikipedia as a place to get information and to start learning how to evaluate online information.

I’m using Wikipedia to empower our youth—to give them a sense that they can do things, they have permission and there’s more than one way of doing something. 

Photo of Allison Frick and Christina Riehman-Murphy

Allison Frick (left) and Christina Riehman-Murphy, a librarian at Penn State, partnered to
organize an information literacy event focused on women in science. Credit: Courtesy
Allison Frick.

How did you get started with Wikipedia?

Christina Riehman-Murphy, a former colleague and now a reference and instruction librarian at Penn State University, suggested Wikipedia to me. She also joined me in organizing my first event. I have a small grant from Bentley Systems (a software engineering company) for STEM programming. It’s thanks to them I’ve been able to do events around girls and coding, girls and science, women in STEM. These kinds of programs don’t solve everything but they help change the way that the pipeline works.

Do you plan to do more Wikipedia-related events?

Yes! I’d like to do a session that builds on this and focuses more on editing. Our event was so positive. Now I can show my head librarian these outcomes and say, “they wanted this, they came and stayed, we need to do more of this.” Wikipedia is so much easier than I than thought it would be! This is a message that I aim to convey in these sessions, to have people say, “yes, I know something and I can add a reliable reference to Wikipedia—I can do this!” Especially for young women, I want them to value their own voice and realize they have something meaningful to contribute, especially if they feel no one else is saying it. 

What message would you like to give to public libraries?

Try a Wikipedia program! It is so much fun. And its accuracy and usefulness as a resource have increased dramatically, especially now that it helps connect you to library collections.