Librarians Who Wikipedia: János McGhie, Saint Paul Public 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.

Photo of János McGhie working at a library.

János McGhie, a reference librarian at Saint Paul Public
Library, edits Wikipedia to make offline references more
accessible online. Credit: Courtesy János McGhie

Meet János McGhie (YAW-nōsh mc-GUY), a reference librarian at Saint Paul Public Library. An editor of Wikipedia since 2006, McGhie—who goes by the username McGhiever—has made almost 22,000 edits and uploaded 1,300 photos to the Wikipedia Commons. If you’ve read about a state or national park west of the Mississippi River on Wikipedia, chances are McGhiever made one of the edits. He improves the encyclopedia using analog books, maps, guides and articles freely available to him in his public library.

Why did you decide to edit Wikipedia?

Yet another patron had come to me and said, “All information is online these days.” And I just looked around and thought, Here I am in a room full of offline information—how can people assume all information is online? So I decided I had to do what I could to move more offline information online. That is where people assume it will be. Wikipedia was the most obvious venue for that, so I started contributing. And here I am.

What is it like to write in collaborative space?

I started writing about state parks. Hardly anyone else was editing on this topic, so I didn’t have much interaction, or friction, with other editors. But [I like that] we are all working together. You contribute what you can, and other people come and build on that.

What's it like to edit?

I have a strong vision of a finished project. So, I write offline. I write out a whole article, get it perfect, then in one edit I upload it all. And the page goes from being a stub to a full article in one fell swoop. It is so fun to upload this markup and have it all render into a proper Wikipedia page. Editing Wikipedia has been a really useful way and reason to improve my computer skills. 

How do you use Wikipedia on the job?

Many patrons ask about pop culture. Say someone wants to know the next book in a series. Sure, I can laboriously log in to the NoveList catalog service that my institution pays for. Or I can instantly look it up on Wikipedia, which is going to be just as accurate. It’s helpful for confirming “no” answers—“No, that TV series was cancelled after three seasons” or “No, that hasn’t yet been released on DVD.”

Contributing to Wikipedia gives me confidence about what Wikipedia is good for in terms of my work as a reference librarian. There are times I do feel hesitant about consulting Wikipedia, and then I use a database or book.

What kinds of outreach are you involved in?

I’ve helped lead GLAM events in my state at museum libraries, and spoken at classes and conferences. [Editor’s note: GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) is an initiative for Wikipedians to support galleries, libraries, archives and museums who want to produce open-access, freely-reusable content for the public.] I have not led any events at my public library. [He pauses.] Yet. I should. 

Photo of Bear Head Lake in Minnesota.

János McGhie has uploaded 1,300 photos to Wikimedia Commons,
including this photo for the Bear Head Lake Wikipedia article.
Credit: János McGhie, Creative Commons Attribution-Share
Alike 3.0

What message do you want to share with public libraries?

We spend all day in these buildings full of offline information. Getting that on a website that is so well consulted and gets so much traffic will get information out there to many more people than the tiny fraction of the public who wanders in and asks you for it.

The mission of Wikipedia is the same as that of libraries: get information freely to people who need it. It behooves librarians to be a part of this project—and to help shape it. 


Learn to edit Wikipedia in WebJunction’s online training course this fall, for more information, sign up for our Wikipedia + Libraries mailing list. You can also incorporate Wikipedia into your public library’s programming. Learn more in our article on Extending the Reach of Public Libraries