Librarians Who Wikipedia: Karen Kast, Eagle Mountain 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. In the fall of 2017, WebJunction ran a nine-week online training program for US public library staff. Librarians Who Wikipedia is our series of interviews with library staff who engage with Wikipedia.

Photo of Karen Kast

Karen Kast of Eagle Mountain City Public
Library. Courtesy: Karen Kast

When Karen Kast, from a small, rural library in Utah, took the Wikipedia + Libraries training program, she quickly connected the dots between Wikipedia and librarianship. Three months later, transformations for Kast and her library are underway. Kast is now organizing Wikipedia training sessions with her colleagues and helping patrons use Wikipedia effectively for research. We caught up with Kast to learn more.

You’re turning your course learnings into staff training, that’s great. Tell us why learning about Wikipedia is important for your library.

What I learned in the course is important for all our staff. We’re a small, rural library with eight part-time and two full-time staff. We all wear multiple hats and do a little of everything. We’re all reference librarians, we all do readers’ advisory, and we all do circulation. Wikipedia fits into all our work.

Personally, I was using Wikipedia, but at the library we didn’t advise or guide patrons about how to use it. That’s why I took the course. I thought, “If it’s good enough for a librarian to use, it should be good enough for patrons.” I wanted to understand how it works. 

Photo of 8 library staff members.

Eagle Mountain City Public Library staff are learning about Wikipedia with assistant
director Karen Kast (pictured top left), who wanted to share what she learned.
Credit: M. Graves

How are you structuring the training?

I had them get started by creating user names and using the article assessments to help them check out articles.

Next, I had them look at random articles on Wikipedia. I wanted them to plunk around and get a feel for the differences between articles. Then we talked about what they’re learning. What are other ways you’ve incorporated Wikipedia into the library?

I have had a few opportunities to work with Wikipedia with my patrons, like when a parent comes in looking to help their kid start a project. They kind of roll their eyes when I ask if they’ve thought about getting started with Wikipedia, but I show them how to use it right, as a backbone to start research.

You have to help people understand it’s an encyclopedia. It’s not just anyone writing their opinions about a topic, and I think that misconception still exists. 

Photo of the reference desk at the library

In rare moments of downtime at their busy small library serving a rural community, Kast is
training her staff to use Wikipedia to ignite their own learning and better serve their patrons.
Credit: M. Graves

What else would you like to do?

At our library, we seek to foster a love for lifelong-learning. As library staff, when we have downtime, I’d like us to pull up random Wikipedia articles together to look through and learn something new!

These are excellent resources if someone asks you about a topic—look that up and learn. Or learn something new just for yourself!

We shouldn’t be satisfied with the books on the shelves; we can use Wikipedia with our books, and to help us find new references, too. Some of these articles have darn good info there—that’s your bibliography to get started! Other editors have done that work for you. Now it’s your job to go read it.

Wikipedia is very good as a guide to starting research and getting ideas—that’s a no-brainer for me now.What’s surprised you about Wikipedia?

I am impressed with how much goes on behind the scenes. On one of the pages I edited, I clicked the button to “watch” the page. I saw later that a user inserted “owls are one inch tall” on the page. Clearly nonsense. Within just a few hours, that comment was gone! That is impressive. It’s like a whole bunch of editors are running around behind the scenes on Wikipedia. These people, they’re just doing it, just out there helping each other and making Wikipedia happen.

What message would you like to share with public library staff?

The course and Wikipedia taught me about being bold. I recently read Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, and that message is similar to Wikipedia’s: ‘Be bold!’ In addition, it’s more to the point. In a nutshell, get started! At the library, my director and I ask each other, “are you daring greatly today?” And when my director asked me that recently, I responded, “‘well, I’m being bold!’”

I see Wikipedia’s credo as learning how to put yourself out there, among others you don’t know. Even when you feel uncomfortable and lack confidence, be bold and trust that people will help you learn along the way.