Librarians Who Wikipedia: Andrea Davis and Christina Moretta, San Francisco Public Library
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.
In the mid-2000s, San Francisco Public Library staff members Andrea Davis, teen services librarian, and Christina Moretta, photo curator, created Wikipedia accounts but never really used them. In June 2016 they revisited Wikipedia by hosting a public outreach event, The Queerest Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. They share with us their take on Wikipedia and why they are eager to do more.
Why did you get started again with Wikipedia?
Moretta: [Another librarian] who edits Wikipedia suggested we organize an event and connected us to a group of Bay-area Wikipedians. So we decided to do something new. June is a big month in San Francisco, the Pride celebration occurs then, so it made sense to plan in conjunction with Pride programming.
How did the event go?
Moretta: There were many successes.
For one, people came—Wikipedians—who had never been to the library!
Davis: And they created library accounts. We did a song and dance about our resources. We brought out carts of printed materials. We showed them the wide variety of materials and how to link these to that beautiful marker, “[Citation needed]”. That’s the potential of this kind of event: it’s connecting one public source to another public source—bringing them together.
There were about 20 people who came. But the success wasn’t about numbers. We had a nice cross section of interests and skill sets. For instance, we had subject matter experts—70-year-olds who are not necessarily all that comfortable on a computer but have a breadth of local knowledge—and some who were more of super users.
What were the outcomes?
Davis: We fixed citations and checked to make sure there are persistent URLs. There are different tools to help with this. We didn’t solve everything, but we got started and had good conversations. We empowered everyone [who came] to know that they can make changes to Wikipedia—that is where our success was.
Moretta: We also had two spin-off events. Our adult librarian staff was interested in learning more about Wikipedia, so we arranged a presentation; we’d like to do a staff training.
Davis: We also made a presentation to the local Wikimedia chapter about our event and our library.
Moretta: We talked about our mutual interests. One [of the Wikipedia editors] mentioned that there are Wikipedias in other languages. We have a huge international and multilingual community; we could see doing an event that focuses on making Wikipedia contributions in Vietnamese or Chinese. There are more areas that are ripe for editing.
What are you going to do next?
Davis: There are huge gaps [in Wikipedia]. That’s where our opportunity is. Our library is positioned to offset gaps in representation.
Moretta: I could do a big Wikipedia Commons upload [from the library’s collections] before hosting a thematic event, featuring, for example, the Asian American collection: we add a hundred images beforehand then participants can spend time incorporating them into articles.
What’s fun with Wikipedia is brainstorming what you can do with it—it’s exciting. I’d also like to do this with more community partners.
What message do you want to share with public libraries?
Moretta: [It’s possible] librarians still hold onto their impressions of Wikipedia from the mid-2000s—let go of that! Instead, find a community partner and get started.
Davis: Information professionals are often early adaptors. I made a Wikipedia account in the early 2000s, tried it out and thought “yeah, not really my thing.” But Wikipedia is different now. It’s worth giving it a second try. There are more tools, doing outreach is easier.
Moretta: Editing Wikipedia and organizing outreach events—both are beneficial to information professionals. It’s critical to do programs that connect the public to reliable sources of information that are free. As library staff, we sometimes forget [that databases] cost a lot. This is a form of gatekeeping.
Davis: Yes. We might be accustomed to critically analyzing sources amongst ourselves. Editing Wikipedia takes that to the next level: you have agency. [Editing] makes much more sense to me as an information professional than critique alone. When you see something wrong online, you can do something to make it trustworthy.