Editing Wikipedia While In Library School

17/04/2014 § 2 Comments

Are you a Wikibrarian? I recently became one—a librarian who edits Wikipedia (“the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”)—and I have found the experience rewarding in the extreme. I have even stumbled into a role as an embedded consultant, helping faculty teach undergrads how to write Wikipedia articles on gender history, on which improvements are urgently needed. So what are the benefits to becoming a Wikibrarian while in library school?

Wikipedia is legit

My role as a Wikibrarian is possible because Wikipedia has become increasingly “legit” among the more open-minded educators and information professionals. Wikipedia’s rigor and quality have come a long way from Steve Carell’s classic deadpan in The Office a few years ago. Now Harvard University’s rare books library is recruiting a Wikipedian in Residence! Best uses of Wikipedia are to find background information, bibliographies, topic ideas, quick facts, and keywords. Selective editing, conflict of interest, copied and pasted text, and other problems do persist, but even the Encyclopedia Britannica has been known to error.

One does not simply cite Wikipedia

Meme by Michael Rodriguez

Rather than proscribe or ignore the world’s most popular resource, librarians such as Hack Library School’s Anna-Sophia are opting to teach information literacy skills that learners are able to apply to Wikipedia—precisely as they should to any resource.

Wikipedia influences people

Wikipedia is the sixth most frequently visited website globally and is among the first information stops for tens of millions of people, including half of US physicians. Wikipedia has 500 million unique visitors in more than 250 languages annually! Adding, expanding, or correcting Wikipedia content is therefore a public service—one intimately linked to librarians’ mission to connect people with information.

Wikipedia builds community

To become a Wikibrarian is to join an amazing community of editors with diverse interests and knowledge, all dedicated to disseminating and democratizing information. Endless opportunities for dialogue and collaboration (not to mention heated discussion) exist. Did you know that the Wikimedia Foundation is bringing together hundreds of Wikipedians at a fee-less WikiConference USA convention in New York this summer? You bet I sent in a proposal!

Wikipedia teaches skills

We Can Edit!! Public domain image, modified by Tom Morris, via Wikimedia Commons

We Can Edit! Public domain image, modified by Tom Morris, via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of skills. Even if you just add citations or links, you have to pick up some Wikicode. This provides a simple, intuitive introduction to coding and a helpful segue into HTML. If you contribute substantive content, then you develop experience with what amounts to technical writing, marked by clear, precise, and detached phrasing. Encyclopedia entries thus contrast dramatically with research papers, op-eds, and book reviews, which is all the writing experience we generally get in graduate school. Wikipedians must conform to rules governing verifiability, neutrality, creditability, and no original research. Finally and most importantly, when you upload images to Wikimedia Commons, you’ll have to learn access and copyright regulations and Creative Commons licensing—vital skills in this dawning age of digital librarianship.

Wikipedia demonstrates ability

Building quality Wikipedia pages demonstrates that you have both technical skills and initiative. You’re volunteering time and expertise to a global community initiative; you’re coding text and writing copyright licenses; and you’re dedicated to open access and information sharing. You can upload or link your pages to your e-portfolio for future employers to admire. And you’re doing all this “work” for fun! Clearly you’ve got mad skills and oodles of initiative!

Wikipedia is fun to edit

Each Wikipedia article allows you to see the number of page views—a bar graph revealing how many people have discovered and learned from your content. There is no better way to reach a mass audience than Wikipedia. You can take your pick of pages on which to work, and then get to boast that you built, say, the Public Library Association wiki. Getting published as a student is challenging, whereas Wikipedia editing is a simple way to build or diversify your portfolio and impress peers, professors, and future employers. And did I mention that it’s fun?

Getting started

Go for it! Feel free to start making edits immediately. Be bold, but not reckless. Correct typos, add headings, cite sources, write content—it’s up to you.

Creating a Wikipedia Account

Create Account, screenshot by Michael Rodriguez

To create an account, simply click on “Create an account” at the top right corner of any Wikipedia page, input a username and password, make 10 edits, and wait four days to be autoconfirmed as a Wikipedian. Now you can create new pages!

Are you a Wikibrarian? Would you consider becoming one? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Resources

7 reasons librarians should edit Wikipedia” by Natalie Binder, March 22, 2014.

Wikipedia Loves Libraries builds connections between Wikipedia and librarians.

The Five Pillars are the fundamental principles that govern Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia Adventure is a fun interactive tutorial for new editors.

Wikipedia:Tutorial is another useful tutorial for new editors. It is text-heavy.

Wikipedia’s content policies document the encyclopedia’s guidelines.

Cheap Skate or Pioneering Information Professional?

21/03/2014 § 1 Comment

I’m not going to say that my graduate student budget forced me into the world of open source software, but it certainly didn’t hurt.  There was a time when “open source” was synonymous with “free of charge”, but with the proliferation of mobile technologies and free apps, the lines between for-profit and not-for-profit software are now blurred.  Therefore the distinction must be made that open source software contains a license, which allows the user to modify the code and to freely distribute the software to anyone, for any purpose.  As a result, this software is often community developed, and widely distributed.

So why should you invest your precious time in learning how to use these free alternatives?  Let me consult a recognizable mantra.  Some of the triumphs of open source software come right out of ALA’s mission statement: “Equitable Access to Information, Intellectual Freedom, Education and Lifelong Learning”.  There can be obstacles to early adoption, primarily the learning curve, but grad school is the ideal time to conquer these technological challenges.  Here are some open source software examples I have adopted in my pursuit of information literacy.

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The Scariest Things We’ve Done In Library School

17/03/2014 § 5 Comments

When I was a freshly-declared English major, just beginning to flex my college reading and writing muscles, one of my professors told me something that has stuck with me ever since: “If you feel like you’re out on the tightrope and it’s swinging, that’s good. That’s where life is.”

As I recall, she meant that specifically in relation to making strong arguments and taking intellectual risks; if you feel like what you’re saying is risky, that’s good because it means you’re really making an argument. But I think we can jump easily from writing guidance to life advice (and my professor did so often). When you step out onto uncertain ground—take a risk, that is—you open to growth and new experiences. If it feels scary, good, you’re doing something important and it’s called living.

I’ve felt like I was “out on the tightrope” many times during library school and, as uncomfortable as it is, I’ve tried to embrace the feeling. Instead of letting fear cripple me, I try to use it as a motivator to find some extra courage within myself and continue on whatever nerve-wracking track I’m currently on.

Sharing the things that scare us, while adding some initial vulnerability, can be motivating and empowering. And so, some fellow hackers and I would like to share the scariest things we’ve done in library school and what we learned from the process.

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Committee Work: Not So Scary After All

14/02/2014 § 6 Comments

Here at Hack Library School we talk a lot about ways to further our LIS educations outside of the classroom, including pursuing part-time work, completing internships and practicums, joining student and professional organizations, and attending conferences. These kinds of experience are essential for shaping professional interests and developing skills. Throughout my time in library school I’ve tried to consider new opportunities to learn and grow as a librarian-in-training, and I want to share an option that I hadn’t thought about until more recently: joining a committee.

Initially, the idea of joining a committee sounded a little scary to me. Up until a few months ago, I had a fairly formal mental image of committees; I imagined intense, stately people talking about intense, stately things (when I thought about committees at all, which wasn’t too often). I hadn’t really considered the possibility of taking part in a committee as a student, so when one of my supervisors suggested that I join the conference planning committee for the librarians’ association at UNC, I was a little taken aback. But, not wanting to turn down an opportunity, I decided to give committee work a try.

My experience on the conference planning committee has been really great so far, and certainly not the intimidating endeavor I might have imagined. During our first meeting I realized that a committee can be as simple as a group of people trying to figure something out and get something done. Not scary, right? Too often I imagine that the professional librarians around me have everything together and know exactly what they’re doing all the time. Serving on a committee has been a good reminder for me that even the most brilliant librarians are constantly figuring things out. We all experience new challenges and problems to solve all the time and I think that’s a good thing.

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Hack Your First Professional Conference

03/02/2014 § 9 Comments

I have never met a conference I did not like. In the last four years, I have attended twelve academic conferences ranging in size from under 150 to over 5,000 participants. I have presented papers, sat on panels, moderated debate, lead workshops, and worked logistics.

In my experience, all conferences share some common challenges: the pace is frenetic, restroom lines are long, snacks are mediocre, and at least two sessions you really want to attend will be happening at the same time. The rooms are almost always too cold or too hot. You may not know anyone.

Obstacles aside, every conference experience has been invaluable to me. They have so much to offer an emerging professional: a chance to make new friends and meet professional contacts, exposure to new ideas and best practices in your field, and the possibility of new opportunities. At a conference, you can challenge your expectations and even meet your professional heroes.

Last August, I participated in the Society of American Archivists 2013 Annual Meeting, my first professional conference as a graduate student. Although I came equipped with a diverse kit of conference tools, the SAA Annual Meeting challenged me to adapt in new ways. Professional conferences are especially intense in terms of pace. There is so much to do and see that it is to feel overextended. If you are an introvert like me, it can feel overwhelming to interact with so many people, especially when you suddenly realize you’re talking with someone “famous” in the field.

But don’t feel intimidated! Here are some steps you can take to help make your first professional conference a success.

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