Editing Wikipedia While In Library School

17/04/2014 § 4 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!


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.

Things to Do Before You Graduate from Library School

11/04/2014 § 5 Comments

My final month as a graduate student will be a whirlwind of activity, largely due to the fact that I am starting a new job just weeks after I graduate. Whether you have a new job, are still on the hunt, are moving or not – graduating from your program is undoubtedly a busy time. Here are a few things that are on my to-do list before graduating, in no particular order.

1) Write thank you notes. There are so many people I want to thank now that my time at Indiana University is over, including job references, current and former supervisors, professors, and department staff members. I want to make sure to acknowledge all of their help and kindness over the years.

2) Renew/begin professional memberships. You’ll be oh so happy later on that you did this at the student rate, which is fractions cheaper than the institutional rate. This is the last time you’ll be able to take advantage of your student status – go for it! I had diverse interests as a student because I didn’t know where I would end up in library technology. Now that I know the specific areas I will be working in, it’s easier for me to decide what organizations are most relevant to me.

3) Organize post-grad logistics. Are you staying where you are? Are you moving? If you’re plotting a move it takes a lot of work. Do some research. If you have a job, does your employer offer a relocation allowance? Sometimes this is available to all employees and other times it needs to be negotiated. Think through all of these details.

4) Understand my new job. If you’ve secured a job already, make sure you fill out all of your paperwork. Learn about your benefits, retirement contribution, and other real job stuff. As someone who has been an hourly worker for my entire life, these were all pretty new to me. I found it helpful to set a tentative budget and debt repayment plan, two things that become easier once you calculate the taxes, retirement contribution, parking, and other expenses associated with your position. If there’s something you don’t understand, consult the human resources department. In my experience, they’ll be more than happy to help you.

5) See the sights. I’m taking a southern road trip to celebrate graduation and have some fun before my impending move back to the frozen tundra that is Wisconsin. I am also planning lots of day trips and weekend trips to see nearby cities that I just didn’t get to over the past few years.

6) Try not to freak out too much about the future. Graduation brings with it lots of uncertainty, whether you have a job yet or not. There are so many variables; there is always a trade off. In my case, my partner of seven years and I will be be living in separate cities for the first time ever. Even though I am confident it’s the right choice for us and we are both excited for each other, it will be a hard transition. There aren’t easy answers. It would be so easy to move from a state of panic over what job I will get into a state of panic about how (if!) we will end up together eventually, but instead I am just going with the flow. I’m choosing happiness.

Graduates or soon-to-be graduates, what are your suggestions to wrap up library school?

Keeping Serendipity Alive: or, Hacking the Culture of Cramming

10/04/2014 § 6 Comments

When I first started talking to librarians about going to library school, I was told over and over that “everyone hates library school; it’s just something you have to do.” Judging by Kara’s posts on asking for help and boosting your enthusiasm when overwhelmed, Alison’s brush with dropping out, and Becky’s bunches of lemons, to name just a few, I’m hardly alone in finding this to be (mostly) true. I chose an accelerated one-year program mainly in the interest of getting an actual career under way before passing from the “mid-twenties” into the dreaded “late-twenties” demographic, and it has been a race to pick up best practices and theory, metadata schemas and management tactics, to churn out assignments and rack up internship hours. MLIS curricula are, by and large, geared towards training us to do a job – one which is increasingly under threat of marginalization and shaped by the blood instinct to survive in a neoliberal environment of assessment and ROI. The concept of library advocacy is all too often conflated with marketing, and entire genres of blogs and student services programming have developed to teach us, as LIS students, to think of ourselves as commodities.

When I first learned about the wonderful new blog, ebrowsing.org, something clicked. For all our talk of discoverability and connection, there is very little room for exploration in library school. There is very, very little room for generative joy and love in library school. And I am beginning to suspect that this grad school culture of product over process negatively affects our practices later on as professionals. The stress we feel as we race to check assignments and entire fields of inquiry off our graduation to-do lists doesn’t just hurt us — it hurts every single patron we serve.

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Pro Bono Librarianing

09/04/2014 § 4 Comments

I’m an attorney, and one of the things that attorneys are encouraged (in some states,required) to do is pro bono work. “Pro bono” means “for good” and is generally representation of a low-income person or a non-profit organization without payment. Libraries are generally a community function and librarians generally serve communities (but see my most recent post, on independent information professionals). There’s less of an opportunity for librarians to do the same sort of “pro bono” work. Volunteering isn’t really the same thing.

But I think, nevertheless, that there are real opportunities for pro bono librarianing. I came to this conclusion while at a conference of the Law Library Association of Maryland about Access to Justice. As an attorney, I had always thought about access to justice as a lawyer thing, not a law librarian thing. It makes sense, though, that librarians would have a role in access in justice.

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Asking for Help When You Need It and Knowing When to Help Yourself

02/04/2014 § 1 Comment

Do you remember what it was like to be an undergraduate?  I took a few years off between college and my MLS, but I can still recall the endless “student social events,” the finals-week pampering and “de-stressing” events that my college hosted without fail.  The intro-to-the-library session all the first-years received. Basically, the hand-holding.

I’m not saying undergrad is a breeze.  There’s plenty of work involved, and those degrees are earned.  But undergrads enjoy a lot more basic support structures and failsafe measures to keep the clueless from falling through the cracks.  Masters and PhD programs, while wonderful, are a whole different deal (especially when you’re online). There are very few measures to catch you if you screw up, and while I’m sure your program wants to see you succeed, you’re the only one responsible for your success.

But that’s not to say you won’t get help if you need it.  The key is knowing who to ask, when to ask, and when you should really be helping yourself.  Here are some common problems and ways that they might be solved.  Please add your own problems and solutions below the line! « Read the rest of this entry »

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