Presenting Wikipedia, Addressing Common Misconceptions

Me Presenting GLAM-Wiki at the Beach Museum on Thursday August 8
Credit: Greg Eislein, Professor of English, Kansas State University

Part of my GLAM-Wiki internship involves creating a network of GLAM-Wiki volunteers and supporters around campus and on Wikipedia to support my activities.The first step in creating support is to show people how to engage in Wikipedia. Two Thursdays ago, I gave a talk at Kansas States’s Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art titled “Thinking about Wikipedia and Academia” (Here is the Prezi) In the presentation, I tried to address some of the concerns many academics have about Wikipedia, directing my audience towards a more multifaceted approach to thinking about Wikipedia and its community. There were about fifteen people in attendance from different parts of campus at the talk. And I would call the talk fairly successful, and expect to have several more discussions with the attendees in the coming months (one of the professors is already planning a Wikipedia editing assignment). 

These types of outreach events really drive my interest in participating in the community. I have been editing Wikipedia intensely for about for five or six years now, and have accrued quite a few contributions to the various projects. However, when I think about my contributions to the Wikimedia/Wikipedia community, I most enjoy talking to people about Wikipedia. You would think Wikipedia is not a hard subject to talk about because almost everyone uses it. But that isn’t always the case: many people have concerns about Wikipedia and many of these concerns derive from misconceptions about Wikipedia’s function and format. When planning to present to groups like I did at the Beach, I try to address these misconceptions about Wikipedia, and I thought I would talk about a few here:

A Community Roles Map from a survey done by the Wikimedia Foundation around 2010? (If you can help me find where I got this image that would be great!)

A Community Roles Map from a survey done by the Wikimedia Foundation around 2010? (If you can help me find where I got this image that would be great!)

Ignoring Wikipedia’s Community

The first misconception, and one I always have to address, is that readers consider Wikipedia like a traditional print source, not seeing the dynamic change within Wikipedia created by it’s vibrant community. Changes happen every day, and the community has a lot of different functions and processes to do so. Generally, in my conversation, I try to show what the community does and how to see those community roles in order for my audience to see how radically different Wikipedia is then traditional print encylcopedias. In my presentation, I explain not only the complexity of the community (see the diagram on the right), but also how varied the different Wikimedia projects are, how to see the edits as they happen and the community review processes. Of course, examining talk pages and a history pages are important to understand the complex community interaction that occurs for every article. For this, I tend to point towards the article Stray Animals in Indian Airports, to demonstrate how principals of Verifiability create interesting content and how history pages allow readers to witness. I also, generally pull up the Featured article for the day, because they almost always have talk page comments. Both types of examples help explain community processes, and show the complex dynamics created by the software and values of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia and Authority

Treating Wikipedia like a traditional reference source also leads to the inevitable question “How reliable is Wikipedia?” This questions always comes up, because, up until a few years ago, almost all the press about Wikipedia used rhetoric that highlighted the project’s question-ability. This is even more important when talking about Academic relations with Wikipedia. I had several professors from around campus, and within Academia their authority is built on reliable information and authority created by peer review and a clear relationship to editorial oversight. However, Wikipedia is very different. Through it’s Verifiability principle, Wikipedia outsources to reliable sources the claim to authority. Instead when thinking about Wikipedia quality, it is more important to think about how it fulfills it’s core function as a Wikimedia project: creating free and open access educational materials. This is an important point to highlight, because it appeals to recent calls for academics to create public engagement with their research. Within this context, I also point out, that academics need to learn to ignore the need to be authoritative on Wikipedia, instead focusing on getting good enough information out to the public so that academia can create better public education. We should always approach Wikipedia as only having the opportunity to get better, rather then the more traditional model of knowledge publication which has a publishing date! I have a draft blog that will probably come out next week talking more about “Why Wikipedia matters for academia,” addressing some of the ways Wikipedia can enhance public academic impact.


The last misconception that I always try to confront about is the idea that Wikipedia is complete: any contributor, knowledge expert or anyone with a serious hobby, will find Wikipedia has huge gaps that seem overwhelming. As a byproduct of the very skewed demographics contributing to Wikimedia projects, topics like the sciences and popular culture have been covered extremely well on Wikipedia giving an impression of completeness, but many areas of academic concern, such as the humanities or women’s history, have massive gaps. WhenI like to demonstrate these gaps by showing the navbox for topics related to James Fenimore Cooper. Most of Cooper’s works don’t have Wikipedia articles, even though he probably is one of the most extensively studied American authors of the early/mid-19th century. Clearly, we need some experts, or people who care to come in and fill in these types of gaps. In most of my talks, this is where I ask academics to intervene, and share with them some of the ways they can. GLAM-Wiki and the Wikipedia Education Program have created a number of tools and approaches to facilitate fixing these gaps; all Wikipedia requires to be more complete is an interested academic daring enough to try. Though gaps can be very empowering as Cory Doctorow points out, Wikipedia is an “an infinite supply of gateway drugs to engagement” with knowledge, its distribution, and its construction” they also harm public awareness about topics academics care about.

What do you think?

I hope these approaches to talking about Wikipedia are useful to all of you readers. These are by no means all of the misconceptions you run into when talking about Wikipedia. What other ones have you found? What problems do you encounter when talking about Wikipedia?

What exactly is GLAM-Wiki?

As I described in my first post, I’m writing this blog as a useful guide for cooperation of digital humanities (DH) and GLAM professionals with Wikimedia projects, using my internship with the Blake Archive as a case study. But before the semester starts (August 26), and I focus on the specifics of what I do with the Blake Archive internship, I thought I would give a little background on GLAM-Wiki for those of you unfamiliar with the concept. If you already know about GLAM-Wiki and want to learn about something else about my Blake internship or have any questions, make sure that you leave me a comment below! It always helps to know what the readership wants is interested in.

When I say I am going to talk about GLAM, I don’t mean David Bowie types. (If you want to learn about GLAM Rockers, check out the cultural studies classic Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style). Rather, I use GLAM as an acronym for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums or more generally the community of institutions tasked with preserving our cultural heritage. GLAM-Wiki refers to the efforts within the Wikimedia community to reach out to those cultural institutions and encourage them to share their content and create new specialist content on Wikimedia websites to help encourage better access to the research and materials the GLAMs make available for the public (Wikimedia websites? Yes there is more then Wikipedia, check out the list at ).

A series of activities and events by Wikimedians around the world have diversified and expanded the scope of those cooperations from small gatherings of volunteers to edit Wikipedia articles, to long term development of content on both GLAM websites and Wikimedia projects. One of the earliest documented cooperations was in 2008, when the Federal Archive in Germany (Bundesarchiv) donated thousands of images to Wikimedia projects. Another important landmarks is in 2010 when the British Museum brought Liam Wyatt, an Australian Wikimedia volunteer, into their organization as the first “Wikipedian in Residence” (WiR). As a Wikipedian in Residence, he coordinated a number of collaborations including donating digital media, engaging volunteers in writing informational content on Wikipedia and measuring the impact of the collaboration on the British Museum and their web presence. Since, both types of collaboration alongside a number of new practices and digital tools have been very successful and practiced throughout the world ( I will explore these projects more as we go through the semester. See the below graph showing WiRs, only a portion of projects which are documented at

A chart showing the Wikipedians in Residence up to 2012 from

To coordinate efforts and to create a repository of best practices, the volunteer community supporting GLAM and Wikimedia cooperation has since become a GLAM-Wiki network of contributors. Furthermore, in the United States, because there are a disproportionately smaller number of individuals trained and able to support these collaborations in comparison to the number of organizations interested in having a GLAM-Wiki collaboration, the volunteer community has established the GLAM-Wiki US Consortium to support organizations interested in cooperation and in training new facilitators. As I go through my internship, I will be exploring more of how these communities function and where to find resources and ideas about Wikimedia projects. 

I hope this was helpful for those of you unfamiliar with GLAM-Wiki! How would you characterize your experiences with GLAM-Wiki? What is important to know about the movement and the activities related?

A Beginning for the Semester

This semester I will be doing GLAM-Wiki activities with the William Blake Archive ( ) as part of an internship. If you aren’t aware, GLAM-Wiki is an effort to bring the knowledge from those who manage Galleries, Libraries Archives and Museums (GLAMs) onto the open access Wikimedia sites like Wikipedia in order to further public access to our global cultural heritage (for more information check out , there will be more information about GLAM-Wiki in future posts). I will be running this blog (my first) in order to document and reflect on the various elements of the internship. I am documenting the project because the academic humanities have been largely ignored by the Wikimedia community – the GLAM-Wiki community has been good at reaching out towards traditional museums and other cultural institutions (partnerships have included the British Museum, British Library, Smithsonian, Versailles, etc) and recent efforts with scientific organizations have been very successful in sharing these cultural institution resources with an interested public. I believe that Wikipedia and digital humanities (DH) clearly have aligned functions within the internet ecosystem (both profile knowledge and knowledge resources), and that, like GLAMs, if DH projects want to be relevant to researchers and the public, they must engage with Wikipedia, which is core to internet infrastructure and access as a top ten website. The William Blake Archive, one of the early trend setters of digital humanities projects, seems like an excellent DH project to explore the potential of DH/Wikipedia collaboration, and these blog posts this semester, hopefully, will explore most of the theory and logistics that go into practicing DH GLAM-Wiki. Before we get there though, I thought I might share a little bit about me.

I am a masters student of English Literature and Culture Studies at Kansas State University.Within my research, I focus on the place of history and the historical in public discourse, masculinities and subculture, and environmental rhetoric about food in contemporary literature. I am also a budding Digital Humanities practitioner. My involvement in DH started when I started contributing to Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects as User:Sadads early in my undergraduate career. Since, I have begun exploring the place of academic activity in Wikipedia and it’s role as the center of free internet knowledge, through projects like GLAM-Wiki and the Wikipedia Education Program ( In digital humanities, I am particularly interested in what the private sector has called “Knowledge Management”, that is managing information and knowledge and it’s sharing on social platforms, like wikis and blogs, so that the people who need it can get access to it, improving quality and efficiency in any organization’s activities. Since joining Wikipedia, I have always thought of the project as the ultimate academic knowledge management (KM) platform: it provides the ultimate bridge between academic resources, information and researchers through it’s citations and links. The GLAM-Wiki community seems to be at the forefront of fulfilling this academic KM connection, actively lobbying members of the GLAM community (academics) to build information and connect resources through Wikimedia platforms. In a future blog post, I will elaborate more on the connection between KM, DH, and GLAM-Wiki.

I hope the semester goes well and I look forward to sharing my experiences with DH and Wikipedia. If you questions or thoughts on what I should share about my experience, please leaves questions and comments below, it always helps to know what an audience is thinking!