Long Several Weeks and an Editathon

What a long several weeks! It’s been a while since my last post, and the last couple weeks have been a good case study of grad school chaos: I was catching up with school activities outside my internship with the Blake Archive, creating a syllabus for a competitive graduate teaching opportunity for next semester, grading a pile of papers for the writing classes I am teaching this semester,  running an Editathon (for more information see the event page on Wikipedia) and preparing to help a professor using Wikipedia in his classroom.  Oh, the life of academics! A lot happened in the past several weeks, and I don’t think I can adequately cover all of it. Instead, I thought I would spend today’s post highlighting what Editathons are, reporting on the editathon that I held here at K-State and discussing opportunities offer both for GLAM-Wiki activities and for collaboration among non-Wikimedia communities.

What is an editathon?

One of the biggest parts of successful GLAM-Wiki Activities tends to be live in-person events that encourage people to contribute to Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects called Editathons. Generally, at these events, a group of Wikipedians alongside some inexperienced volunteers come together to contribute to materials relavent to GLAMs on the various projects. I first experienced events like these in the U.K. when I lived there in 2011, and, subsequently in the D.C. area, I participated in several more events, as the local community got its foot in the door with the vast number of GLAMs in the city, especially the Smithsonian. Generally, these editathons allow organizations to access the Wikimedia volunteer community in a more personal and interactive setting, something that they are more familiar with as curators of institutions distributing public knowledge. Moreover, the GLAM institution that host the editathon gets an opportunity to promote both their materials, by asking Wikimedians to edit articles about them, and reward the volunteers through food and exposure to the collection and its behind the scenes workinga. In 2011, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported on an editathon I attended at the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art, and the video really captured the enthusiasm held by the, then, Wikipedian-in-Residence, Sarah Stierch, Sarah Snyder, a big advocate for the D.C. area Wikimedia community, volunteer participants, and a younger version of myself. I like that the video captures both the energy and the focus of GLAM institutions when they hold these events. For information and materials to help run editathons check out the tutorials at editathon.org and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:How_to_run_an_edit-a-thon

Editathon at the Beach Museum

On October 11th, the Beach hosted an editathon related to William Blake. It provided an interesting experience for me, because it offered both a different approach to edithatons and created a radically new experience for the Beach Museum. One of the biggest hurdles for me this semester is corralling volunteers to contribute to the Blake Activities. Online volunteers aren’t too hard to find: on English Wikipedia, there are few Blake related contributors that have been producing a fair amount of Blake content. However, throughout Eastern Kansas their are hardly any regular Wikimedia projects contributors: maybe 6 including myself. Also, the Beach museum wanted to hold the event on a Friday because of staffing and the weekly schedule. Many of the Wikimedians couldn’t attend because of the work week. Thus for the editathon, I ended up having drew on people from my network in the English department instead of the typical volunteer community these events: experienced Wikipedians.

The event turned out smaller then expected (8 attendees instead of an expected 12 or so); as is often the case with academic communities, many people constantly have many things they are doing and a number of RSVPs had other things come up. However, for an event that didn’t draw many experienced Wikipedians, we got a fair amount done. Beyond teaching 5 new editors how to edit Wikipedia and Wikisource, the volunteers got a chance to learn more about Blake’s works and contributed to both Wikipedia and the Wikisource. Wikisource is a sister project to Wikipedia which creates e-book transcriptions of public domain books. We made some good progress on transcribing Benjamin Heath Malkin’s A Father’s memoirs of his child (we could still use more help at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Index:Father%27s_memoirs_of_his_child.djvu ). Though not radically productive for a 4 hour period, the event proved a success within the limits on the situation: training people to make contributions on Wikimedia projects can take time, and to get 5 people actually making changes within characterizes a big success; and, this is the first volunteer event at the Beach Museum, besides the use of docents, that actively involved people creating information related to the mission. Since, I haven’t seen any activity on Wikimedia projects from the volunteer, it demonstrates that academics only have so much time to contribute and then may or may not come back as regular contributors. Generally, though the event provided a foundational experience for the community here, the Beach museum and create a model for future events!

Thinking about the event as Cross Organizational Collaboration

With my internship I also want to facilitate conversation and collaboration amongst different academic groups that exist on the K-State campus to create public knowledge.The edithaton offered just that opportunity: we improved Blake related materials to meet the goals of the Blake Archive, while giving the Beach Museum a sample of what it means to host volunteers and see what running such an event would look like. Beside direct outcomes, it allowed for a meeting between Dr. Mark Crosby, my sponsor at the Blake Archive, and Addrianne Russell, our sponsor from the Beach. Dr. Crosby teaches a digital humanities class in the Spring. In the class, Crosby will require his students to contribute to a similar event focused largely on the interests of the Beach. Moreover, by training digital humanities students in Wikipedia ahead of time, the event will be more focused on contributions and collaboration!

Whats coming up

As, I have been promising for a while, there are some more statistical sets that I would like to explore as an extension of my earlier discussion of stats. Furthermore, I just got a copy of William Blake and the Digital Humanities: Collaboration, Participation, and Social Media by Roger Whitson and Jason Whittaker from Inter-Library Loan. Both Mark Crosby, and myself are planning to review the book, and I would love to reflect on it here in light of my project.  Hopefully I can those blog posts out with a more timely manner this time!

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Semester starts, and collaboration expands!

William Blake in Conversation with the Astrologer John Varley - the Right - by John Linnell (cropped, contrast increased) from Wikimedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:William_Blake_in_Conversation_with_the_Astrologer_John_Varley_-_the_Right_-_by_John_Linnell.jpg

William Blake in Conversation with the Astrologer John Varley – the Right – by John Linnell (cropped, contrast increased) from Wikimedia Commons 

Today is officially the first day of the semester, and already good news for my internship and the Blake Archive collaboration! I was very pleased this weekend to get a message from User:Dmitrismirnov, a Wikipedian mostly active on Russian Wikipedia, saying that he had created a new English-language article on William Blake’s series of pencil and black chalk sketches called “Visionary Heads“. The series of sketches were inspired by late night meeting John Varley, an astrologer, during the later part of Blake’s life. The sketches depict visions of historical figures whom appeared to Blake in visions, as if sitting for a portrait. You should check out the article, or even contribute more information to it! The article is by no means complete, but that’s part of what makes Wikipedia so empowering: at least the information is out there for those who didn’t know about the sketches and we can know expand and improve that content as opportunity becomes available. If you know something about the Visionary Heads, or would like to learn more by researching them, why not edit the page! It’s fairly easy to contribute, simply create an editing account and begin writing. If you find yourself with questions or concerns, we also have community spaces, like our Teahouse, which can help new editors figure out how to use the site.

Speaking of the synergistic effects of social media: my blog has brought me in contact with a librarian of the National Library of Medicine, who has worked with Blake’s scientific illustrations of which the library holds a copy! Hopefully we can find some form of collaboration to improve the public awareness of these materials through Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons and other platforms! I am very excited to learn more about their collection and works as we follow up on that conversation.

Both of these experiences, just in the last couple days, demonstrate just how empowering Wikipedia and GLAM Cooperations can be for bringing together people of varied interests to work on knowledge that they are passionate about. Wikipedia’s global reach, from Kansas to regions speaking Russian, and ability to bring public relevance to institutions, like the Blake Archive, Kansas State’s Beach Museum and the National Library of Medicine, ensures a digital gathering place for physically distanced individuals.

Since I am in the middle of preparing for the writing classes I teach as part of my graduate study, I will keep this blog post short! But what an exciting day: already my activities are paying off! Would you like to be part of that impact? How can I help? What do you need to know to better expand public knowledge about Blake or another subject?

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.

Completeness

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?

A Beginning for the Semester

This semester I will be doing GLAM-Wiki activities with the William Blake Archive (http://www.blakearchive.org/blake/ ) 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 http://outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/GLAM , 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 (https://outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/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!