First year medical students watch on in horror as my colleague casually edits an important looking number on the dosage section of Wikipedia’s entry on Insulin. She is a librarian teaching a class on information literacy, and making vital points about the value of using reliable sources and the need to think critically about knowledge. But this is only half the story. I check the page again on my way home that day and – reassuringly – the inaccurate dosage has been reverted to the original figure, complete with a clickable citation.
Of course, I don’t think we want our future doctors scrolling Wikipedia pages before writing out our prescriptions. But we do know that students use it. Researchers use it. Librarians use it. For me, it’s a starting point for so many fact-finding missions and curious explorations. Come to think of it, do you know anyone who doesn’t use Wikipedia?
The endlessly fascinating Wikipedia Statistics page tells us that in May 2020 there were 25 billion page views. I can’t quite fathom a number that high, but it is definitely a lot. The internet is a busy place filled with spaces for buying and selling, influencers and dubious pop ups, clickbait and social media likes.
Remarkable to think, then, that one of the most used websites in the world is an almost twenty-year-old platform for sharing free and open knowledge. And those pages that hold the knowledge we greedily consume every day, are created and edited by human people out there somewhere. Last month, Wikipedia editors made 54 million edits to this giant knowledge base, and the English Wikipedia averages 594 new articles per day.
It is a staggering feat of human achievement. And it’s the community of editors that make it: committed to sharing knowledge. With everyone. For free. Sounds like the stuff of our research dreams.
Librarians (always the coolest crowd at a party) are getting in on the act. Twice a year, the #1Lib1Ref initiative calls on librarians around the world to add missing references to articles on Wikipedia. Hooking readers up with reliable sources and accurate citations. The ‘academic win’ is twofold: students using Wikipedia will be ushered towards valuable research AND the cited researchers will find their work is more widely read (and cited).
Researchers can get involved too. Makes sense, right?
- You are an expert on your topic.
- You’ve actively chosen to dedicate your time to communicating information.
- You have privileged access to world class resources (I’m talking Library content here… not all those journals we subscribe to are open access, but don’t get me started on that now).
- You are an awesome person who wants to contribute to global knowledge.
Ok, so I guessed the last one, but I think I’m selling it pretty well. As part of the Festival of Doctoral Research the Library is hosting a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on Thursday 18th June at 10am. We’ll be meeting online to contribute to the creation and dissemination of open knowledge, and help to address under-representation and bias in knowledge.
If you are interested in learning how to improve diversity on Wikipedia by developing pages on notable women, LGBTQ+ and BAME professionals, and under-represented issues missing from the free and open encyclopedia, please join us. Absolutely no prior experience of web editing is required, and we’ll be there to share top tips and answer your questions.
Sign up! Hope to see you there.
– Bethany Logan, Academic Services Librarian (Research & Scholarship)
Further reading / inspiration
Other Library events during the Festival
- Viva Survivor Soundtrack, a collaborative Spotify playlist – read the Research Hive blogpost for more info and share your suggestions with #VivaSoundtrack @SussexResHive
- PGR Publications, a @SussexLibrary Twitter thread of research articles from the past 12 months, shared throughout Festival week. Thinking about getting published? Check out the Library’s resources page for guidance.