The joys of a Wikipedia edit-a-thon

Last week the Royal Society held a Wikipedia edit-a-thon to try and help redress the gender imbalance in Wikipedia’s coverage of biographies of scientists.

Twenty volunteers gathered in the library of the Royal Society for a few hours to learn how to create Wikipedia articles and then to research and write brief entries for a number of women scientists. Some people also took part online. The organisers had prepared a list of scientists who needed articles to be created, or expanded.

I attended a workshop last year to learn the basics of Wikipedia editing, but I did not follow through, despite my good intentions. The Edit-a-thon was a good prompt to have another go. I was unable to attend the event, so I thought I would participate remotely and have a go at creating a few entries. But, as usual, things got busy at work and I ended up with just over an hour to devote to the task, late on Friday afternoon. I had identified a few women scientists from the Institute who were not in Wikipedia and proposed to work on them. I had previously written something about them for internal consumption, but I quickly realised that was not good enough for Wikipedia – I needed sourced, verifiable statements and that was going to take a bit longer.

In the end I managed to start one short entry, for Janet Niven, and I made an addition to the entry for Rosalind Pitt-Rivers. I am aiming to cover some more of the Institute’s women scientists over the next few months, as I prepare for an internal poster exhibition about them in March 2013 (for International Women’s Day). Another participant in the event helpfully created an article about Rosa Beddington, who was also on my list.

Someone commented on Twitter that the great thing about Wikipedia is that other people help out and improve the articles that you write. I know my effort was very small, and needs a good deal more work. Someone helped by tidying up my references a little.  Also, the Wikipedia system reminded me to insert inline citations properly. The editing system seems more sophisticated than I remembered, and there is a useful tool for adding references now.

I probably should have done some revision before starting.  The organisers recommended reading a background article published two years ago in PLOS Computational Biology, and Wikipedia’s own tutorial. But my time ran out and I wanted to get in and do something, so I took the risk of plunging in and relying on what I remembered from the workshop last year. The article wizard was helpful too, reminding me of the need to establish ‘notability’.

Overall it was a bit of an ordeal – trying to do something well but in a short space of time. I think my next attempt will be better and I am assured that it does get easier as you get used to the ways of Wikipedia.

Nature News has a couple of items about the Edit-a-thon:

About Frank Norman

I am a retired librarian. I spent 40 years working in biomedical research libraries.
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4 Responses to The joys of a Wikipedia edit-a-thon

  1. James Lush says:

    Nice one, Frank. I also intended to take part online, but time got the better of me. Idon’t recall a referencing tool from when I last dabbled either!

  2. Frank says:

    Thanks James. There is something to be said for getting away from the workplace to ensure you have time for something like this. I only just about made enough time. I am tempted to try and run my own session next year.

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