By Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries
PULLMAN, Wash. – If you read Wikipedia’s biographical article on Maya Angelou, especially after the acclaimed writer’s death last spring, then you’ve read the work of Washington State University’s Christine Meyer.
A sign language interpreter at the WSU Access Center, she is also a Wikipedian – one of some 75,000 who actively edit and write articles for “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” as the Wikipedia tagline goes.
For International Open Access Week (http://www.openaccess
week.org/page/about) on Oct. 20-26, Meyer and others from WSU Libraries will lead a free, public Wikipedia water issues edit-a-thon 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21, in Terrell Library 103. Refreshments will be available throughout the day. For more about the event, visit http://libguides.wsulibs.wsu.edu/openaccess.
WSU is working with member universities of the Western Waters Digital Library (http://www.westernwater.org/) to develop and improve Wikipedia articles about water topics in Washington state. Activities include finding citations, editing for clarity and identifying pages for further review.
1.5 million views
When Meyer first started editing Wikipedia content in 2007, she read Angelou’s bio and noted a shortage of sources, poorly written prose and a lack of comprehensiveness in detailing the author’s considerable career.
“I was shocked,” Meyer said. “Maya Angelou is a pretty significant writer of the late 20th century. I took it upon myself to do something about it. That’s where I cut my teeth on editing and collaborating with other editors.”
She edited and rewrote the entry for Angelou. In 2013, it was listed as a featured article on Wikipedia – a distinction bestowed on the best articles as determined by Wikipedia editors and used by them as examples for writing other articles.
“When Maya Angelou died (on May 28), her bio article got 1.5 million views,” Meyer said. “So 1.5 million people read what I wrote, and I’m proud of that.”
Fixing the gender gap
Angelou’s bio wasn’t the only problem Meyer and others have discovered on Wikipedia’s pages. Only 9-16 percent of Wikipedia editors are women; journalists and academics have criticized Wikipedia for the gender disparity and for how it affects content.
The edit-a-thon emerged as one potential solution to encourage more women to become Wikipedia editors.
At the inaugural Art + Feminism Wikipedia edit-a-thon held in February, for example, New York Magazine’s Kat Stoeffel wrote that, according to organizers, “if you look at the Wikipedia pages of a male and female contemporary artist of similar stature in the art world, the female artist’s page will typically be less developed.
“Organized editorial sprints aim to correct such imbalances, usually by focusing on particular topics – like the Ada Lovelace Day edit-a-thon held at Brown University last fall to create and edit pages for women who have contributed to STEM fields,” Stoeffel wrote.
Edit-a-thons, libraries, Open Access Week a great combo
It turns out libraries and Wikipedia edit-a-thons go together like peanut butter and chocolate.
“Libraries have been doing these edit-a-thons for several years,” said WSU humanities librarian Gabriella Reznowski.
Open Access Week is also a fitting way to showcase a Wikipedia edit-a-thon. The week’s observance is dedicated to free, immediate online access to the results of scholarly research and the right to use and reuse those results as needed. Wikipedia cites academic and peer-reviewed publications, scholarly monographs and textbooks as sources for many of its articles.
WSU scholarly communications librarian Kay Vyhnanek said with the theme of “Generation Open,” this year’s Open Access Week is “meant to target graduate students, the next generation of academic publishers” – and hopefully the next generation of Wikipedians.
WSU Libraries chose water issues for its edit-a-thon because “water is so important in the West,” said Alex Merrill, head of systems and technical operations.
He was contacted by a librarian at Colorado State University, a member of the Western Waters Digital Library, to consider teaming up on editing Wikipedia articles.
WWDL provides free, public access to digital collections of significant primary and secondary resources about water in the western United States, including classic literature, legal transcripts, maps, reports, personal papers, water project records, photographs, audio recordings, videos and other material.
WSU’s own water-related resources are listed at the WWDL: a collection of papers by Frank A. Banks, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation engineer who supervised construction of the Owyhee, Grand Coulee and other dams; Washington maps from the late 1800s to early 1900s; government reports on the Columbia River; and the collection of Clifford R. Koester, a journeyman electrician who chronicled a history of Grand Coulee Dam’s construction from the perspective of those who lived and worked in the area.
“I have a vested interest in this edit-a-thon, as I worked on the WWDL before coming to WSU,” Merrill said. “It’s important to get primary resources of water issues in the West digitized so historians and students can use these resources better.”
Kay Vyhnanek, WSU Libraries scholarly communications librarian, 509-335-9514, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gabriella Reznowski, WSU Libraries humanities librarian, 509-335-5596, email@example.com
Alex Merrill, WSU Libraries head of systems and technical operations, 509-335-5426, firstname.lastname@example.org
Christine Meyer, WSU Access Center sign language interpreter, email@example.com
Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries public relations/communication coordinator, 509-335-6744, firstname.lastname@example.org