As September approaches, teachers and professors across the country are no doubt dusting off their speeches about why Wikipedia is not an appropriate citation for a research paper.
The online encyclopedia is often criticized for inaccuracy, bias, blindspots, and more. Yet it continues to dominate the web as a quick and accessible source of information about an incredible array of topics.
So I’ve been following with interest the press coverage about this summer’s handful of Wikipedians in Residence, where museums have partnered with volunteers to help inject more good content into the online encyclopedia. Here in the Mid-Atlantic region, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C., and the National Archives in Washington, D.C. are all hosting official Wikipedians in Residence.
Other institutions are tackling similarly intriguing outreach efforts, with the full cooperation and encouragement of Wikipedia’s parent organization, the Wikimedia Foundation. You can read more about their GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) partnerships here, and find ideas for sample projects for your own institution to initiate here.
These efforts will certainly make Wikipedia “better,” at least in terms of providing good content and encouraging professional museum staff to jump into the Wikipedia-writing and -editing fray. But it won’t solve Wikipedia’s problems overnight. Earlier this year, for instance, a New York Times article stirred up a lot of discussion about the gender balance of the encyclopedia’s contributors. Sue Gardner, the director of Wikimedia Foundation, has blogged eloquently about the media coverage as well as some of the reasons women give for the gender gap.
Nevertheless, those of us who work at cultural and historical institutions should continue to take advantage of opportunities to join the conversation. And who knows, maybe someday we’ll even be citing our own Wikipedia articles.