#1Lib1Ref: Harnessing The Wisdom Of Librarians To Edit One Of The Largest Collaboration History

Jan 25, 2018

Wikipedia, operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, is arguably one of the first stops anyone makes in online research.

The free, crowd-sourced encyclopedia is also one of the largest collaborations in human history; so vetting its information is both critical and challenging.

When Alex Stinson, a Brattleboro-based strategist for the Wikimedia Foundation, was attending a conference a few years ago, discussion naturally turned to the many facts on Wikipedia that needed additional citations, or backing up.

In fact, there are currently more than 333,000 “citation needed” notices in the English wiki alone.

An excerpt from Wikipedia's entry on "citations needed."
Credit screenshot, Wikipedia

Wiki had just added a simplified citation hunting tool, which made verifying a statement quite easy. So Stinson decided to invite librarians to look up and supply one citation each.

Involving librarians not only taps a group skilled in assessing information sources, it also highlights the crucial role librarians play in helping people to evaluate what they read. And studies show that fewer than 20% of contributors to Wikipedia are women. So Stinson reasoned that with librarianship still being a largely female profession, reaching out to librarians might help narrow the internet’s gender gap.

A successful trial run was held in 2016 and another round of the #1Lib1Ref campaign is underway now.

And it’s not just for librarians. Until Feb. 3, anyone can sign up to edit a piece. The instructions are straightforward, and the satisfaction of nailing a citation is almost instant.

Wikipedia also welcomes articles from anyone who can meet its criteria. Stinson says you need at least two reputable published sources for your information. The subject must have broad public appeal and long term interest. And you must state up front why your article is worth inclusion.

Maintaining the quality of entries and edits is clearly a challenge. Most bad edits — called vandalism — are caught by machine learning tools, but the rest are caught by human volunteers. Every edit is preserved, so even when one has been removed or if there’s a point of contention, a human editor can restore the edit.

In this round so far, 1Lib1Ref.org has already stacked up nearly 1,800 edits in at least 21 languages from 33 countries. To play even a tiny part in such a giant effort is a 21st century thrill.