On Saturday, March 18th, 2017 I had the privilege of observing and helping my colleague, Digital Services Librarian of the School of Visual Arts Library, Phoebe Stein, lead an event—the “Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon @svalibrary.” This event was in coordination with a series of events, over a week’s time, presented by the SVA Library called ‘RESIST!’ and a satellite event of the international Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon—an event that has been going on since 2014 and that was just one of over 280 events worldwide that take place every March.
Art + Feminism is an organization focused on the inclusion of women artists in Wikipedia articles. Since the Wikimedia Foundation—a charitable, nonprofit, organization dedicated to “encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual, educational content, and to providing the full content [of] wiki-based projects to the public free of charge[i] ”—found that less than 13% of its contributors identity as female, Art + Feminism made an initiative to help expand the representation of women—and LBGTQ persons—as Wikipedia authors, and to edit and correct the existing articles involving the art of women/LBGTQ persons. A large group of: librarians, professors, artists, students, and art workers/lovers “committed to contributing specific knowledge” to the Wikipedia articles involving women in art: Art + Feminism explains themselves as a community of people with “different perspectives and practices but [who] share the belief that art is fundamental to thriving societies and [who] strive to make visible the lives and work of underrepresented artists.” Patrons of the event were encouraged to sign in, in order to ensure Art + Feminism get the funding from the Wikimedia Foundation.
Phoebe gave a PowerPoint presentation about how to navigate and explore the vast world of Wikipedia, followed by hands-on practicing and guiding for the participants. She went over the basics of: how to create a Wikipedia account with a unique username; how to edit, comment, and start conversations about preexisting Wikipedia articles; how to find articles that have been flagged as ‘in need of assistance’; and how to create your own articles. The presentation and training sessions were offered twice throughout the day, as well as options of things to work on based on your constraint for the allotted time—ranging from 1 hour or less (set up Wikipedia user page and make some simple edits to existing pages), to 2-4 hours (create a new article).
Phoebe’s presentation began with suggestions of what a novice Wikipedia user’s first actions should be; the most important being to engage in conversation with the Wikipedia community and to read articles before you begin editing or writing your own. She stressed the importance of having a neutral point of view when editing/writing and notability, as well as the issue of conflicts of interest (not to partake in editing or creating articles that are somehow affiliated with your personal life, such as: places you have worked for, organizations you donate to, etc.).
In regards to notability, Phoebe urged the patrons to use secondary sources for citations, as primary sources are often frowned upon within the Wikipedia community. A creditable Wikipedia article will always have multiple sources, independent sources, quotes, and all of its citations in the same format. Sources must also be published and available to the public. Phoebe suggests patrons utilize ‘Wikipedia Teahouse’, a “friendly place to help new editors become accustomed to Wikipedia culture, ask questions, and develop community relationships.[ii]”
A link to the handout given, and helpful outside sources such as video tutorials and ways to navigate around Wikipedia to get the answers you need as a contributor, and online training sessions from Art + Feminism were also made available. Phoebe remarked that “most anything that you want to do can be found by searching Wikipedia itself,” meaning that if you need help regarding articles, go to ‘Wikipedia: Your First Article’, and if you want to learn more about Wikipedia’s sandbox, navigate yourself to: ‘Wikipedia: About The Sandbox’.
Phoebe’s presentation gave concise, easily understood guidance and was conducted in a casual, yet professional way. Observing and assisting her in this event ensued thoughts in me of: how I would conduct an event in a Library on my own; the way people responded to certain design aspects in the PowerPoint; what was retained by the patrons, and what needed to be reiterated after the presentation. There was an odd occurrence that not many SVA students showed up to this event, and that most of the patrons had heard about it from an outside source. The demographic present was widely women over the age of 50. Towards the end of the day, two Wikipedia volunteers were available to help us with instructing the patrons further.
“Wikipedia Volunteers” are people who dedicate a significant amount of time to editing and creating articles on Wikipedia. These are people of all sorts: retirees, professors, teenagers, etc. and have “proved themselves” to be reliable based on their history on the website. When looking for a creditable writer on Wikipedia, it is important to check how many articles they have written and contributed to, their user history, and if anything they have participated in editing/writing has been flagged as incorrect or biased information. Wikipedia has created algorithms called ‘bots’ to “flag and queue articles for quality and revision.[iii]” The realization that some Wikipedia users are merely using the resource to vandalize articles has forced the site to create these algorithms and survey articles more carefully, especially as Wikipedia becomes more creditable in the intellectual community as a source—currently the fifth most visited website in the world.[iv]
“Wikipedia thrives only as long as legions of volunteer editors practice protocol labor as they learn and share conventions for structuring different kinds of pages and writing encyclopedic forms of prose. iii”
The Wikipedia gender gap is not a new concept, and I, personally have always been told by Art Professors that one of the most useless, incorrect topics on Wikipedia is Art History. This, in conjunction with the underrepresentation of women artists on the site, creates a larger problem that many people are attending to.
In 2016, Art History Professor, Jamie Ratliff of the University of Minnesota Duluth created an assignment for her students to each conduct research on a Latin American female artist and create a Wikipedia page on the person.[v] Events and activities in this nature are going on throughout the country and the world as more people become aware of the gender gap. In a CBC news March 2017 interview with Alexandra Bischoff, program coordinator of the Belkin Art Gallery in Vancouver, Bischoff said that “many accomplished female artists [were] notably absent from the platform.[vi]”
In her presentation, Phoebe used the juxtaposition of the Wikipedia articles “Baseball Card” and “Doll” as an example of another type of underrepresentation of women present on the website. In this example we must regard ‘doll’ as something feminine and ‘baseball card’ as something masculine—though this is not always the case. It was clear that the baseball card article had received much more attention than the doll article. “Baseball” contains about 5,400 words and 9 ‘see also’ links; while “Doll” has roughly 2,850 words, zero ‘see also’ links, and a significantly smaller table of contents. *Though it is amazing that since this event (not yet 2 weeks ago), the ‘doll’ article has been very much bulked up. Hopefully this is in part from Phoebe’s mention of the issue.
“The organizers of Art+Feminism are deeply disturbed by the sheer amount of fake news on social media, and its influence on the recent US election. We believe this makes our work even more pressing. Now more than ever we must gather together to improve Wikipedia and affirm work of women, people of color, immigrants, [and] the LGBTQIA+ community and other marginalized peoples.i”
The work that was put into this event by Librarian, Phoebe Stein was impressive: reaching out to work with Art + Feminism, creating and lecturing on her presentation, and helping the patrons after the fact to do justice to the cause. I was happy to help out, and excited to learn new information about Wikipedia, and about the work being done by the community for women artist representation on Wikipedia. As the world becomes more aware and active in women’s rights, the work that Art + Feminism will surely act as a catalyst to serve as a valuable protocol of activism, intellectual aide, and feminism as Wikipedia—and the internet—continue to expand.
[i] “Art + Feminism.” Art + Feminism. Art + Feminism, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.0
[ii] “About.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
[iii] Downey, Greg. “Making media work: Time, space, identity, and labor in the analysis of information and communication infrastructures.” Media technologies: Essays on communication, materiality, and society (2014): 141-66.
[iv] Alcantara, Chris. “Wikipedia Editors Are Essentially Writing the Election Guide Millions of Voters Will Read.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
[v] Lawler, Christa. “BYO-Laptop: Wiki Edit-A-Thon for Arts & Equality Kicks Off…” Duluth News Tribune. Duluth News Tribune, 05 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
[vi] News, CBC. “Women Get Far Less Recognition on Wikipedia than Men, and a Group of Artists Is Tired of It.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 10 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
“Doll.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
“Baseball Card: Revision History.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
Encore. “Arts + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon Scheded for Saturday at UMF.” Sun Journal. Sun Journal, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
White, Alan. “12 Spectacular Acts Of Wikipedia Vandalism.” BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed, 2 Jan. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
“RESIST! AN EVENT SERIES PRESENTED BY SVA LIBRARY.” Blog post. Kaleidoscope RSS. School of Visual Arts Library, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
“Kaleidoscope Blogs.” SVA Library Main Page. School of Visual Arts Library, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
Kelsey Gallagher, Information Professionals LIS651 Thursdays 3-6, Spring 2017
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