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Library Stories

Sharing stories of collaboration, innovation, and impact at ULS libraries

Library Content & Wikipedia

Library resources are readily available to students and researchers doing their research from computers in their dorms, at home, or even abroad. Archives have also moved quickly into the modern age with the digitization of unique collections. Scholars can see these items from anywhere in the world. However, a collection must be discovered before it can be accessed.

Discoverability is a common concern in libraries– how do we increase access to our collections? We plan marketing campaigns and invite faculty with their classes to view special collections – but what about students doing research at 3am in their dorm-room, or off-campus scholars? We want our collections to fall into the lap(top)s of our potential researchers, so a while ago began investigating ways to make our collections easier for researchers and students to find. Our first step was to look at our digitized collection websites and see how current users were discovering us.

In 2014, a team from our Archives Service Center (ASC) analyzed usage data from these sites, confirming that Wikipedia accounts for a high amount of our online traffic. A major goal of libraries and librarians is to work with users to understand their information-seeking habits, and as librarians are aware that many students use Wikipedia to start their research, the head of the ASC, Ed Galloway decided we could use that to our advantage. He drafted guidelines to actively create and edit articles in Wikipedia. Students in both the ASC and Special Collections began contributing content to Wikipedia to help drive more traffic to our digitized content. We then found our own serendipitous path into a program that allowed us to expand our collaboration with Wikipedia even further.

At a Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) conference, two of our archivists reported out on the student worker Wikipedia editing project. Jake Orlowitz, head of the Wikipedia Library program happened to be at that presentation. He invited us to apply to Wikipedia's Visiting Scholar Program: "a mutually beneficial partnership where a trusted and prolific Wikipedia editor can gain access to the best available sources, while your library help serves its mission of sharing knowledge by harnessing the power of Wikipedia to expose its research holdings."
The program consists of connecting experienced Wikipedia editors, (the "visiting scholars") with university and colleges to allow access to their unique resources, including journal editions and digital collections. These editors' topic interests/specializations and their Wikipedia editing skills are matched with the unique collections of a particular library. This collaboration is a win-win situation, ensuring robust new content for Wikipedia and providing libraries with better discoverability, resulting in more access to their unique archival resources.

We began with not one, but two Visiting Scholars who each have a long history of editing in Wikipedia (15,000+ contributions) and were eager to work with us. Despite a global search for applicants, it turned out these two were right here in Pittsburgh. Casey Monaghan, an undergraduate history/political science student at the Pitt Bradford campus and Barbara Page (while working towards her nursing degree), explored articles on Pittsburgh history, music, literary figures, medicine, science, philosophy of science, the French & Indian War, Chinese scrolls, theater, and more.
The initial plan:

  • Improve articles in Wikipedia by editing and adding content based on ULS unique material
  • Insert references/links to ULS content from the Wikipedia articles
  • Upload digitized ULS content to Wikimedia Commons
  • Increase article views
  • Increase referrals to ULS websites

Since starting at the end of 2015, both Casey and Barbara have been very busy working to improve, expand, and create new articles in Wikipedia based on unique content held in the ULS Archives Service Center, Special Collections, and Center for American Music. As of today, Barbara has edited 345 articles and created 79 new ones, while Casey edited 72 articles and created three new articles – and uploaded over 60 images to Wikimedia Commons). Casey was with us for two semesters, while Barbara just completed her 2nd year with us. Sharing details on our collections previously only available to Pitt affiliates undoubtedly bodes well for the ULS and Pitt's reputation. In addition, we are now forerunners in the success of the Wikipedia Visiting Scholars program.
You can read more about our partnership with Wikipedia on our Archives Service Center (ASC) own Tumblr blog: https://tmblr.co/Ze3nXo2DwcyOW, where they examined how the ASC's collections have had an impact on Wikipedia.