The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Early Modern Edit-a-Thon

Have you noticed any new articles on Wikipedia lately? An average of 700-800 are added to the English-language Wikipedia each day.1 And recently, some of them were created right here at the Folger.

On Friday, May 13th, the Folger held its first official2 edit-a-thon: despite the ominous date and intermittent thunderstorms outside, the Early Modern Edit-a-Thon was a success! Participating Folger staff were joined by visitors, including several members of Wikimedia DC who generously shared their knowledge with us, and together we edited and created about 15 articles on Shakespeare and the early modern period.

Editing away at the Early Modern edit-a-thon (image via Wikimedia Commons).
Editing away at the Early Modern edit-a-thon (image via Wikimedia Commons).

What exactly is an edit-a-thon? You’re probably familiar with Wikipedia, an internet-based, crowd-sourced encyclopedia that anyone with an interest in a particular topic, or access to good citation sources, can edit or add articles to.3 An edit-a-thon is an event where a group of people gets together to improve Wikipedia by adding citations, expanding articles, and even creating new ones, often on a particular theme or topic area. Wikipedia itself describes an edit-a-thon as “an organized event where editors edit and improve a specific topic or type of content.”4 Edit-a-thons are often physical events, as it can be helpful to consult with friendly faces in person when you’re new to editing, having trouble formulating an article, or just want to discuss what you’re working on. For our edit-a-thon, we set up in the Board Room with a cart of printed reference resources and the wifi password, and got to editing!

An edit made by one of our participants to the Wikipedia article for The Faerie Queen, adding information (with a citation!) about the symbolism in Book III.
An edit made by one of our participants to the Wikipedia article for The Faerie Queen, adding information (with a citation!) about the symbolism in Book III.

Why bother editing Wikipedia? Like it or not, Wikipedia has become a prominent part of the modern landscape—most noticeably online (Wikipedia articles typically surface within the first page of Google results, and Wikipedia data helps power the Knowledge Graph features that sometimes accompany those results), but also offline, where it is no longer unheard-of to encounter Wikipedia in the footnotes of popular scholarly works. Given this growing flow of information into and out of Wikipedia, libraries and similar institutions are encouraged to help make its content more reliable, useful, and inclusive by drawing on their resources and expertise in information literacy.

Editing away at the Early Modern edit-a-thon (image via Wikimedia Commons).
Editing away at the Early Modern edit-a-thon (image via Wikimedia Commons).

Early Modern Edit-a-Thon by the numbers:

Articles created: 7
Articles edited: 8
New usernames created: 1
Infoboxes5 created: 5
Edits reverted: 2
Attendees: 11

You’ll notice in the rundown above that a couple of our edits were reverted, or undone. As a defense against vandalism, advertising, or other types of disingenuous editing, Wikipedia editors self-police, carefully monitoring new articles and major edits; edits that do not meet Wikipedia’s guidelines can be deleted. In the case of our edits, one infobox was later deemed unnecessary, and one short article was nominated for deletion and later merged into a larger article. While edit reversions can be frustrating (and the imperious tone that some editors use to justify them only exacerbates this), they can show edit-a-thon organizers where to provide more assistance and training materials for participants in future events, ensuring that we are making high-quality and lasting edits.

We’re excited to have begun exploring the world of Wikipedia more formally, and hope to follow up with future events!

  1. This is a rough average based on Wikipedia’s own calculations; you can read more about them on their Size of Wikipedia article.
  2. Technically, a small group of Folger staff also participated in #1Lib1Ref in January; however, that event focused only on adding citations, and was limited to staff.
  3. In the early days after its founding in 2001, this could and did lead to mischief and misdirection in articles; as Wikipedia’s administrative structures have crystallized in the intervening years, however, most bad-faith edits are caught quickly.
  4. “Editor” refers to any user who edits an article, regardless of their experience or background.
  5. An “infobox” is a Wikipedia template for entering the basic information about certain subjects, such as people or works of art, that typically appears in a box at the upper right of an article.

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