Working with Wikipedia to Make Collections More Discoverable

418px-Wikipedia-logo-v2-enDr James Peters writes:

A small project has recently been undertaken to improve links between Special Collections catalogues and Wikipedia articles. This will enhance the discoverability of our collections by representing them in an information resource which is used by millions every day.

Wikipedia is now recognised as a key Web-based information resource; the online encyclopaedia contains millions of articles, and has become a respected and trusted source of information for its users.

An online global community of authors and editors – Wikipedians – is continuously engaged in adding to and updating entries. Wikipedia articles are the product of many hands, and this is generally a strength as it brings together and refines information from diverse sources.

Wikipedia articles can link to external information resources, such as online archive catalogues. This is a useful way of indicating the additional sources of information available for the individual or organisation that is the subject of a Wikipedia article

I have been looking at how the Library’s archive collections are represented on Wikipedia. The issue first came to attention when I noted that some Wikipedia articles which referenced our collections often did so inaccurately or had broken links to the relevant archive catalogues. I decided to investigate the issue more systematically by checking Wikipedia articles on 700 individuals and organisations whose archives we look after.

The findings were interesting. Only around 5% of articles referenced a related archive collection held by Special Collections.  In a further 300 cases, there were Wikipedia articles for individuals and organisations, but without any information about related archival resources.  Perhaps surprisingly, over half the individuals or organisations whose archives we look after have no Wikipedia entries. Admittedly some of these are very obscure or not appropriate for Wikipedia treatment, but there were also some well-known names missing.

Having had some basic training as a Wikipedia editor, I have begun to remedy this situation. Where collections are already referenced in a Wikipedia article, information has been checked for accuracy and working links created to our archive catalogue, ELGAR or the Guide to Special Collections. A further hundred or so articles now have information about a related archive held by us; this information is usually added to the External Resources section of the article, and linked to ELGAR or the Guide. In some cases links were created instead to the relevant entry in the National Archives’ Discovery catalogue, which is better for conveying information about archives which are held by multiple repositories.  Some important archives such as the papers of Samuel Alexander, T.F. Tout and Annie Horniman are now referenced in their Wikipedia articles.

There is still work to be done. In some cases, although Wikipedia articles exist for an individual or organisation, the Library does not have a public description of the archive associated with them. This is hopefully something which can be tackled in future, as more material is catalogued. We can also contribute to new Wikipedia articles for those individuals and organisations that currently lack them, and in the process help to ensure that our collections are properly publicised.

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