Celebrating 10 Years of Wikipedia

I’m a big fan of Wikipedia. It’s often the first place I go for information. According to a recent Pew Internet report, I’m also not alone. Forty-two percent of all Americans also turn to Wikipedia for information online.

Every month, almost 80 million people visit Wikipedia and more than 91,000 active contributors have worked on more than 17 million articles in more than 270 languages. Altogether there have been almost 450 million edits!

Wikipedia is an impressive, awe-inspiring resource. In my previous role as Director of the New York Public Libraries, I encouraged staff to contribute to and use Wikipedia. For some librarians and a few archivists — Wikipedia is sometimes not readily embraced. I’ve heard the concerns about accuracy and reliability, but there have been comparative studies that show errors do not appear more frequently in Wikipedia than its printed counterparts. By design, errors can be corrected and neutrality contested. The power lies with you to flag or change content you find incorrect or biased.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

On January 22, the National Archives hosted over 90 Wikipedians at WikiXDC, the Washington, D.C. celebration of Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary. This daylong event featured lightening talks, unconference sessions, and behind-the-scene tours of the stacks of the National Archives.  During the event, National Archives staff introduced our records and online resources to Wikipedians, and we learned more about Wikipedia and those who are passionate about the project.

I particularly enjoyed WikiXDC, especially the reactions to my support and enthusiasm for Wikipedia. One Wikipedian blogger in attendance, Ed Summers, wrote: “It was just amazing to hear the Archivist of the United States be supportive of Wikipedia as a reference source…especially as stories of schools, colleges, and universities rejecting Wikipedia as a source are still common.”  He wrote,

“Now we can all say: If Wikipedia is good enough for the Archivist of the United States, maybe it should be good enough for you.”

This summer, we hope to strengthen our institutional relationship with the Wikipedian community by hosting a Wikipedian in Residence. We are currently seeking applications for this student position for the 2011 summer. The Wikipedian will gain an insider’s look into the National Archives and develop an appreciation for the records and resources we have available.

As an agency, I look forward to our staff learning more about the fabric and culture of Wikipedia and how to get involved. With 42 percent of the American public relying on Wikipedia, it makes sense for the records and resources of the National Archives to be present in this space. By having the permanent records of the federal government available through Wikipedia, we will reach children, genealogists, educators, researchers, and members of the public who may never have come to the National Archives or Archives.gov to view our holdings.

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11 Responses to Celebrating 10 Years of Wikipedia

  1. Maeve says:

    Thank you so much for writing this and your support of Wikipedia. There definitely is a lot of contention about this in the library and archival worlds, but we should be the first to embrace the collective striving for the cataloging of knowledge that the community of Wikipedia works toward. It’s simple astounding the love and dedication of all the wikipedia editors out there put into their work, often voluntarily, to help further understanding and knowledge. Like anything made by humans, there are going to be errors, but unlike print resources we don’t have to wait for a reprint for them to be fixed. So thank you again for your support and for writing this and for the initiative to have a Wikipedian in Residence at the National Archives.

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  2. Liam Wyatt says:

    What can I say but thank you for working with us :-)
    Here’s to years of many and varied productive collaboration projects between NARA and Wikimedia!

    Sincerely,
    The former Wikipedian in Residence at the British Museum, Liam :-)

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  3. Aaron Jarvis says:

    Prior to working at the National Archives, I taught 8 years (2001-2009) at a middle/high school and admittedly discouraged my pupils from using Wikipedia…at first. However, the kids ALWAYS used Wikipedia as their first stop (sometimes only stop) for research. I later conceded to them that Wikipedia had improved and is a great place to get to know the topic at hand, though I still encouraged them to look at the footnotes and seek the original sources for citing. Now I find myself going to Wikipedia first! As was often the case, I learned from my pupils. Records from the National Archives would certainly have a wide audience if available through Wikipedia.

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  4. Bill Getchell says:

    Hi. I work on NARA’s ARC authority team, and I have to say that having Wikipedia has made my job a lot easier. I use it almost daily and impressed by the depth and objectivity of the articles. I look forward eagerly to the collaborative effort between NARA and Wikipedia, and hope that I can contribute.

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  5. Lorenzo Orlando Caum says:

    Wikipedia sure has come a long way. I remember distinctly when the instructions for a research paper stated that in no way or form could Wikipedia be cited as a resource.

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  6. Matt says:

    I love Wikipedia and have been using it for several years. I often used it to study for history exams because it cut right to the chase on the talking points, and I didn’t have to sift through a historian’s endless blather in a textbook. And no, my grades never suffered.

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  7. Marjorie says:

    I’m absolutely thrilled to hear that a)national archive holdings should and will be available via Wikipedia and b)you’re staffing a position to make that happen. I love seeing my tax dollars at work this way!!!

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  8. As a frequent user of RG 102 and an active Wikipedian, I love this idea. If the eventual intern wants ideas for some really interesting women’s history materials from that record group, I’d be happy to make box and folder suggestions.

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  9. Steven says:

    Wikipedia might be an interesting and innovative way to disseminate information, but until it can be effectively monitored, it has no place in the academic world (or anywhere where accuracy and transparency are paramount).While accuracy may have improved, it is still quite lacking. This comes from personal experience with students writing papers or studying for tests from Wikipedia. I am honestly appalled the NARA considers this a useful use of the agency resources and am even more shocked that employees use it to develop naming conventions.

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  10. Great to see this post and glad you like the photos (many of them are mine) enough to share with the community.

    I’d love to apply for this position, as a DC Wikipedian, a lecturer at WikiXDC, and a museum studies Masters student…! I’ve been anxiously waiting for opportunities such as this, however, the College Park location might make it tough (I live downtown, no car).

    So if one opens up for downtown…let me know :-)

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  11. Jill James says:

    @Sarah Stierch:
    We would be happy to have you apply for the Wikipedian in Residence position! Did you know that there is a free shuttle that runs between the Archives’ buildings in DC and College Park? It leave five minutes after the hour between 8 am and 5 pm, Monday through Friday (and has some Saturday hours, too). It might make the commute easier than using Metro the whole way.

    Let me know if you have any other questions.

    Best,
    Jill

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