WWW (Words, Women, and Wikipedia)

We all use Wikipedia. Whenever we’re curious, whenever we’re bored, and whenever we’re stumped, Wikipedia is there for us. And sometimes we need to be there for Wikipedia. For the online resource to be as good as it is, to remain accurate, fair, and up to date, it takes an army of millions around the world. A few Corning-area volunteers recently decided to join that army.

On Saturday, March 10, 2018, The Rakow Research Library hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon in support of Art + Feminism. Joined by a group of enthusiastic newcomers and experienced Wikipedians alike, the event organizers, led by Rebecca Hopman, outreach librarian at the Rakow, had a few simple goals in mind: to increase the number of Wikipedia articles on women working in the arts (and more specifically, in glass), to improve existing articles, to encourage more women to participate, and to have fun while doing it.

Editing Wikipedia is a never-ending challenge to the volunteers who give their time to update and improve the ever-growing encyclopedia. These improvements include everything from simple punctuation, to adding citations, and eventually the creation of entirely new articles on a notable person, place, or thing. An edit-a-thon is typically a one-day event that condenses that entire process into a fun and engaging experience, where everyone is welcome.

Art + Feminism, an international campaign celebrating its fifth year, provided the perfect framework around which Rebecca could build this year’s event. As an avid Wikipedian, she had noticed the historic disparity of articles written about and by women, and knew the time was ripe to make a change.

“There are many reasons why we – women, the glass community, the local community – should edit Wikipedia,” said Rebecca, “But at this moment, I think representation is perhaps the most important. By adding more articles about notable women to Wikipedia, those using the site have a larger set of examples of what women can do and have done.”

On the morning of the event, everyone arrived to enjoy some tasty breakfast treats and log in. With pastries and hot coffee at hand, Rebecca presented a brief overview of Wikipedia and the tasks for the day. Following that, everyone was let loose in the Rakow to start editing.

With the more experienced users nearby to help guide and troubleshoot, everyone found a project to match their skill level. Some folks uploaded images, some edited existing articles on women artists they knew and admired, while others set the bar high and started entirely new articles. With plenty of resources close at hand, the fun began!

Breaking for lunch, the group gathered for a panel discussion led by Kris Wetterlund, director of education and interpretation at CMoG. Participants in the discussion were Caitlin Hyde, properties of glass demonstrations team leader at CMoG, Amy Ruza, youth and family programs educator at The Rockwell Museum, and Ann Welles, director of Corning art gallery, Exhibit A.

With a recent New York Times article on feminist art icon Judy Chicago’s perspective on women working in the arts as a starting point, the panel explored the unique experiences each had faced in their careers, the changing landscape of their chosen professions, and the success they’d achieved. At the end, everyone was able to reflect on their own reasons for wanting to edit Wikipedia.

With bellies full of lunch, and minds sated by good discussion, the group returned to the Rakow reading room to continue with their edits through the afternoon. The results for the day included two new articles created, five new articles drafted, 10 existing articles edited, four images uploaded to Wikimedia Commons (a media file repository of freely-licensed content), and 77 total edits.

By the end of the day, everyone was happy with their new skillset and new-found passion for advancing the position of women on Wikipedia. “Learning how to contribute to Wikipedia has been on my to-do list for a very long time,” said one participant. “Thank you for this fabulous opportunity to get my feet wet!”

The team at The Rakow will be back again next year celebrating Women’s History Month. If you’re interested in joining a regular editing team, contact Rebecca Hopman for more information at [email protected] If you are interested in getting started on your own or aren’t local, this is a good resource: So You’ve Decided to Become a Wikipedia Editor.

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