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WVU Libraries partners with Wikimedia foundation to create first Wikipedian-in-Residence to focus on gender gap

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
June 25th, 2015

West Virginia University Libraries is working with Wikipedia to address the gender gap in its encyclopedia articles through a new grant-funded position.

The Wikimedia Foundation has awarded the WVU Libraries a $27,100 grant to support a Wikipedian in Residence for Gender Equity. A Wikipedian in residence is an editor placed at an institution to facilitate the creation and improvement of Wikipedia articles related to that institution’s mission.

“We’re excited to partner with WVU to create the first gender-focused Wikipedian in Residence. This role will help us get significantly closer to Wikimedia’s vision of sharing the sum of all human knowledge,” said Siko Bouterse, director of Community Resources for the Wikimedia Foundation.

The Wikipedian in residence at the WVU Libraries will help to increase the profile of several West Virginia women who have excelled in their fields – whether that be science, healthcare, business, or entertainment – but who have not yet garnered the public attention they deserve.

WVU’s Wikipedian will work to identify and organize volunteer writers and editors, offer trainings on how to edit Wikipedia, provide encouragement and recognition for volunteers who help with the project, and establish assessment measures to evaluate each writer’s contributions.

“We are immensely honored for the WVU Libraries to be selected to join the Wikimedia Foundation in this extensive effort to enhance Wikipedia’s content and reliability,” said Jon C. Cawthorne, dean of the WVU Libraries.

An institution-based Wikipedian is a relatively new role. The first Wikipedian in residence was a volunteer at the British Museum in 2010. By the end of that year, five other museums had hired Wikipedia editors, including the Smithsonian. By 2014, there were 31 Wikipedians working at institutions around the world.

WVU’s story began in March 2015, when the Libraries and the Reed College of Mediacollaborated on an event – Where Are all the Women? Wikipedia’s Gender Gap – to foster critical discussion regarding Wikipedia’s gender gap. According to Wikipedia, nearly 90 percent of the site’s volunteer editors are male. As a result, there is generally more content about men and male-related topics than about women and female-related topics on Wikipedia.

Around the time of WVU’s event, the Wikimedia Foundation announced the Inspire campaign, an initiative led by the foundation’s Community Resources team to generate new ideas aimed at addressing this issue. Out of 266 ideas came 42 grant proposals, of which the organization selected to fund 16, including WVU’s.

“It seemed a natural step following our public program to respond to the Inspire campaign with something that we could do ourselves to improve the situation,” said Carroll Wilkinson, director of Strategic Library Initiatives for the WVU Libraries. “I am thrilled the Wikimedia Foundation selected us and eager to begin work on improving the public’s knowledge about so many amazing West Virginia women and the important issues they face.”

The Wikimedia Foundation hopes to see a 25 percent increase in the number of articles on Wikipedia about West Virginia women and gender studies by the end of the project.

Cawthorne plans to have the Wikipedian in place by September 2015, leaving plenty of time to make an impact and contribute articles before the 125th anniversary celebration of the graduation of women from WVU in 2016.

A second phase of the project will address issues of regional importance to the women as well as men of West Virginia such as pay, health, education equity, job opportunities and reproductive rights in the state.

The grant was made in conjunction with “A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University,” the $1 billion fundraising effort being conducted by the WVU Foundation which runs through December 2017.


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