Interview with Megan Wacha

Megan Wacha is the Scholarly Communications Librarian at the City University of New York. Driven by the statement that Wikipedia is “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” she utilizes this open resource to teach information literacy skills and to make underrepresented groups more visible on Wikipedia. She has presented this work at conferences such as the LITA Forum, ALA Annual, WikiConference USA and Wikimania, the global Wikipedia conference. Megan is teaching a class for Library Juice Academy next month, titled, Wikipedia: Library Initiatives and Expert Editing. She agreed to do an interview here to give people a better idea of what they will learn from her class and a bit about her background for teaching it.

Hi Megan! Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.

Hello! Thanks so much taking the time to talk with me.

I’d like to start by asking you to talk a bit about your experience working on Wikipedia and your motivation for doing so.

Of course! I started working with Wikipedia because I was interested in addressing the Wikipedia gender gap. a finding that between 84% and 91% of editors are men. At the time, I was a newly appointed research and instruction librarian at Barnard College, a small liberal arts college for women, so addressing issues related to women’s history and representation was central to the mission of the Library and the College. This was back in March 2012, a time when women’s access to health care was part of the conversations on campus, so a library colleague and I worked with the Barnard Center for Research on Women to organize a Wikipedia edit-a-thon about these issues. Once the date was set, we taught ourselves to edit, and to teach others to edit (yes, we really did it in that order!). The event was such a low-cost, high-impact way of working with our community, that I began organizing edit-a-thons each semester. Eventually, I also began to use Wikipedia as a site for instruction, partnering with faculty to develop course assignments in which students write Wikipedia articles rather than a traditional term paper.

Wikipedia is an incredible information resource, and the possibilities for libraries are endless!

So you have significant experience editing and teaching people to edit. I think you’re just the right person to teach a class on Wikipedia, which we’ve been wanting to offer for some time. The course you planned – why don’t you tell us about it?

My primary goal for this course is to empower librarians to lead a Wikipedia initiative at their institution, whether it’s a public library or private special collection. It can be intimidating to make that first edit, so this course will support students as they learn the basics of editing and the ins and outs of the Wikipedia community. We’ll also discuss a range of library initiatives that use Wikipedia, identifying what it might look like at our own institution or what we might do differently. There is a lot to cover, but we’ll build that knowledge together over the course of six weeks.

I strive to teach to who is in the room, virtual or otherwise. I’m eager to meet the students and to tackle their questions and interests together!

Sounds good. The course is six weeks in length. How is it structured over that time period?

Each week will address both the technical and social components to Wikipedia so that students will learn how libraries and librarians are engaging with Wikipedia while simultaneously learning how to edit. So, for instance, one week we’ll learn how to upload images to Wikimedia Commons while discussing how cultural heritage institutions are using Wikipedia to make their collections more discoverable. Another week we’ll learn about citations in Wikipedia while exploring how academic libraries use Wikipedia to teach information literacy skills. Content will come in the form of readings, class discussion, and brief videos.

So what will participants end up knowing or able to do at the end of the course?

Participants will leave the course empowered to edit Wikipedia, to engage with Wikipedians, and to articulate how the principles of Wikipedia (collaboration and openness being key) relate to the core values of librarianship. Participants are not required to publish in the main space of Wikipedia, but they will conduct edits in a Wikipedia sandbox as well as develop a plan for a Wikipedia initiative at their own institution. I see myself as a facilitator, and really look forward to meeting the participants and to supporting their goals for the course!

That sounds great. Thanks very much for doing this interview.

Thank you – It was a pleasure.

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