UT Libraries Wikipedia Editathon kicks off Open Access Week events

Leslie Zhang

UT librarians demonstrated a variety of ways to contribute to the Wikipedia community in UT’s first Wikipedia Editathon on Monday.

The Editathon kicked off a series of events hosted by UT Libraries during international Open Access Week. Meghan Sitar, instruction and outreach librarian, said the Perry-Castaneda Library hosted the event to promote on-campus open-access resources, which are uploaded and shared by the content-creator. 

Sitar said students who are intimidated by the idea of jumping right into editing Wikipedia pages can ease themselves in slowly. Editing for grammar is a great place to start, she said. 

“Because this is an international community, you see a great deal of ambiguity and places where you can refine the language,” Sitar said. “You’re making contributions without defining your area of expertise.”

In recent years, Wikipedia has become an international, collaborative Internet encyclopedia. Since its inception, Wikipedia pages have accumulated more than 132 million edits. Sitar said anyone can participate in the information gathering — even students.

“The transformation of social media and social software has empowered things like this to happen,” Sitar said. “It’s allowed for the crowdsourcing of information and the creation of knowledge in a more social and democratic fashion online.” 

Sitar said although the growth of Wikipedia has increased access to information, students should be wary of the credibility of the content. 

Colleen Lyon, digital repository librarian, said many professors prohibit citing Wikipedia in papers, but students can still use the online encyclopedia as a gateway to credible references listed on the Wikipedia page.

“What [professors] really mean is you need to go beyond the encyclopedia,” Lyon said. “Thirty years ago, teachers would say, ‘Don’t cite Encyclopedia Britannica,’ but that didn’t mean people weren’t using it to find other sources.”

Although Wikipedia references credible resources, Lyon said sometimes the references point to journal articles that require subscription for access.

“When you come to the library and do a search, you’ll get results returned and some of those are in the form of electronic journals that we pay [to] access — a huge amount of money — somewhere around $10 million a year,” said Travis Willmann, communications officer for UT Libraries.

Through UT Libraries, students can access many research journals available to subscribers only. Following graduation, students will not be able to view the articles behind a subscription wall unless they pay for access.

“When [students] graduate, it’s shocking to them that they can’t get access to the scholarly articles they used as students,” said Krystal Wyatt-Baxter, instruction and assessment librarian.