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.
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.
For More Information
- Pew Internet Report, “Wikipedia, past and present” at http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Wikipedia.aspx
- “Wikipedia: About” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About
- “Reliability of Wikipedia” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia
- “WikiXDC” the DC Wikipedia 10th Anniversary Event at http://ten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_DC
- Ed Summer’s blog, “INKDROID” at http://inkdroid.org/journal/2011/01/23/wikixdc/
- To learn more about the Wikipedian in Residence student position at the National Archives visit http://blogs.archives.gov/aotus/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/national-archives-wikipedian-in-residence-intern-call-for-applicants.pdf