Cornell students and Ithaca residents gathered on Saturday to enhance Wikipedia entries on topics related to art, feminism and women in general in an “Edit-a-thon” hosted in Olin Library and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.
Edit-a-thons are events where people come together to edit and improve Wikipedia articles on a specific topic, according to Wikipedia. The events can take place either virtually or in person, commonly at cultural centers and universities.
Susette Newberry Ph.D. ’99, librarian at the Fine Arts Library, hopes that the third annual Arts and Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon can play a part in making Wikipedia be “truly democratic” by improving its coverage of underrepresented women.
“Wikipedia is the seventh-most popular resource on the Internet, but a recent study determined that only 10% of its editors are female,” Newberry said. “We time our event to coincide with International Women’s Day and honor the contributions of women in the arts.”
Another librarian at the Fine Arts Library, Marsha Taichman emphasized the importance of edit-a-thons as a crucial student opportunity by talking about how “contributing to Wikipedia means contributing to scholarship worldwide.”
“It’s empowering to know that you are enriching a global corpus of knowledge, reducing gender bias and discrepancy in representation between male and female artists,” she said.
Paulina Velasquez, an Ithaca resident, participated in her first edit-a-thon in Washington, D.C. several years ago. An artist herself, Velasquez said she identifies with “the underrepresentation of women in the arts and the need to ensure that the public knows about their works.”
Velasquez noted that it can be challenging to navigate Wikipedia’s expansive collections, to select an article to know what information should be updated. However, she believes the communal editing process makes the process easier.
“Though it is a little intimidating at first, you learn as you go,” Velasquez said. “It’s also nice meeting in a group, because you have people who can guide you. The idea is that learning from a group will encourage people to edit regularly on their own.”
Velasquez also saw the opportunity of using her fluency in both English and Spanish to contribute to the cause.
“Choosing an article can be disorienting at the beginning, especially when … there weren’t any subjects I recognized,” Velasquez said. “But I found an article on a female artist, whom I love … but the Spanish version of [her Wikipedia page] was much weaker than the English [one], so I translated it.”
Taichman also said that “bringing Wikipedia into Cornell classrooms” through events like the edit-a-thon offer unique educational opportunities unfound in traditional classroom settings.
“I get excited about … writing articles and adding citations to existing articles on Wikipedia instead of, or in addition to, writing papers that engage only the student and faculty member involved,” she said.