Wikipedia Dispatches: What Does a Wikipedian-in-Residence Do?

Wikipedia Dispatches: What Does a Wikipedian-in-Residence Do?

Breaking down the NBLA's Wikipedia activities

Wikipedia is a beacon of seemingly infinite information in our online lives: a jumping off-point for research, a quick fix to a debate, or a rabbit hole of factoids in which to lose yourself. In March of 2022, I started as Wikipedian-in-Residence here at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, and since then have been finding ways to bring the NBLA to Wikipedia and vice versa. Here's a bit about what I’ve been up to and an overview of what Wikipedian-ing has looked like for me. 

What Exactly is a Wikipedian-in-Residence 

Flow chart outlining Wikipedian in residence stakeholders

Flowchart of a sample Wikipedian-in-residence workflow. Image courtesy of Wikipedia, PKM and Lori Byrd Phillips.

The role of a Wikpedian (or a Wikimedian, as the position is sometimes called) generally takes the broad shape of bridging their institution’s resources with Wikipedia. The role can vary greatly from place to place, with individual positions focused on different aspects of Wikipedia’s capabilities and the particular mission of an institution. Wikipedians are often associated with GLAM institutions, which stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums.

My approach to tailoring the Wikipedian role to the Niels Bohr Library & Archives has revolved around a few central goals, including: 

  1. Increasing access to and knowledge of digital and non-digital resources in our holdings 
  1. Improving content focusing on underrepresented members of the physics community 
  1. Empowering others to edit Wikipedia 

With these guiding principles, I have delved into the world of Wikipedia with a few targeted projects to both address these aims and utilize the NBLA’s historical resources. 

Getting Started in the Collections

BeReal screenshot with selfie in the top left corner, and main image of looking down an archival stacks, with two shelves on each side an a third ahead. The shelves are stacked with books and a book cart is visible in the forefront.

BeingReal in the archives.

My first stop within the NBLA collections began with our oral history interview collection, which features over 2,000 interviews with physicists whose careers spanned from the early 1900s into the present day. Selecting one at random was a way to engage with a huge swath of physics history, and to learn more about the individuals who have been a part of it. Within our collections, I’ve also been working to include material from the Wenner Collection onto Wikipedia. The Wenner Collection features more than 4,000 books and publications spanning physics history, with titles from luminaries ranging from Ptolemy to Einstein. The Emilio Segrè Visual Archives have also been a primary workspace for me in finding images that can be uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons for use on Wikipedia pages worldwide.

A common misconception that I had when I started Wikipedia editing is the idea that “valuable” edits must take the form of in-depth, encyclopedic entries. However, even the addition of a simple hyperlink, a single image, or one cited detail can greatly improve a page. Seemingly minor edits are a great place to start and are how Wikipedia continues to grow and improve. I started editing with these types of additions, then progressed to tasks such as adding citations, adding photographs of things in our collections, and creating pages.

Addressing Coverage Gaps on Wikipedia 

Another goal as Wikipedian has been using our collections to improve representation on Wikipedia and illuminate people whose stories have often gone untold. An often-cited statistic is that less than 20% of biographies on the site are about women, and that percentage is even lower in STEM-related content. The category page for “African-American physicists” currently only has 51 entries; “Hispanic and Latino American physicists” has only 9 entries, and as of now there is no category highlighting Indigenous physicists. This is in comparison to, for example, the category page for “21st-century American physicists,” which has 1,399 entries. These discrepancies are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of recognizing underrepresented groups, but are jarring, and show how much room there is for improvement on these fronts.

There have been notable improvements in recent years to ameliorate the lack of coverage on minority groups, and various WikiProjects and editors have sought to address these gaps over the years. The British physicist Jess Wade, for example, is well known for her efforts to tackle STEM discrepancies on Wikipedia, adding 1,750 biographies of women and minorities to the site. And the WikiProject Women in Red is a Wikipedia-wide effort to improve the quality and creation of articles about women, women’s works, and women’s issues, on the site. 

In practice, my efforts at NBLA to respond to these issues have included focusing on collections materials that highlight underrepresented scientists and creating pages based on resources in our collections as starting points. Here are a few pages I have created or edited using our resources:

Engagement on Wikipedia 

Wikipedia is defined by the community that creates it, and anyone can make an impact by contributing edits. The site is made up of a vast network of volunteers who not only edit pages for format, content, and facts, but who design improvements to the site on a daily, nearly minute-to-minute basis. I have been assisted frequently by members of local and online Wikipedia groups, as well as by volunteers who have stumbled across my work and have contributed to new pages I’ve worked on, or who have vetted content I have created. When working in an online capacity, it can sometimes feel like shouting into the void, so it is incredibly rewarding to have moments when someone shouts back. It’s empowering to know that anyone can contribute to Wikipedia and share their knowledge and add to their areas of interest (with correct citations of course). 

A three tiered bookshelf with multicolored books on each level.

A selection of NBLA books used during an edit-a-thon.

Wikipedia edit-a-thons are another great way to introduce new editors to Wikipedia. These events are tutorials in how to create a Wikipedia account and make first edits, often focused on a specific topic to guide where edits are made. In the last year, the NBLA has hosted two edit-a-thons: one for the SPS fall conference and one for NBLA and AIP staff members. Both were focused on increasing coverage of underrepresented groups in physics fields, and included the use of NBLA books that feature secondary source material to build articles. 

To Wikipedia and Beyond! 

This role has been an amazing entry not only into the wide world of Wikipedia, but also to the amazing collections of the NBLA. It is so invigorating to learn something new every day and to bring these materials to a wider audience. I encourage everyone to try out being a Wikipedian for whatever your interests may be!  

Follow my Wikipedia exploits on my user page, CamrynBell (on Wikipedia, Wikimedia, and Wikidata). 

References and Further Reading 

Harrison, Stephen. “The Notablility Blues.” Slate. (26 March 2019). 

Interview of Antonina Roll-Mecak by David Zierler on June 1, 2020,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA.

Interview of Warren W. Buck by David Zierler on March 2, 2021, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA.

Page, Sydney. “She’s made 1,750 Wikipedia bios for female scientists who haven’t gotten their due.” The Washington Post. (17 October 2022). 

Tripodi, Francesca. “Ms. Categorized: Gender, notability, and inequality on Wikipedia.” New Media & Society. (published online 27 June 2021).

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