I have been contributing to Wikimedia (mostly Wikipedia, Wikidata, and Commons) since July 2015. I have made some progress: I wrote a Wikipedia entry from scratch (it’s a bit too much on the original research side, but no one has noticed); I have contributed to several edit-a-thons; and I have participated in some community discussions (mostly about Wikidata properties and Wikimedia events). But I mostly feel like a stranger that wandered into a new town and seeks directions to all the common places that locals navigate while half asleep. Part of this confusion is just a factor of how much time I (do not) have to contribute to the “movement.” My skills as a librarian and as a life-long student of various subjects are immediately applicable to contributing to the sites; so, thus far, I have invested most of my (rarely available) time to making small edits (adding a reference to a Wikipedia entry or contributing a data element to a Wikidata entry). This approach has immediate rewards – I get to watch the information quality of the sites improve – but my familiarity with the broader community, the tertiary tools, and the specific efforts that might best align with my interests has suffered as a result. I think, six years and several events later, it’s becoming clear that my contributions to the movement cannot advance much further without making more time to learn the landscape. This will not be an easy task because scholarly communication librarianship is demanding of both intellect and labor. Right now I spend the majority of my days supporting a slow culture change toward open access publishing practices at a university with a sizable research output. As a result, when my brain is free to wander, it tends to discover interesting “solutions” to problems in that space – the space that I spend the most time inhabiting. If I want to make meaningful contributions (to give of my abilities) to the Wikimedia movement, I will need to spend significant time bumping into tasks, ideas, people, problems, and conversations. I am not entirely sure how to make that happen.

I could start by blocking time on my calendar to devote to Wikimedia work, but I have done that in the past and without some structure and some goals, it has been easy to lose track of that time. In isolation, it is also easy to stagnate – for example, to complete easy tasks that I already know how to do without learning much more. So, I think I need to find a community of contributors that have an established portfolio of work. I have fallen into this approach (somewhat successfully) already by following the lead of a colleague at my library who is systematically adding authors affiliated with our university to Wikidata. Thus, I have hopes that it would transfer to other projects. The problem, though, is how to find such a community – one that is not organized by me and one that is actively meeting and contributing to an effort that aligns with my interests and skills.

Honestly, I’ve been stumped about how to get started. When in doubt, I usually look for things to read. An entire user group focuses on Wikimedia and Libraries – I’ve dabbled, but I worry that the focus is more on libraries (how libraries as organizations can get involved) and less so on librarians (individuals) that might want to be better contributors to Wikimedia. Likewise there are a growing number of books and articles to read, including Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of Knowledge (Proffitt, ed., 2018) and a book forthcoming entirely focussed on academic libraries, Wikipedia and Academic Libraries (Bridges, ed., 2021). But, like many people, I have a years’ deep pile of works I should read; delaying further development in active Wikimedia contribution to stop and read might just be a sign of procrastination. (One might say the same of the long post in which I am clearly thinking at the keyboard while not contributing to the Wikimedia movement.) Another approach would be to reach out to people that I know are doing the work already and ask them for their thoughts and ideas about where to get started. Which, I suppose, is what I’ll do – starting, for better or worse, with a short list of academic librarians that I am aware of as active members of the Wikimedia movement. Perhaps, I’ll send some interview questions, such as:

  • How much time in an average week do you devote to Wikimedia “work”?
  • Do you feel like your library understands or values this work? (Does the organization expect it to be a side-side project of your regular responsibilities?)
  • How did you get started in the Wikimedia “movement”?
  • If you were getting started today, more or less from scratch, what would you do differently?
  • From my relatively uninformed vantage point, the volunteer movement is comprised of a variety of kinds of activities (often overlapping and including, but not limited to) this list below. Did I miss anything? Where do you spend the most time? What do you enjoy the most? Why? (If it matters, which of these areas “count” at your library?
  1. Contributing “content”
  2. Participating in policy development (e.g. new Wikidata properties), moderating and editing content, and other “talk page” things.
  3. Organizing programs and communities (edit-a-thons, Conferences, usergroups, etc.)
  4. Developing tools

These questions might not get me very far when what I’m really facing is my own indecision, but (if nothing else) maybe they will help me better understand how some prominent Wikimedians do what they do.

Jere Odell. Licensed CC BY