Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon

Photo by Julz Kooser.

Photo by Julz Kooser.

This past Saturday I participated in an instance of the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon held at the Frick Fine Arts Library, just down the hall from my workspace in the Visual Media Workshop. On a personal note, I was especially excited to attend, as I had missed one of last year’s meet-ups at the RISD Library because I happened to be participating in Ladies Rock Camp that weekend. Attending this year allowed me a chance not only participate for the sake of participating in an event that I consider to be important, but to work collaboratively with other information professionals and members of my new local community.

At this point, it is perhaps fairly widely documented that the number of women editing Wikipedia is remarkably low (about 13%). It is unfortunately not terribly surprising that biographical entries about women are similarly low in number. The actual Wikipedia entry on gender bias on Wikipedia is an interesting, if sometimes awkward, starting place for further reading on the subject.

It may also then go without saying that one day of editing events is enough to correct this imbalance. But I do find the Art + Feminism Edit-a-Thon to be a truly valuable method. Sitting in the library on Saturday morning, I saw a room full of people editing entries, many for the first time, all eager to learn. I overheard countless conversations about a feeling of empowerment through learning, and motivation to continue editing beyond the event. Changes ranged from updating citations to correcting pronouns to making personal information, such as a famous spouse, secondary to the professional accomplishments of the artists themselves to composing new entries altogether. As people learned new skills, I saw them share them with one another.

As an archivist/information professional, I am always concerned with representation.  In our field, issues of agency and representation abound. Particularly in early historical records, much of the preserved record of women’s experiences was created by men. Editing Wikipedia alone does not resolve the many complicated issues at play in these systems, but I think it can provide a useful model for addressing some imbalances.  Equipped with the tools and skills that we need, and with a supportive community of collaborators, we can more easily add to records ourselves. This has the potential to extend beyond a single day, and beyond a single platform, into a consistent and pervasive personal practice. While I can’t speak for others, I think this was at least the takeaway for me. I certainly do intend to make a habit of editing entries more frequently, and of continuing involvement with the Art + Feminism events in the future. It has been noted that an important aspect of Wikipedia’s equality problem is the very culture of Wikipedia itself. While I certainly don’t mean to imply that this problem is easily solved, I wonder if one possible way to improve the general atmosphere of the Wikipedia community is to, in effect, occupy it?