GLAM/Case studies/Smithsonian Institution Archives/Women in Science Edit-a-thon

The Smithsonian Institution Archives sought to not only broaden coverage of Smithsonian history on Wikipedia, but, to also work directly with the Wikipedia community to improve content about women scientists related to the Smithsonian. In order to do so, SIA hosted a 2012 edit-a-thon titled "She Blinded Me with Science: Smithsonian Women in Science Edit-a-Thon". The event brought together 10 Wikipedians to write biographies about a pre-selected group of women, utilizing SIA's online finding aids and hard copy biographical data from the archives. The Wikipedian-in-Residence worked with archives staff to pick the date & time, the theme, organize the promotion of the event, and to gather content related to the chosen subjects of the edit-a-thon. The half-day event featured a brief tour of the Archives and was followed by a happy hour event at a nearby restaurant.

Wikipedians and staff work side-by-side to help bring more women in science to Wikipedia.

Planning process


The Wikipedian-in-Residence worked with Effie Kapsalis, SIA's Head of Web, New Media, & Outreach, and Tammy L. Peters, who leads the Archives Information Management and Reference Teams, to pick a date which would serve as "launch" for the residency, March 30. A Friday was chosen because SIA is not open on the weekends. It was decided that 10 Wikipedians would be the maximum for attendance; due to space constraints and to provide a more intimate experience and opportunity for cooperation amongst staff and Wikipedians.

After the date was set, Kapsalis and Peters provided the resident with a spreadsheet featuring women in science who either lacked articles on Wikipedia, or who had articles but those articles were in need of improvement. This document included links to the chosen subjects online finding aids and a note if additional materials were not published online but available onsite. Twenty-six women scientists were added to a "to-do" list complete with online resources linked from the page. The idea behind choosing women scientists tapped into SIA's yearly coverage of women's history month in March, and also related to the Wikipedian-in-Residence role as the "gender gap fellow" for the Wikimedia Foundation, and her personal passion for improving coverage about women's biographies in Wikipedia, an area sorely lacking.

Staff coordination


The resident met with Riccardo Ferrante, Information Technology Archivist & Digital Services Program Director, and Catherine Shteynberg, Web, New Media, and Outreach Coordinator for SIA. The three discussed internal and external promotion of the event. The resident had already created an invitation page on Wikipedia. Also, a press release about the resident and the edit-a-thon was written by Shteynberg, approved by Ferrante and the resident, and posted on SIA's Press Page. The three decided that upon the week of the edit-a-thon, if any of the 10 slots were open, they would promote it to staff to sign up from any Smithsonian unit. It was also decided that Shteynberg would write a blog announcing Stierch's residency, which would also announce the edit-a-thon. The blog was reviewed by the resident and by Ferrante. Shteynberg also made an internal Smithsonian announcement, sharing information about the residency and the edit-a-thon on the SIA internal staff list and the Smithsonian's social media mailing list.

The Smithsonian Institution Barnstar, designed by staff

The three also coordinated the days activities. Participants would arrive around 1 pm and work out of the main conference room and SI guest wifi access would be provided. A projector would be provided. Soft drinks, water, and light snacks were also provided, as caffeine is a must have at any edit-a-thon! Archives Information Management and Reference Teams leader Tammy L. Peters and her archives staff would be on hand to provide participants with materials about the edit-a-thon subjects. It was decided that if Wikipedians sought to utilize archival collections then they would work in the research room, due to the presence of beverages and snacks in the conference room. Peters would also give a brief tour of the facilities during a break in the 4 hour event. Ferrante would participate in the edit-a-thon, and Shteynberg, who works offsite, would provide support.

Shteynberg created a barnstar to award participants at the edit-a-thon and for the project. Barnstars are great tools to thank Wikipedians for a job well done, and a standard practice in Wikipedia.

Preparing for the day


To prepare for the event, the resident created a to-do list for the afternoon. The list has an invitation for all the participants of the edit-a-thon to sign up to be a member of the Smithsonian Institution Archives partnership project. It also has a list of all of the women that would be focused on for the event, links to SIA's finding aids about those women, and an outcomes section for successes from the day. An Etherpad, an open source collaborative notepad, was created for the event as well. This to-do list was not posted publicly on Wikipedia until the morning of the event. Upon it's posting, the resident shared it on the Cultural Partnerships mailing list, encouraging Wikimedians from around the world to help out with the event. When the edit-a-thon began, an editor from England had already began participating.

Day of the event


The resident arrived approximately one hour prior to the edit-a-thon beginning, in order to get situated and oriented. Upon her arrival, she met with Effie Kapsalis and Riccardo Ferrante, and the staff participants made themselves comfortable in the conference room. Staff and the resident distributed "swag" from SIA and Wikimedia projects on the table. Wikipedians began to arrive, and by 1:30pm each seat in the conference room was taken.


A draft, written by Smithsonian founder Joseph Smithson, in which he bequests his estate to found the Smithsonian.

Once the group settled in, the Wikipedian-in-Residence gave an overview of the days activities. This included a "tour" of the online resources she had provided and that SIA has on their website. The resident also provided a brief overview on writing biographies on Wikipedia. Tammy Peters welcomed everyone, and then gave a brief talk about the history of the Archives, its collection, and some anecdotes about the women included on the to-do list. Moments later everyone dove in, selecting the biographies they would write and working together. Halfway through the event, Peters led Wikipedians on a brief tour of the Archives, showing them a conservation lab and the storage facilities. Peters showed the Wikipedians selected objects from the Archives, including a draft of the will written by Smithsonian founder, Joseph Smithson, in which he leaves his estate to found an educational organization which would become the Smithsonian. The group returned, happy to see that staff-Wikipedians were hard at work at their articles. The group continued to work up until 5 pm. A meet-up was held at a nearby restaurant afterwards.



The event was an energizing experience and a great way to not only excite staff about the Wikipedian in Residence program, but, also excited staff in regards to developing new skills involving editing Wikipedia. Staff learned how to upload images, edit articles, add citations, how to handle challenges related to notability and article deletion, and the importance of the unique form of collaborative editing that Wikipedia offers. Wikipedians learned what resources the Archives have, how to utilize those Archives, and also were able to develop skills in collaborative editing and mentoring editors in need of help. Staff who attended all agree that the event was an eye opening experience into what goes into editing Wikipedia.

When a GLAM hosts an edit-a-thon it's a unique and unifying experience: for staff and for Wikipedia contributors. For non-professional researchers and writers, it's rare that one gets to work closely with GLAM staff and the collections of that GLAM. Edit-a-thons are special and rewarding experiences for all involved - avid Wikipedians get, for lack of a better word, validation from working closely with staff and being given the opportunity to access the collections, and staff members (who often become Wikipedians themselves!) get to learn about what really goes into the editing experience, and how valuable Wikipedia is in improving writing skills, challenging the mind, sharing information and working together.

This edit-a-thon also provided an opportunity to turn the "gender gap" on its head. With a majority of women participating in the event, and learning to edit and support each other in a collaborative environment, a unifying experience took place. It's also empowering to work with others to help save articles nominated for deletion, help each other out to find rare gems of research about women who's research, while very important, was perhaps not digitized or documented to the extent men's contributions were, and know that you are able to preserve the legacy of important scientific contributors, who just happen to be women.

Lessons learned

Viola Shelly Shantz, one of the articles and new images uploaded at the event.
  • For future edit-a-thons, the resident will utilize a bot to deliver invitations. Inviting regional Wikipedians one at a time is very time consuming and a bot can cut the workload and time down in half, if not more.
  • Don't forget the swag! The Wikipedian had buttons related to the gender gap and the Teahouse project, but, unfortunately did not request Wikipedia buttons and giveaways from the Wikimedia Foundation. This is a nice treat for all participants, as nothing looks better than a Wikipedia button on the lapel!
  • Create an event template for the new articles talk pages - this helps to bring awareness to experienced editors so they are aware that said article is being worked on possibly by a new editor, is under construction, and is part of an edit-a-thon. We had two articles instantly nominated for deletion within seconds of their postings, and perhaps this could have been avoided by placing under construction templates and the placement of an event template.


  • Learn more about the event outcomes here.
  • Six new articles were written
  • One article was expanded
  • Three new images were uploaded

Media coverage