How Australian libraries are turning to Wikipedia during the global pandemic
By James Gaunt
Victoria has been home to many famous Australians, but not all of them are household names.
Jessie Deakin Clarke was an Australian early refugee advocate who was eventually awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1997, while Alice Kitchin was an Australian nurse who served in World War I, and earned the Victory Medal, among others.
Until recently, anyone interested in their stories would need to dig through various libraries and archives to find them, but in 2020 staff at the State Library Victoria decided to do something about it. In the midst of Victoria’s first extended COVID-19 lockdown, they began creating new pages for notable people on Wikipedia.
“We were looking around for meaningful work that staff could do from home, but also things that would be useful for the library to do,” State Library Victoria Principal Librarian Tim Hogan said.
“So that meant that we had to do some things that we wouldn't necessarily do in normal times. One of the ideas was getting staff to write a Wikipedia page on Victorian history or people that would include material from the Library's collections, to highlight things that are notable for being in our collection.”
Alongside new pages on Jessie Deakin Clarke and Alice Kitchin, librarians also added over 100 new images from their collection to enhance pages, such as one on Australian painter Violet Teague.
“People don't necessarily realise that we're a library of pictures as well, and we have thousands of pictures, rare books or ephemera. Things that tell a story about Victorian people. So we wanted to highlight material of interest that was in the library that people might not know about”, Hogan said.
Libraries have long had a close relationship with the Wikimedia movement. Wikimedia Australia’s Executive Officer Caddie Brain says librarians play an important role in growing quality content on Wikipedia.
“Librarians are some of our greatest allies because they just naturally understand the platform. They have such incredible collections, they understand referencing, they understand what quality source material is all about. They just get it”, Brain said.
Wikipedia further embraced librarians and their work by launching #1Lib1Ref in 2016, an annual campaign that encourages every librarian to add one reference to Wikipedia. The State Library of Queensland has been a leading contributor to the campaign in Australia, contributing nearly one quarter of all citations contributed worldwide in 2017, a staggering 4,238 edits.
State Library of Queensland Engagement Officer Jacinta Sutton said, “it’s important to us because we see Wikipedia and libraries as natural allies. We're all about freedom of information and knowledge sharing, so we can help each other.”
“We can leverage the platform and the global audience of Wikipedia to reach new people, and we can help improve Wikipedia with the knowledge and expertise of the librarian and reference staff.”
Since the pandemic, while participating again in #1Lib1Ref, the State Library of Queensland has experienced the kinds of event restrictions and distributed staffing challenges faced by most libraries around Australia.
In response, Wikimedia Australia and Wikimedia Aotearoa New Zealand held a series of online drop-in sessions for librarians in 2021, extending the opportunity for regional participation in #1Lib1Ref. Participants from Melbourne, Sydney, Wagga Wagga, Hanoi and Christchurch, to name a few, contributed 1,736 new references to Wikipedia in just three weeks.
Back in Victoria, Tim Hogan said he hopes the State Library Victoria can continue contributing to Wikipedia in the future, but for now the project is on pause.
“We'd like to, and I think when things settle we will incorporate it into our work. But for us it’s just a nice additional thing to do”, Hogan said.