Wikipedia has become so central to our lives that we count on it to represent reality, and solid fact. When we encounter a new phenomenon, we check out our trusty online friend for more information. So, it was fascinating to me recently to see the lines blur between fiction and reality, when Wikipedia was used as a visual and social cue in the movie Tár, starring Cate Blanchett, about a famed female conductor. In the movie, one of the clues to the coming turbulence in Lydia Tár’s life is a screen capture of a mystery editor changing items on the conductor’s Wikipedia entry. It looked and felt so real, the filming and Blanchett’s performance so rivetingly vivid, that many people believed the film was a biopic of a real person. As Brooke LaMantia wrote in her article, No, Lydia Tar is Not Real,
“When I left the theater after watching Tár for two hours and 38 minutes, I immediately fumbled for my phone. I couldn’t wait to see actual footage of the story I had just seen and was so ready for my Wikipedia deep dive to sate me during my ride home. But when I frantically typed “Lydia Tar?” into Google as I waited for my train, I was greeted with a confusing and upsetting realization: Lydia Tár is not real…the film’s description on Letterboxd — “set in the international world of classical music, centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composer/conductors and first-ever female chief conductor of a major German orchestra” — is enough to make you believe Tár is based on a true story. The description was later added to a Wikipedia page dedicated to “Lydia Tár,” but ahead of the film’s October 28 wide release, that page has now been placed under a broader page for the movie as a whole. Was this some sort of marketing sleight of hand or just a mistake I stumbled upon? Am I the only one who noticed this? I couldn’t be, right? I thought other people had to be stuck in that same cycle of questioning: Wait, this has to be real. Or is it? She’s not a real person?
Wikipedia is central to LaMantia’s questioning! While it’s easy to understand people’s confusion in general, the Tár Wikipedia page, created by editors like you and like me, is very clear that this is a film, at least as of today’s access date, January 20, 2023… On the other hand, did you know you can click on the “View History” link on the page, and see every edit that has been made to it, since it was created, and who made that edit? If you look at the page resulting from one of the edits from October 27, 2022, you can see that it does look like Tár is a real person, and in fact, a person who later went on to edit this entry to make it clearer wrote, “Reading as it was, it is not clear if Lydia actually exists.” Maybe I should write to LaMantia and let her know.
I tell this story to show that clearly, Wikipedia is a phenomenon, and a globally central one, which makes it all the more amazing that it is created continuously, edit by edit, editor by editor. There are many ways in which our own and your own edits can create change, lead to social justice, correct misinformation and more. While it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of minute changes to esoteric entries, it’s also possible to improve pages on important figures in real-life history and bring them into our modern narrative and consciousness. And it’s easy to do!
If you are interested in learning more, and being part of this central resource, we warmly welcome you and invite you to join us on Wednesday, February 15, from 1-2:30 for our 2023 Wikipedia Editathon, part of the University of Calif0rnia-wide 2023 Love Data Week. No experience is required—we will teach you all you need to know about editing! (but, if you want to edit with us in real time, please create a Wikipedia account before the workshop). The link to register is here, and you can contact any of the workshop leaders (listed on the registration page) with questions. We look forward to editing with you!
You may have heard that last week the Library hosted its now-annual Wikipedia edit-a-thon, a gathering of editors and fans of this amazing online resource (side note: speaking as a librarian who was taught that since Wikipedia is crowd-sourced it’s unreliable, I can say I’ve come to a much more appreciative stance after learning about its culture of fact-checking and reference, and in fact using the reference lists in articles on many occasions). Wikipedia is central to our knowledge landscape, and the UC Berkeley Library’s edit-a-thons are held so that we can improve on this landscape in the areas of art + feminism, and race + justice.
This year, because the edit-a-thon was virtual, we organizers were able to present a fascinating two-hour keynote and workshop given by Dr. Alexandria Lockett, of Spelman College in Atlanta. Dr. Lockett is a long-time Wikipedian (she started editing in 2003) who incorporates Wikipedia in her teaching, and works to question the politics of citation practices, representation, and knowledge equity there (check out her recent book chapter, “Why Do I Have Authority to Edit the Page? The Politics of User Agency and Participation on Wikipedia”).
Her talk, “Research for Knowledge Equity” had important content for everyone attending, whatever their Wikipedia editing level or interest. Dr. Lockett focused on knowledge production, and how that can “marginalize Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) scholarship and media, LGBTQ persons, African scholarship and media, women scholars regardless of color, disabled scholars, etc.” (she noted that there are Wikipedia campaigns meeting this issue, particularly #CiteBlackWomen and “CiteaSista”). She then went on to outline methods and resources for doing herstorical research, particularly on the history of Black women. Bringing the perspectives of inclusive knowledge production and informed research strategies to our editing means that Wikipedia can start to become a force for change from within, moving towards knowledge equity. As Dr. Lockett notes, “This is intellectual labor, not just tacking on facts. It will change your perspectives on knowledge production.” Want to know more? Dr. Lockett has made her slides and her list of potential articles to edit available!
After the workshop, the edit-a-thon continued in its classic format, superimposed onto Zoom. We had an editing instruction session, a breakout room for one-on-one help, and one for open editing for those who wanted a collegial space in which to work. I, for one, felt fired up by what I’d heard from Dr. Lockett, and decided to see if I could improve an article on Carol Blanche Cotton (Bowie), a Black psychologist whose dissertation focused on cognitive testing of children with disabilities, and whose name was on a list of articles needing edits. Using my librarian super searching skills (AKA Google Scholar in this case), I found an online reference to her great grandmother, Rebecca Harris, in a 1983 article titled “The Antebellum ‘Talented Thousandth’: Black College Students at Oberlin Before the Civil War”. Once I did that, I was able to add the section circled in the image above to Dr. Cotton’s Wikipedia page. It felt so rewarding to connect Dr. Cotton to her ancestor, who believed so strongly in education that she moved her entire family to Oberlin, and along the way I learned more about two women—Dr. Cotton and Rebecca Harris—who I will never forget. I hope you, reader, will have the chance to get just as excited about learning and editing, in one of the many online editathons happening now, and also at our 2022 edit-a-thon—watch this space!
For many of us in the library, last year’s Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon on March 4 was the final program we held in person before the pandemic lockdowns (we actually wondered at the time whether attendance would be down due to the spread of the virus, but we had a great crowd).
Happily for us, the edit-a-thon, which is an event that gathers people together to expand and improve on the amazing information resource Wikipedia, can easily transition to an online format! The National Network of Libraries of Medicine has been holding national online edit-a-thons for years, and there are many other wonderful offerings, themed and general, to take advantage of online (check out this set of events “Honoring Indigenous Writers” from the University of British Columbia).
So, this year, our edit-a-thon will be virtual. Please come edit with us on Wednesday, March 10, from 1:00-5:00 PM! (or any portion of that time that works for you) We’ll use Zoom as a way to hold our guest speaker session and workshops on how to edit, and we will even have breakout rooms for the various editing preferences and needs of attendees. More information and the schedule can be found here; the only thing you need to do is register using this form (in order to get the Zoom link), and show up online on the day! (It would also be great, if you want to actually edit, to set up your Wikipedia account in advance)
And, about the guest speaker aspect of the event—this year, we are thrilled to offer a two-hour Wikipedia workshop (from 1:00-3:00 PM) created and led by Dr. Alexandria Lockett, from Spelman University in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Lockett will discuss how both new and experienced editors can meaningfully contribute to underrepresented knowledge of Wikipedia through alternative research practices.
Questions? Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we hope to “see” you on March 10!
Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, said, “The cultivated person’s first duty is to be always prepared to rewrite the encyclopedia.” But, in the case of Wikipedia, we actually get to write the encyclopedia! If you are interested in Wikipedia as a phenomenon and what happens behind the scenes, in learning to edit, and/or in improving the quality and diversity of content in this important resource, join us at the upcoming Art + Feminism + Race + Justice Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon.
Why is this so important, anyway? It’s because Wikimedia’s race and gender trouble is well-documented. While the reasons for the gap are up for debate, the practical effect of this disparity is not: content is skewed by the lack of participation by women and underrepresented groups. This adds up to an alarming absence in an important repository of shared knowledge, which many groups are starting to address.
Art+Feminism is a national campaign improving coverage of cis and transgender women, non-binary folks, feminism and the arts on Wikipedia, and at UC Berkeley we have teamed up with the American Cultures program’s Race+Justice edit-a-thon. Edit-a-thons are a powerful way to address Wikipedia’s gaps in content. The Library is also joined in sponsorship of the event by 150 Years of Women at Berkeley, and suggested editing needs will include topics related to Berkeley alumnae of note.
So, join us in 405 Moffitt Library on Wednesday, March 4 between 11:00am and 5:00pm for an all-day communal updating of Wikipedia entries. Drop in any time! We will provide tutorials for the beginner Wikipedian, reference materials, and refreshments. Check out the schedule at bit.ly/wiki-berkeley for timing of informative talks, instruction sessions, and more. Set up your Wikipedia editing account in advance, or we can help you on the day. Bring your laptop, power cord and ideas for entries that need updating or creation! For the editing-averse, we urge you to stop by to show your support. People of all races and gender identities are invited to participate.
See you there!
NOTE: A Cal ID card is required to enter Moffitt, so those without a Cal ID card need to RSVP to attend the event by March 3.
The Library attempts to offer programs in accessible, barrier-free settings. If you think you may require disability-related accommodations, please contact us.