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Wikidata Edit-A-Thon – Global Studies Blog

On Tuesday, August 29, 2023, the CUL Wikidata Group (Taylor Baker, Mollie Echeverria, Matthew Haugen, Kalliopi Mathios, Ryan Mendenhall, and Melanie Wacker) organized an in-person Wikidata edit-a-thon in Studio@Butler, which focused on collections with international and/or multilingual content, or those with appeal to international audiences and scholars, in an effort to make them more visible and discoverable worldwide. The edit-a-thon was attended by over fifteen participants from across the Columbia University Libraries, including colleagues from C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Global Studies, Cataloging & Metadata Services, Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College, and Digital Scholarship.

The CUL Wikidata Group

This event was proposed by the CUL Wikidata Group, an interest group that grew out of the Program of Cooperative Cataloging (PCC) Wikidata Pilot. The PCC Wikidata Pilot was initiated by the library cataloging community to explore how Wikidata could be deployed to support library cataloging processes and enhance the discoverability of our collections through linked data. Wikidata has a very low barrier for participation, is user-friendly and can support the efficient discovery of collections, as the resulting descriptions can be used in many ways and can be incorporated into library catalogs and discovery tools, e.g. by linking the authority record for a person in the LC PCC Name Authority File to its equivalent description in Wikidata.  Wikidata descriptions also support a more democratic and inclusive approach to describing and accessing collections, and can remedy some Western-centric approaches to cataloging: Wikidata is open to a large, international community who have the freedom to use many different languages and scripts, and to add contextualizing information from their own perspectives, as community members who may share a scholarly and cultural interest and investment in the collections at hand.

After hosting three virtual edit-a-thons during the pandemic via Zoom, the organizing group saw value in bringing people together for an in-person event, in the hopes that it will encourage further cross departmental collaboration. All agreed that this was an exciting opportunity for elevating international collections which may not be as visible, and hence colleagues from Global Studies and the C.V. Starr East Asian Library who regularly focus on international collections in their daily work were particularly encouraged to attend and contribute. A list of special collections with international content or relevance to researchers interested in international studies held by the Columbia University Libraries was made available to participants, who also brought their own suggestions for items and collections to work on.

The Edit-a-Thon

The big day arrived on August 29, 2023. Project staff kicked off the event with an overview and provided a demonstration of workflows, explanation of steps to edit or update existing Wikidata items as well as guidance on how to create new entries for collections or people linked to those collections. They also shared guidelines and resources,  including editing best practices for describing archival collections as well as recommendations around ethics and privacy of editing wikidata entries for living individuals. Throughout the workshop, CUL Wikidata Group members moved around to provide one-on-one support to participants and answer questions. Participants ranged from absolute beginners to savvy Wikidata editors, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Here is a summary of the work the group accomplished over a two-hour session (including demonstrations, basic training, and a pizza lunch!): 247 edits were made, 39 items were edited, 16 new items were created, and 123 references were added. Sample collections that attendees worked on are: Joanna Wan-Ying Chan, John L  Gerig, and the Theodore Richards Conant Collection. The event dashboard includes a full list of Wikidata items that were edited or newly created.


Feedback and Impressions:

Afterwards, we reached out to some participants to ask for their thoughts and impressions of the workshop. Here is what they said:

Socrates Silva, Latin American and Iberian Studies Librarian: “I participated in the workshop because I’m interested in improving the discoverability of our Latin American and Caribbean collections. I linked wikidata entries of poets, playwrights and journalists whose archives are in our Rare Book & Manuscript Library and added links to their corresponding archival finding aids.  Halfway through the edit-a-thon I realized I’d been entering a few things wrong. I really appreciated how easy it was to go back and correct those mistakes. It made the process of working on this less intimidating. “

Gary Hausman, South Asian and Southeast Asian Studies Librarian: “I am already a Wikipedia editor, and was interested in understanding how wikidata operates, and how linked data could further efficient discovery of our collections. It is already evident, judging by global statistics for my Columbia University research guides and certain Global Studies blog postings, that many global users access our websites (recently, I have received multiple comments on a blog posting I wrote years ago on a Government of India Gandhi heritage website, including a very useful comment from one of the administrators of that site providing an update) so it seems that we should pay greater attention to modes of actively shaping metadata about the Columbia Library resources. I learned a lot from the workshop, including the fact that there are hidden depths to Wikipedia that allow for quite sophisticated modes of leveraging metadata for the purpose of making collections more visible”.

Chengzhi Wang, Chinese Studies Librarian:It is so good to have inter-departmental events like this one which allow us to collectively contribute to public, free knowledge bases, which have a global reach. I think it is a small way to give back. In this workshop, I learned and relearned so many things, some of which I had forgotten, others were brand new to me. I actually succeeded in creating, editing and completing the data for some items. I will need to find time to practice more!”

Kristina Dy-Liacco, Tibetan Studies Librarian: “My C.V. Starr East Asian Library colleagues and I were eager to explore and create new pathways for discovery for our library’s international special collections and archives. Given my position as the Tibetan studies librarian, I was excited to learn how to add data in Tibetan language to entries, which can allow for great accessibility and discovery for Tibetan-speakers and Tibetan Studies researchers. My Korean Studies Librarian colleague, Hee-sook Shin, and I worked on adding data to one of our special collections, the Conant Collection. I learned how to make statements about the collection and the Starr East Asian Library, and how to add data in different languages. We also managed to merge two duplicate data entries, which was very satisfying. I was totally new to Wikidata, so I really appreciated the convivial and supportive environment of the Wiki edit-a-thon, and that there were colleagues who were already experienced editors who were right there to guide us as needed. By contributing to Wikidata, we can make our collections more visible, discoverable. Other Wiki editors can also link to our collections and library, so the data we contribute hopefully can weave their way into information networks in a very nimble and direct way. We should do more of these fun and useful edit-a -thon events!”

A Truly Collaborative Effort

Many people pitched in to make the event a success, our deepest thanks go to them all, as well as to the participants: Kaoukab Chebaro (Head of Global Studies) secured administrative support, helped to fine-tune the theme and reached out to many units, departments and colleagues to encourage them to attend;  Jim Cheng (Director of the C. V. Starr East Asian Library) provided funding and enthusiastic support, Pamela Graham (Director of Global Studies and Director, Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research) secured the space, Kevin Schlotmann, (Head of Archives Processing at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library) provided a list of archival collections with multilingual content to be contributed to Wikidata, Anne R. Mesquita (Assistant to the Vice Provost and University Librarian) ordered the food and refreshments, and the CUL Wikidata Group members developed demos, slides, agenda, set up the event dashboard, the registration and sent out the edit-a-thon invitation to a broad group of colleagues. Many thanks to them all,  especially to Ryan Mendenhall and all the Wikidata team at CUL. And of course, many thanks to all the participants who made this a real success with their enthusiasm and support. 

This was a great event! We hope to organize many more in the near future.

This post was co-written by Kaoukab Chebaro, Head of Global Studies, [email protected] and Melanie Wacker, a member of the Wikidata groupHead of Digital Resources Metadata, CAMS
[email protected] 
at the Columbia University Libraries.



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