Confessions of a Wiki Novitiate
It all started when the dames learned of the activities of WikiProject Women in Red. This laudable project aims to redress the gender imbalance on Wikipedia: in November 2014 only about 15% of the English Wikipedia’s biographies were about women. The project was launched in July 2015, and to date (March 2018) this has crept up to around 17.5%.
So the dames decided to get involved, and we embarked upon our first entry, featuring a published female poet resident in the UK but born in Poland, whose writings explore cultural and gender divides. What a steep learning curve that was. . . Welcome to the world of sand boxes and the Tea House, of double brackets, tildes and equal signs. We quickly discovered that writing a blog is a totally different exercise to creating an entry on Wikipedia that its unseen moderators are happy with. As truly independent-minded dames, our initial response was dismay that anyone would even have the temerity to edit/comment/delete any of our efforts. While we moderate each other’s content on our site, it felt very different having a shadowy cyber-editor making comments.
Uploading the accompanying picture was a separate challenge. Our first attempt lasted a few hours; it was deemed to be a ‘selfie’ and removed from the entry. The fact that it wasn’t a selfie cut no ice. We had to go back to the photographer and ask her to complete a form releasing the photo into the Wiki commons public domain. And so she did, but then the photo was somewhere in the ether and apparently untraceable to these confused dames.
But as our understanding grew, so did our sense of achievement and of participating in a global community volunteering their time and energy to make information accessible to all. And last week everything shifted: we were invited to participate in a Wiki edit-a-thon hosted by academics in medieval history. Their focus is on increasing awareness of both of women’s scholarship in this area and of some long-forgotten medieval women. Despite the fact that the dames are not medieval experts, they asked us to come along to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/MedievalWikiIWD2018
In an elegant room in Senate House at the University of London – which just happens to be my alma mater, so some nostalgia too – Dame Verity and I joined a small group of people – some learners and some old hands – and for the first time were able to pose questions, discuss, and explore the whys and wherefores of Wikipedia. To say we learned a lot would be a colossal understatement: everyone freely shared the successes and challenges (we won’t call them failures) that they had encountered, as well as some invaluable tips.
It was reassuring was to discover that the highly experienced Wikipedians had had to go through just as many slow and sometimes painful learning steps as we had. Why is it that I always assume that other people just ‘get it’ while I am still struggling to ‘work it out’?
We now have a number of ideas for other notable women whose achievements deserve to be highlighted on Wikipedia. If you know of any such worthy dames do please send in your suggestions. Or, how about creating an entry yourself? In the meantime, do check out our entry at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Jastrz%C4%99bska