by Elizabeth Settoducato
Gelman Communications Assistant
GW Class of 2015 (Women's Studies & Classical Studies)
“Don’t use Wikipedia.” “You can’t trust what you read on Wikipedia; anyone can edit it!” “Wikipedia isn’t real research.” I’ve heard similar caveats from elementary school through college. But attending Wikimedia DC’s Wikipedia editathon in Gelman Library complicated those one-sided warnings, and taught me a great deal about Wikipedia’s potential for collaborative research and community outreach.
Organized by GW librarian Jenny Kinniff and Catholic University library science graduate student Chloe Raub, the editathon was an educational experience in many regards: participants learned the basics of becoming a Wikipedia editor and community member, and became acquainted with some of GW’s own archival and Special Collections materials along the way. Plus, there were snacks and drinks. What could be better?
After a helpful introduction to Wikipedia editing, citing sources, and creating encyclopedic content from Dominic McDevitt-Parks (Digital Content Specialist and Wikipedian-in-Residence at the National Archives), we were ready to get to work. Our mission was to improve and/or write articles pertaining to Washington, DC history, with a special focus on LGBT groups and movements in honor of Pride month.
Since this was my first time editing Wikipedia content, I figured I’d look through existing articles for grammar and accuracy. It took about one minute before I became distracted by the Special Collections materials that Jenny had provided for us: “Betty and Pansy’s Severe Queer Review of Washington, DC” was a colloquially written, semi-scandalous review of DC’s queer scene in 1993. GW’s Marvin Center even got a mention! I also spent quite a bit of time looking through the National Organization for Women (NOW) Washington, DC Chapter’s records, which included newsletters, memos, position papers, and more dating from the late 1970s to the early 1980s.
Realizing that I had yet to actually edit anything, I clicked over to an incomplete article (or a “stub” as Wikipedia would call it) on the Rainbow Pool, the reflecting pool that now sits at the center of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. After leafing through some Special Collections books and browsing our online catalog for articles, I was able to learn more about the controversy over creating the WWII Memorial and the original design of the Rainbow Pool by architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr.
Sitting in that room full of editors, I saw very experienced folks working alongside people who’d never done this before. There was conversation, question-asking, and support. Surrounded by fascinating resources and a task that offered something for everyone, I felt like the editathon fostered a really wonderful sense of community and a connection to research. Wikipedia isn’t the forbidden, inaccurate source some fear it is; rather it can be dynamic site of learning where people and information come together for the sake of sharing and obtaining knowledge.