By day, Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight is a business administrator for a healthcare company based in Las Vegas, Nevada. By night, she studies diverse countries and cultures and posts her discoveries online for the benefit of anyone in the world. You see, Rosie is a prolific Wikipedia editor.
“At heart, I am a cultural anthropologist,” said Rosie, a prolific Wikipedia editor and content contributor who edits as User:Rosiestep. “Once I started college, I wanted to be a cultural anthropologist. I wanted to follow in the steps of Margaret Mead.”
As Rosie entered college, her desire to study cultural anthropology was checked by her father, who wanted her to be “a pharmacist or an accountant, something that a woman who would eventually get married and have children could do part time,” she said. “He was being practical.” Rosie went on to study business, eventually obtaining a Masters degree. Despite her college education, she still couldn’t suppress her desire to pursue her passion as a cultural anthropologist.
Then, several years ago, Rosie’s son Sean edited a Wikipedia article about a town in the Ukraine he was stationed in while working with the Peace Corps. “I’d never thought of actually making a contribution myself. I just figured other people were doing it,” Rosie said, “but when he said that, I thought it was fabulous.”
Later in the same year, Rosie searched Wikipedia for a group of books published by the Book League of America. While the publisher no longer exists, Rosie possessed an impressive collection of the Book League’s texts. She was surprised to find that there was no entry about the company on Wikipedia. It was then that she decided to contribute. “I thought, you know what, Sean edited Wikipedia, I bet I could do that too. Let me see how to do it. And so I tried to figure it out.”
Rosie had no way of knowing that this single contribution would eventually lead her to become the woman ranked with the highest number of Did You Know articles on English Wikipedia and the number four ranked Wikipedian in total (she has 697 DYKs and more than 67,000 edits).
“I edited and edited and edited, thinking you could just kind of keep doing this, just keep looking stuff up and keep writing,” she said. “At some point, I started thinking wow, I’m building up a body of work here.”
This compulsion to edit is passed down from her grandmother, Paulina Lebl-Albala, the first president of the Yugoslav Association of University-Educated Women. Her grandmother was known for her work editing textbooks for the local university and for the translations she made of the German author Herman Hesse.“I feel this genetic pull to her,” Rosie said. “She edited textbooks, I edit Wikipedia. I feel this sense of connection with her. I think Grandma would be proud of me.”
Rosie finds inspiration in the example of her grandmother who became prolific in an area normally dominated by men. In turn, Rosie hopes that her example will inspire more women to edit Wikipedia. She admitted her shock at the ever-dwindling number of Wikipedia’s female editors. “I’ve read the statistics of how few women edit,” she said. “It needs more women.”
She hopes that other women will develop a similar love and passion for contributing to Wikipedia, that contributing to knowledge overwhelms the discomfort they may feel from the occasionally confrontational remarks made on their talk pages by male editors.
To Rosie, contributing to Wikipedia is important because it means that you are helping others receive what she describes as the “freedom of all knowledge on the planet.”
“I’m hooked.” She said, “I’m addicted, I love to do this, I’m driven to do this.”
Wikipedia, she said, finally gave her the possibility of fulfilling her childhood aspirations. “Wikipedia has given me an opportunity to be that cultural anthropologist,” she said. “I study very interesting places and interesting people, and write all these articles.”
She continued, “I can’t not do this. I think there is a sense that I want my kids to be proud of me, to know that I am doing something that I think is really important.”
Profile by Zoe Bernard, Communications Intern
Interview by Matthew Roth, Global Communications Manager