Maybe you’ve been editing Wikipedia for years. Or maybe you made your first edit a few days ago. Whatever your experience, you likely know at least one central fact about editing – that it can be difficult for newcomers to master the skills necessary for contributing to Wikipedia.

We want to change that, and we need your help. That’s why Wikimedia is kicking off a new project, the Bookshelf Project, developed to extend the reach and improve the quality of Wikipedia articles by increasing participation. We’re designing the Bookshelf Project to create a core set of public outreach materials designed to recruit new, high-value Wikipedia contributors. The idea is that by increasing potential contributor awareness, fostering excitement, and providing the training tools new editors need to get started, we’ll draw many more new editors than we do today. And we believe recruiting new high-value contributors to Wikipedia will necessarily increase the usefulness and quality of our encyclopedia.

Now we already know that many Wikipedia readers have never thought about editing the encyclopedia – even though there’s lots of information available about how to do so. Our goal is to reach out to those editors more actively – both to make them feel welcome and give them a great set of starting tools. We hope to seed the knowledge and enthusiasm about contributing to Wikipedia in such a way that it propagates itself.

We have lots of good reasons to believe this dream is achievable. Here’s one reason: we know anecdotally how easy it can be to inspire someone to edit and to share knowledge about editing. For example, during recent user testing for the Usability project, we interviewed a woman who uses Wikipedia daily, mainly to help her daughter with homework. She is an avid fan but had never edited. During the testing, she edited for the first time and immediately became excited about the possibilities of sharing what she knows and loves with others. She understood and was eager to implement Wikipedia’s core tenets of neutrality and verifiability. And she was eager to go home, share her excitement and recruit others to the effort.

Now, we can’t do one-on-one interviews with every possible new editor. But stories like this one suggest that we can leverage our experience with a few editors in ways that will benefit many more potential contributors. And that is the essence of the Bookshelf materials we plan to develop with your help.

We also plan to tap educational resources, since we know Wikipedia is a fact of life in many educational situations, usually as a reference tool. The Bookshelf Project will support additional educational applications by providing model lesson plans to show secondary school teachers and university professors how they can use writing, editing and collaboration in Wikipedia as core curriculum activities. In developing the Bookshelf Educational materials, we will work with subject matter experts to ensure the materials are relevant and applicable.

The Bookshelf Project will include materials to help journalists and other communications professionals do their jobs more easily, including techniques and information to help them be sure the information they use and the copy they write is accurate and up to date.

The Bookshelf materials will be developed in English and will be designed for translation, adaptation and use by volunteers, chapters and educational institutions such as schools and universities. We will use our new Outreach Wiki for the Bookshelf Project. This will be our place to give updates on the project and to get community feedback. There are lots of opportunities to help out, from acting as subject matter experts, to reviewing, and translation and localization.

We look forward to working together with our community on this initiative. If you’ve been in any way successful as a Wikipedia editor, we would value your input and feedback. There’s more than one way to contribute to Wikipedia’s success, but one major way to contribute has to be in the recruiting and training of new editors. The more we do to bring new, talented editors on board, the more comprehensive, reliable, and useful Wikipedia will be.

Marlita Kahn
Project Manager, Bookshelf Project