Leigh At the SALALM conference

Through its Participation Support program, the Wikimedia Foundation has graciously funded three opportunities for me to present about Wikipedia at various seminars, including the New Mexico Association of Museums in November 2012, the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) in May 2013 and the Congreso de la Asociación Centroaméricano de Lingüística in August 2013. In all three cases, the hope was to take advantage of my bicultural experiences working as a professor in Latin America.

The first event was a statewide event for museums in New Mexico. I used various examples of GLAM activities in Mexico and the United States to appeal to this region’s sense of bi-culturalism, which I am well aware of, having lived in Arizona 11 years. The second event with SALALM had an audience of mostly library professionals from universities, many from the United States, and a few academic professionals from Latin America. The third event took me to the Central American country of Honduras. I was initially invited to speak at a linguists’ conference at the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, but ended up also speaking at a conference for regional historians.

For all three events, my goal was to clarify misconceptions about Wikipedia. Although much of the world knows and uses  Wikipedia, very few have any real sense of just how “the sausage is made.” With academic audiences, preconceptions are generally negative for two reasons. The first reason being Wikipedia’s association and  use by uncritical students, and perhaps more importantly, the fact that Wikipedia challenges the traditional power structure of how knowledge is disseminated. On more than one level, many in these professional fields see Wikipedia as a “threat.”

The immediate goal of these seminars is to counter misconceptions and present Wikipedia as a powerful ally, especially in the dissemination of information. I remind audiences that Wikipedia, as an encyclopedia, is not necessarily for the production of new knowledge, but rather a means to provide access to basic information, a gateway for the public to become aware of the knowledge of these institutions. The idea is to convince these audiences that Wikipedia is a partner in the realization of their mission.

In all three seminars, the reaction was largely the same. The audience had no idea just how “big” Wikipedia is. “Big” in the sense of its worldwide network of editors, the dominating presence of organizations and institutions which now make up the “wiki-world.” In my opinion, this is the most valuable “selling point” for Wikipedia as many in the humanities and soft sciences are very much interested in the human element.

While there has been no measurable rush to begin Wikipedia projects as a result of these presentations (although Wendy Griffin in Honduras has already started experimenting with workshops), success is measured by the number of individuals who convert from being against Wikipedia to being open minded about it. In the long run, as Wikipedia continues to develop and work on more topics that need expert attention, this is extremely valuable.

The Participation Grants program exists to allow Wikipedians to spread the word and help recruit new partners and is available to any Wikimedian! Click on the link above to learn more.

Leigh Thelmadatter
Wiki-Borregos, ITESM Campus Ciudad de México