Wikipedia Visiting Scholars gain full university library access.

Many Wikipedia editors are limited by the sources they have access to. The Wikipedia Visiting Scholars (WVS) program is a novel approach that aims to connect Wikipedia editors with reference resources at top research universities. The WVS program adapts an existing model at academic institutions, that of the “visiting scholar” or “affiliate researcher,” to offer an individual full university staff credentials so they can extend the reach of their research.

The WVS program is coordinated through the Wikimedia Foundation’s Individual Engagement Grant-funded project The Wikipedia Library, and offers university staff status to an active editor so they can remotely access all of a university library’s online holdings for free to help write more and better Wikipedia articles. These positions are unpaid and do not require relocation or even physical proximity to the institution.

GMU Takes on the First Wikipedia Visiting Scholar

The Wikipedia Library partnered with leading library cooperative OCLC and took full advantage of the phenomenal outreach abilities of OCLC library researcher Merrilee Proffitt. Through a series of presentations, webinars and emails, we reached out to 150 institutions about the WVS program.

GMU WVS editor Wehwalt plans to focus on history topics such as William Jennings Bryant.

In the fall of 2013, the first WVS position was proposed by THATCamp leader Amanda French at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. French describes the original idea:

One of the main things that attracted me to the Visiting Scholar model is that I immediately saw how it would fit into existing university structures and practices. It’s a very common thing indeed for a researcher to go spend some time at another university or research center in order to use their resources and contribute to their intellectual mission, so I understood at once how it would work.

After collecting applications in late 2013, GMU selected a Wikipedian to become their new Wikipedia Affiliate. Their choice was veteran featured article writer Wehwalt, a prolific contributor who lacked home access to the academic and journal databases available through GMU Libraries. French describes:

Wehwalt was a good fit because he has made significant contributions to many major history-related Wikipedia articles over a period of several years, such as the one on William Jennings Bryant’s 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech. We were also looking for someone who was a good researcher but didn’t already have access to a university resources, and that was true of Wehwalt; he mentioned in his cover letter that although he had access to JSTOR through a public library subscription, he would love to gain access to the more specialized sources that GMU provides. For instance, we subscribe to the database America: History and Life, in which if he wants to he can read the full text of an article about the Cross of Gold speech from the Journal of Law and Politics.

Libraries have been exploring different ways to connect their collections with Wikipedia, a strategic approach which aligns with their mandates to provide knowledge to a wide audience. But most librarians find the culture and rules of Wikipedia daunting. A WVS, well-versed in Wikipedia article creation and community mores, can be the bridge these institutions are looking for, and the fully-equipped author that Wikipedia needs to improve its quality and scope.

How to apply (this week)

There are currently three WVS positions open. Applications are set to close on May 1st, with a small possibility of a one-week extension if needed.

WVS positions are organized by The Wikipedia Library.

  • University of California at Riverside, (specialty, history or science): Apply to afrenkel at ucr.edu
  • Rutgers University, (specialty, transdisciplinary): Apply to gagnew at rci.rutgers.edu
  • Montana State University, (specialty, history or environment): Apply to brossmann at montana.edu

Applications should include:

  1. A standard résumé or curriculum vitae that also includes:
    • A link to your Wikipedia profile
    • At least three links to Wikipedia articles on topics in the specialty area to which you have contributed.
  2. A cover letter with:
    • A description of your background, including why you contribute to Wikipedia
    • What level of specialty area expertise and interest you have in which fields, regions, or periods
    • A summary of what access you currently have (or don’t have) to research materials such as databases and scholarly journals
    • An explanation of why you want to become a Wikipedia Affiliate at the University.
    • A brief outline of the specialty topic(s) and/or specific Wikipedia articles you would focus on during your affiliate year.
by Patrick Earley (The Interior) and Jake Orlowitz (Ocaasi)