If you are an editor on the English Wikipedia, you might have noticed the recent uptick in announcements for accounts offered by The Wikipedia Library! The Wikipedia Library gives active, experienced Wikipedia editors free access to a wide range of paywalled databases – reliable sources that are vital for their work (see also: “The Wikipedia Library Strives for Open Access“). We have been having a lot of success meeting the goals of our Individual Engagement Grant from the Wikimedia Foundation. Established partnerships, like that with JSTOR, are expanding, getting Wikipedia editors more access to high quality research materials! Moreover, because of those successes, we are having many fruitful discussions with organizations large and small that are interested in helping Wikipedians create public knowledge and link Wikipedia in to the larger network of scholarly source materials.
We surveyed Wikipedia users interested in the Wikipedia Library about which sources would be best for us to get access to, and one from that list, British Newspaper Archive, has been a very active recent success. It started with 50 accounts and has since expanded to 100 because of the enthusiasm in the initial sign-up period. An archive of high-quality scans of newspapers from the collection of the British Library, it provides a great source of reference materials for Wikipedia articles about 18th, 19th, and early 20th century Britain and its global interests. Even though the accounts have only been available for a couple of weeks, Wikipedians have been successfully using them to create new and expand old articles about historical topics, both about local history and topics of national British interest. These range from articles about geographical features (Swithland Reservoir) to sports (1884 FA Cup Final and Jack Kid Berg), coal mines (Pendleton Colliery) to politicians (Sewallis Shirley).
As part of our partnership with the British Newspaper Archive, they have offered us an opportunity to talk about improving Wikipedia on their blog, highlighting the success of the account donation. More importantly though, it enables us to communicate to their social media audience – researchers investigating historical topics through old newspapers – how Wikipedians motivated by similar interests are able to use that research to provide knowledge to our vast audience. Here is what one of our Wikipedia editors who got access through this partnership, User:Sitush, shared on their blog about his new account:
- I have a degree from Cambridge in History, and Wikipedia has always been a way for me to explore my interest in Indian and local history. When I got BNA access through the Wikipedia Library, I saw it as an opportunity to explore a local history mystery raised by several people who had been apprentices with the engineering firm of Sir James Farmer Norton & Co Ltd at Adelphi Ironworks in Salford. They often speak with some pride and affection of their time there and of the products that the company manufactured. Those products were sold worldwide, many are still being used and resold now, and some were truly innovative, such as a fast printing press.
- None of these people, however, could really tell me anything about Sir James Farmer (the Norton bit of the name came later, when another family became involved in the business). They only knew that he was once mayor of Salford. Although the company did produce a celebratory booklet for an anniversary, there really doesn’t seem to have been much effort made by way of tipping the hat to the man who started it all. Yet, because of the impact on my friends and our community, I suspected him to be one of the more notable of the many self-made – often world-changing – engineering men who inhabited Manchester, Salford and the surrounding areas in the 19th century. He needed a Wikipedia article!
- Wikipedia’s model for article development supports the “from little acorns …” approach. So, if I could start an article about Farmer then perhaps at some time in the future someone might find more information and add to it. But Wikipedia also has limitations, meaning that I couldn’t use primary source material available at a couple of archives and, really, there wasn’t much else that I could find without some extensive trawling through microfilms. Inaccessible verifiable information usually means no article – it is meant to be an encyclopaedia, after all, and thus there needs to be some type of public and reliably documented conversation to show that it is of interest to the public (we on Wikipedia call this public interest “notability”).
- Enter the BNA! Forget spending days, probably weeks, twiddling at a film reader. I could could get access to the most important information about Farmer with one simple search. In the space of a couple of hours, most of which was spent being pleasantly distracted by other news articles surrounding the ones about Farmer, I’d gathered enough material to justify an article, to plant that acorn. The man is now recognised on a major educational project that gets millions of viewers and, although it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written for Wikipedia, the hat has been tipped. Hopefully, given time, much more can be said about him and his company.
User:Sitush’s new article based on research done with the British Newspaper Archive is titled “James Farmer (knight)” and can be found on English Wikipedia.
Get Wikipedia Library access!
We would love to see more Wikipedians like Sitush get access to these resources that publishers are donating. If you are interested in getting access to the British Newspaper Archive for improving Wikipedia, sign up at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:BNA . If you would like access to one of our other resources or want to suggest a publisher to reach out to, check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:TWL/Journals . We hope to continue harnessing the resources of libraries and publishers to strengthen the reference materials on Wikipedia!
Alex Stinson (User:Sadads), Project Manager, The Wikipedia Library
2014-07-23: Edited to add a link to britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk