The Michigan Wikipedians, an Edit-A-Thon, and an Interview with Michael Barera

The Michigan Wikipedians and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library are hosting an edit-a-thon!

The Michigan Wikipedians are a U-M student organization that focuses on transforming Wikipedia readers into Wikipedia editors. An edit-a-thon is an event where people meet-up, both on and offline, to edit Wikipedia together. At this edit-a-thon participants will be working with the Michigan Wikipedians and newly donated content from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

Event Details
Open to the public
Time: 5:00PM, Thursday February 7, 2013
Location: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library on North Campus (1000 Beal Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48109)
Bring: Your laptop, an appetite (pizza will be provided)

If you already have a Wikipedia account, sign-up here.
Otherwise, register at the Facebook event page.

This is an excellent opportunity for new Wikipedians and for those interested in editing Wikipedia for the first time to contribute to a great project and to spend some time with seasoned Wikipedian veterans. And speaking of seasoned Wikipedian veterans, we recently sat down with Michael Barera to chat about Wikipedia and to get some advice for people and institutions that are just starting to contribute to the site.

Interview with Michael Barera, Wikipedian in Residence at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

Michael is from Ann Arbor, MI. As an undergrad, he attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a degree in history. Presently, he’s a masters candidate at the University of Michigan School of Information, a member of the Michigan Wikipedians, and the Wikipedian in Residence at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

Congratulations on becoming the first Wikipedian in Residence at a Presidential Library.

Thank you.

And we hear you’re an active member of the Michigan Wikipedians. When and where is the group meeting these days?

Yes! I’m super excited about the Michigan Wikipedians. It’s a lot of fun and it’s open to everybody. All you need is an interest in Wikipedia, and you can join us to get going on it. We meet every Thursday night from 8-9pm in Shapiro 4041. Everybody’s welcome, it’s officially a student club, so our base is students, but we’re also open to faculty members, staff, and community members.

As a Wikipedian in Residence at a Presidential Library, why do you think it’s important for galleries, archives, libraries, and museums (GLAMs) to share collection materials on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons?

I think the first part is that there are really strong shared values between GLAM institutions, the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia and all the other sibling sites. These are all institutions that, when push comes to shove, they’re about education. They’re about public access. They’re about sharing. They’re about curating collections, curating content, and doing something cool with it. This is especially true for a Federal Government institution like the Ford Library where this is all by default, because US Federal Law puts any work created by the US Federal Government in the course of his or her official duties into the public domain.

With some GLAM institutions you have this issue with licensing that can get a little sticky. And I think those institutions still have the shared values with Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, but the licensing issue is a little stickier. But with the Ford Library, it’s a slam-dunk, ‘cause you have the shared values, and you also have compatible [public domain] licenses that makes their collections and content ready to share.

What quick tips or advice can you provide for other GLAMs that are interested in sharing their collection resources on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons?

I highly recommend that they encourage their employees to become Wikipedians. For me, the most inspiring thing about this project so far is seeing Bettina [Bettina Cousineau, exhibit specialist at the Ford Library and Museum] becoming a Wikipedian. Bettina is the kind of person that the Wikipedia movement really needs.

It was funny, when I took the annual survey a couple of years ago and then saw the results published. I’m the stereotypical Wikipedian, in every sense of the term. In terms of age, education, race, language, location, and gender. Pretty much, I’m the demographic. And people in this demographic have important things to say, but no more so than anyone else. So I think it’s really cool to see Bettina, someone from a different demographic, get involved.

So again, I really hope GLAM institutions encourage their employees to actually participate. That’s the crux of this. It’s not just about dumping content. It’s about building a relationship. It’s about bridging the gap between their institution and all of us on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.

I wish every GLAM employee could be like Bettina and just go for it! And don’t be afraid to ask questions.

You’ve described yourself as a dedicated Wikipedian. How did you first get involved with Wikipedia, and what motivates you to continue making contributions to the site?

This is an interesting story. I was introduced to Wikipedia in 2005, during the spring semester of my freshman year in high school. And I was introduced to it by my freshman social studies teacher. He used the expression, “every important historical topic has an article” [on this site]. And this encouraged me to stick with it, to respect it, because it came from a teacher.

So I used it passively for about a year and a half, maybe 2 years. Then, I was a member of a history club at my high school: Gabriel Richard here in Ann Arbor. And I created and managed a weekly newsletter, called The Richard Historian. Wikipedia was a major source for getting started on a lot of The Richard Historian flyers.

I was so fascinated by Wikipedia because it was so much broader. I could explore topics outside the mainstream. I love history, I still do. I majored in it here. And at the high school level I was a little frustrated. There was a lot of great things about it, but world history there means North America and Western Europe. It’s very restricted. So I loved jumping into all these different things. Latin American History, African History, Asian History, Eastern European History, Oceanian History, and seeing a broader perspective. And Wikipedia allowed that even when you didn’t have the textbooks, which was a really powerful thing for me.

What advice do you have for anyone just starting out with Wikipedia?

I highly recommend getting an account and reading the encyclopedia while you’re logged in. Start fixing little things like typos and other little things you notice that aren’t right. That’s how I started and that’s how many other Wikipedians have started. Fix a period here, a space there, a comma there, and any misspellings. Become familiar with the interface, and don’t go any faster than you feel comfortable going. Find what you love. It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in knitting, the phases of the moon, or any country you can think of, there’s a place for you on Wikipedia.

We’ll see you at the edit-a-thon

Interested in getting started? Then join us this Thursday evening (2/7/13) at 5:00PM, where you can meet up with the Michigan Wikipedians, eat pizza, and contribute to a great project.

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