January 21, 2013

Wikipedian in Residence: Actually a real thing


The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week that the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library has appointed an official Wikipedian in Residence. The library selected Michael Barera, a master’s student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, for the new position, which involves “increasing and enhancing the library’s presence on Wikipedia.”

As the Chronicle points out, the creation of a position like this represents something of a shift among academics, who have long resisted the user-edited encyclopedia. Even its founder Jimmy Wales said in 2006 that Wikipedia should not be used for academic purposes — a position I am certain all my college professors agreed with. But with the new Wikipedian position at the Ford Library, which other organizations like the National Archives and Palace of Versailles have already instituted—it looks like the reference website is gaining more respect.

Last year, Barera joined the Michigan Wikipedians, a group dedicated to teaching college students how to edit Wikipedia pages, something he had been doing for five years already. It was during a Wikimedia Foundation seminar that he attended with that group that he met Bettina Cousineau, an exhibit specialist at the Ford Library and Museum. Cousineau explained that taking on a Wikipedian in Residence is a way to reach people who visit the library’s Wikipedia page, but don’t necessarily make it to their own website: “Wikipedia is a completely new outreach venue for us. Not everyone can visit our museum and library in person, but everyone can visit us online.”




Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.