As Wikipedia turns 15, Johns Hopkins librarians offer gift of reliable information

Group will gather to add reliable citations to online encyclopedia

As part of its 15th anniversary today, Wikipedia has issued an idealistic challenge: What if every librarian in the world added a reference to the online encyclopedia?

Librarians at Johns Hopkins University decided to step up to the plate. A group of them from different areas of the university will gather this afternoon in the Brody Learning Commons to take part in Wikipedia's #1Lib1Ref movement, an effort to add reliable citations to the vast, user-curated online encyclopedia.

"Wikipedia is asking for librarians to do what they do best and contribute to the authority of its articles," says Shannon Simpson, a student engagement and information fluency librarian at Hopkins who helped organize today's session.

If you've ever noticed one of those "citation needed" tags in a Wikipedia article, that's exactly what the librarians will be working on. Simpson expects there will be some focus on the JHU GLAM WikiProject, an effort by librarians and others to improve the Wikipedia pages associated with Johns Hopkins University. Through GLAM—which stands for galleries, libraries, archives, and museums—experienced Wikipedia editors team up with cultural and learning institutions to refine their presence and collections on Wikipedia.

Today's event is also meant as a sort of testing ground for what could become a broader initiative at Hopkins, with librarians providing Wikipedia training sessions or "hack events" for students, faculty, and staff, Simpson says.

"We'd like for people to have a better understanding of how Wikipedia works and teach people how to make changes," she says—especially when they spot faulty information.

Though it's come a long way in its 15 years, Wikipedia can still elicit cringes from academics who continue to see errors, gaping holes, or agenda-driven references. According to Wikipedia itself, its English version alone has more 350,000 "citation needed" tags, while more than 200,000 articles have no references at all to back them up.

But the collaborative encyclopedia, run by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco, hasn't been shy—particularly in recent years—about asking scholars, librarians, and others to add credible references and improve the reliability of the site's information.

"They know they are really everyone's first stop for information," says Simpson. "They've said 'please help us become more authoritative.'"