Penn Libraries hosted a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon with Black Lunch Table on Friday in an effort to fill in gaps in the online documentation of contemporary artists of color and their work.
At the event, visual artists, librarians, and students gathered in Fisher Fine Arts Library to learn the ins and outs of editing for Wikipedia, with a focus on editing and creating pages for black visual artists who might otherwise not be found on the site. Attendees heard a presentation from Black Lunch Table, an organization that encourages dialogue on topics that affect artists of color.
Black Lunch Table co-founder Heather Hart began by speaking about the misrepresentation found on Wikipedia, informing the audience that 84 percent of Wikipedia editors are male and 77 percent are white.
“When it’s a crowd-sourced encyclopedia, meaning anyone can edit what they wish, what do you think is missing from the archive?" Hart said. "And this is supposed to be the sum of all human knowledge."
Hart said the organization’s goal is to "fight [this] systemic bias" by shifting the demographic of authorship and encouraging editors of color, female editors, and white male editors to take some time to fill in gaps in documentation.
Later in the training, Hart explained some fundamental principles that Wikipedia editors should follow, such as maintaining a neutral point of view, avoiding conflicts of interest, and preventing plagiarism. She added that the enforcement of these rules, along with the crowd-sourcing Wikipedia offers, “keep the checks and balances” of the website in place.
Also in attendance was College junior Mary Osunlana, who was hired as a photographer to take portraits of the artists in attendance to use on their own Wikipedia pages.
“I think it's important because even though black people are making art, there’s not a lot of social recognition of that,” Osunlana said. “Wikipedia is such an important information platform, so it’s really cool that it’s kind of democratizing the representation of information about these really important black artists."
Osunlana added that, although in recent years Wikipedia has been better at representing black art, some gaps remain, and Edit-a-thons are one of the ways to correct that.
After the orientation, the new editors began writing and editing pages for underrepresented artists of color. Hart and the other event hosts had already compiled a list of such artists to facilitate the process.
Fisher Fine Arts Library Assistant Director Patricia Guardiola said Penn Libraries will be hosting two other Wikipedia Edit-a-thons in the next two weeks with a goal of correcting systematic biases in other communities. One will focus on improving coverage of Latin American arts and culture. The other will focus on art and feminism, with a goal of improving coverage of cis and transgender women as well as those who identify as non-binary.
When planning the event, Guardiola worked with Digital Strategies Librarian Coral Salomón, Teaching and Learning Librarian Meaghan Moody, and Fisher Fine Arts Library Intern Katie Lane. Guardiola added that Edit-a-thons serve as a community building activity, and that she and the other event coordinators promoted the events throughout Philadelphia rather than just to the Penn community.
“We’re trying to approach Wikipedia as a means of empowering the individual to provide information and to correct inaccuracies, and to also learn and understand where information comes from,” Guardiola said. "You can correct something as small as a citation or you can go as big as creating a whole new article."