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Credit: Alice Heyeh

Penn Libraries hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon to update health-related Wikipedia articles with accurate, up-to-date information.

The event, called the #citeNLM Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, takes place in the spring and fall of each year with the goal of updating Wikipedia articles about healthy aging with information from credible sources, such as the National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, and PubMed. Penn Libraries invited all members of the Penn community to participate as asynchronous virtual volunteers or to join the NLM's live editing session. The Penn edit-a-thon is just one part of the larger edit-a-thon hosted by NLM and its networks, which began in spring 2018. 

Community Health & Engineering Librarian Aman Kaur said that citing reliable sources on health-related Wikipedia articles is particularly important due to the serious repercussions of health misinformation. 

“Inaccurate health information could lead to consequences, injury, and death, even,” she said. “We want people to access the most credible resources for their health information.” 

People are increasingly turning to online sources because many libraries and information centers are closed or operating with limited capacity due to the pandemic, Kaur added.

Prior to the pandemic, the #citeNLM Wikipedia Edit-a-thon was held in-person at the Biomedical Library. In 2019, six people edited health-related Wikipedia articles as part of the event, Kaur said. 

Kaur said she does not know how many people have participated in the last three virtual #citeNLM Wikipedia Edit-a-thons. Instead of hosting a synchronous component where all of the participants gather simultaneously and edit articles, Kaur posted instructions online so that participants could work around their own schedules.

For participants who wanted a synchronous component, NLM hosted a live two-hour Zoom event on March 31 that began with a brief editing demonstration followed by breakout sessions where participants could edit individually and ask questions.

“It really gives that kind of collegial environment, that socialization aspect of an edit-a-thon,” Liz Waltman, the outreach, education, and communications coordinator for the Southeast Atlantic region of the NLM, said.

Kaur said that editing health-related Wikipedia articles is a meaningful activity that can be done year-round, even though the official event has already passed.

“It’s nice to have these small, meaningful, virtual volunteer opportunities, especially since our Penn community is all across the world in different time zones, and Wikipedia is a resource that is used all over the world, so it has a small global impact,” she said.

Waltman said the NLM networks are currently creating a toolkit for libraries to teach Wikipedia editing in their own settings, such as to library or information sciences students.

“We’re always looking to expand,” she said. “[Libraries are] teaching and promoting information literacy, and we hope to have these materials available for them.”