Wikipedian-in-residence takes up post at Montreal's Concordia University

Amber Berson's job description includes teaching students and faculty how to become Wikipedia editors, so they can start adding their own information and research onto one of the biggest websites on the web.

Amber Berson will train editors, tackle bias on the online encyclopedia

Writer, curator and PhD candidate Amber Berson will work with the Concordia community, and the public, to help us all get the most out of Wikipedia. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

It's not uncommon for writers and artists to get residencies — but what about Wikipedia editors?

For the first time, Concordia University has added an unconventional position to its faculty: a Wikipedian-in-residence, Amber Berson.

But what does a Wikipedian-in-residence do? Berson said she will not be writing articles for Wikipedia — it's not the point of her work, and besides, being paid to write articles for the site is banned.

"It's about working with faculty and students to understand how they can best use and contribute to something that is touching everybody," Berson, a writer, curator and PhD candidate, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"If we're not using it in a way that allows us to contribute what we're doing… then we're missing out on a huge opportunity."

Associate university librarian Lorie Kloda said the hope is Berson will help with "Concordia library's goal of fostering digital literacy among faculty and staff," and that she will "promote understanding" of Wikipedia.

Her job description includes teaching students and faculty how to become Wikipedia editors, so they can start adding their own information and research onto one of the biggest websites on the web.

Berson's workshops and lectures on Wikipedia will be announced on Concordia University's Libraries page, and will be open to the public.

The information gap

Berson is also hoping to tackle a problem within the Wikipedia system itself: bias.

"Wikipedia knows that it has a problem," she said.

Currently, only 10 per cent of editors on Wikipedia identify as women. The majority of contributors are anglophone, white men from North America — which skews not only the content of the articles, but also which articles get written at all.

"When you have a group missing from creating articles, you also have a large subject area that's missing," Berson explained. She said that many prominent Quebec playwrights and artists are underrepresented on the platform, if they're there at all — and that getting more Quebecers to contribute could help remedy the problem.

Berson was the Canadian coordinator for Art+Feminism, a campaign that aims to improve coverage of women, non-binary people, feminism and the arts on Wikipedia, for six years. She hopes to create a best practices manual for feminist editing on the site.

"It would look at what is the difference between saying, for example, 'Ada Lovelace was the world's first female computer programmer' and 'Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer' — because that's what she was!"

Pulling back the curtain

Berson isn't aiming to train a certain number of people, but hopes people will get involved. She estimated it would take about an hour to learn the basics of editing on the website.

As for what makes it onto the platform, Berson said that every Wikipedia page comes with a discussion page, where editors go back and forth on what information should be published. To add content, an editor needs to give citations to prove the information they're adding is true.

Any user can also flag something as potentially false, so the vetting is constant, Berson said.

"It's the same as working with an academic journal," she said. "Except that instead of working in your own office, everybody can see what you're doing."

Berson said that when her time as Wikipedian-in-residence is over, she hopes more people will be willing to engage with the platform in a meaningful way.

"I want to see that when I leave, people are using it without me being there," she said.

"Engaging in content creation and modification … and thinking about Wikipedia in the classroom as a tool for learning, and working with feminist principles."


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