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Wikipedia and libraries: Revolution through collaboration

students with computers in Milner Library

Improving information discoverability and access is an important role of library cataloging

The cataloging aspect of libraries tends to be a behind-the-scenes role—although a vital one that ensures everything in the library can be found and accessed. As part of their positions at Milner, Eric Willey, special collections and formats cataloger, and Angela Yon, cataloging and metadata librarian, are always looking for ways to improve how easily library patrons can find what they are searching for.

“We know sometimes that our users want to be able to find a particular item by characteristics or life experiences of the author or creator,” Willey said. “And as it was, our catalog records don’t usually have that information.” So Willey, Yon, and now-retired Sandy Roe set out to see if they could ethically, accurately, and efficiently add demographic data for creators to catalog records.

With more than a million catalog records to go through, the group needed to figure out where to start. Roe, Willey, and Yon spoke with Milner reference librarians and subject liaisons, who shared that they sometimes get requests for works specifically by African American authors. The trio received a University Research Grant to hire a graduate student with African American history subject expertise, Trumaine Mitchell.

Mitchell worked to locate evidence showing writers on Wikipedia’s list of authors self-identified as African American, the Library of Congress’ strongest criteria for including a demographic group term. Mitchell focused on authors with items in the library’s holdings to maximize local impact. The group hypothesized that if there was a high degree of agreement between Wikipedia editors and Library of Congress criteria, this could suggest that Wikipedia lists might be a valid way to find lists of authors who identify as members of a particular demographic group.

Ultimately, 70 percent of authors on Wikipedia’s list of African American authors had items in the Milner Library catalog. Of those authors, evidence showed that 84 percent self-identified as African American. For those authors, this demographic information was added to their catalog records so that their items could be found via keyword searches. The hope is that future catalog software will allow for search results showing creator identity.

Why Wikipedia?

While Wikipedia and libraries might seem like an odd mix, there is great value in working together. To some, open knowledge systems or crowd-sourced data may seem like the Wild West. However, information in Wikipedia must be cited, and Wiki entries are rated based on the quality of information sources. As part of their project, Roe, Willey, and Yon added Library of Congress Control Numbers to Wikipedia entries and Wikidata identifier numbers in the Library of Congress name authority records to create a full circle of linked data. A Library of Congress Control Number, similar to a Social Security number that is issued to books as they are prepared for publication, allows bookstores and other distributors to easily order the correct title.

“From a cataloging aspect, projects like this connect resources and aid in source validation,” Yon said. “Improved discoverability is one of the goals of linked data. So there is value in using open sources, such as Wikipedia, that are available to all and created by all, along with institutional sources. By using identifiers it links all types of information sources so that they are working together to improve discoverability.”

This project served as a case study to learn what resources such as skills, time, tools, and workflow are necessary to add demographic terms to catalog records. Findings from Roe, Willey, and Yon’s project were presented at the American Library Association and OCLC Americas Regional Council Conference in 2018. The group also had an article accepted for publication in Cataloging and Classification Quarterly.

This article is from the 2019 Milner Library Annual report. View the entire Annual Report on ISU ReD

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