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Seattle Knight Challenge
WebJunction and OCLC Research team members. (Via OCLC)

The Seattle office of the Online Computer Library Center has been awarded $250,000 as one of the winners of the Knight News Challenge on Libraries for a project aimed at making library resources more accessible to Wikipedia editors.

The project, titled “Improve Access to Knowledge and Empower Citizens: Amplify Libraries and Communities through Wikipedia,” was one of 14 winners in the challenge which will receive a share of $1.6 million to develop their project.

Launched in February, the challenge attracted 600 proposals, according to a post on the Knight blog. The 14 winners are a mix of libraries, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, small for-profit startups and museums. Each was tasked with answering the question: How might libraries serve 21st century information needs?

For OCLC, which is headquartered in Dublin, the answer was to better integrate the expertise of librarians with the massive online reach of Wikipedia.

The project leads were Sharon Streams, director of WebJunction, and Merrilee Proffitt, senior program officer in OCLC Research. WebJunction is a program managed by OCLC that builds the knowledge, skills and capacity of public libraries at scale. It was founded in 2002 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. OCLC Research is one of the world’s leading centers devoted to exploration, innovation and community building on behalf of libraries and archives.

In a description of the project, Streams acknowledged that English Wikipedia is “the sixth most visited website in the U.S. and attracts up to 15 percent of all Internet visitors per day.” But she said that while the site is a first stop for many doing online research, much of what Wikipedia offers is not “accurate, neutral and complete.” She reports that “only 4,727 of the 5,104,308 English Wikipedia articles (0.1 percent) fully meet these standards” and that libraries “have the authoritative materials and librarians have the reference expertise to help close this gap.”

For anyone who might think that libraries wouldn’t want anything to do with Wikipedia, here’s further explanation of the goals:

Many quality information sources are out of reach to people due to the digital and economic divide. Public libraries provide free, open access to trusted materials, and in many cases house important local information resources. This project will launch a national training program to help make library resources more accessible to Wikipedia editors and train library staff as editors. OCLC Research and WebJunction will work with a Wikipedian-in-Residence to build library staff skills in creating and editing Wikipedia articles. With these skills, librarians will be equipped to lead local Wikipedia outreach programs to increase information literacy and encourage community member contributions of knowledge.

Watch a video presentation from the Seattle-based winners and others:

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