Wikipedia is a widely used, freely available, advertisement free, multilingual information resource. Recognizing that Wikipedia is used regularly by the public, health sciences students, and professionals alike, the #CiteNLM team hosts twice-yearly Wikipedia Edit-a-thons to enhance the quality of information in health-related Wikipedia articles. During these campaigns, editors collaborate to add trustworthy information and citations from reliable NLM resources such as MedlinePlus, various NIH institutes and centers, and articles in PubMed.
I sat down on Zoom recently with Kelsey Cowles, a Research and Instruction Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh’s Health Sciences Library System (Pitt HSLS) with a focus on community engagement and interprofessional education, to talk about Wikipedia in the health sciences library. Kelsey previously worked with the NNLM Middle Atlantic Region and was very involved with the #CiteNLM project, teaching and presenting about Wikipedia and co-authoring publications on the project. When Kelsey transitioned from NNLM to her new role at Pitt HSLS, she brought her passion for educating librarians and students about Wikipedia’s strengths and weaknesses as a health information resource.
At Pitt HSLS, Kelsey has partnered with other interested librarians, Rachel Suppok and Rebekah Miller, to organize internal Pitt HSLS staff edit-a-thons as a part of the wider #CiteNLM campaigns. These in-person events have become fun team-building activities for the Research and Instruction group at Pitt HSLS. Kelsey said, “I think the value of Wikipedia editing is pretty clear to most librarians once they get started – it’s all about evaluating resources, finding sources for information, and adding citations to reliable health information resources. Plus, we know tons of people are using Wikipedia and it’s probably easier to improve that resource ourselves than convince them to always go elsewhere!” The Pitt HSLS Spring 2022 staff edit-a-thon contributed 1,490 words and 25 references and so far, there have been over 26,000 views of those edited pages. Kelsey added, “a staff edit-a-thon is also just a great way to get together as a group in a somewhat social setting since we don’t all see each other very often outside of meetings, but we still get to put our expertise to good use.”
Kelsey, Rachel, and Rebekah have also developed a Pitt HSLS class entitled Wikipedia for Health Sciences Students. This course was based on content from NNLM’s “Evaluating and Contributing to Health Information in Wikipedia” Program in a Box. This resource was originally developed to enable library school faculty to easily facilitate a unit on Wikipedia in their classrooms. While the Program in a Box was designed with LIS programs in mind, these materials can be modified for any audience and educational setting to teach information and health literacy, develop critical evaluation skills, and connect learners with reliable health resources. For example, the Pitt HSLS librarians customized the Program in a Box to include additional information about using Wikipedia as a starting point for further research using Pitt HSLS databases and other information resources.
Kelsey shared that although they are still testing the best time to offer the class to maximize registration, those who have attended have been enthusiastic about learning to edit, and faculty also have expressed interest in hosting tailored versions of the sessions for their own classes.
Kelsey concluded, “I’m really looking forward to seeing where we can take this work. I am especially inspired by people using Wikipedia extensively as a pedagogical tool in credit-bearing courses, getting students involved in actually editing the encyclopedia rather than just reading it. I would highlight Laurie Bridges (Oregon State University) and Naniette Coleman (UC Berkeley) as two great examples of this. I would love to do something along the lines of what they’re doing, but specifically focused on the health sciences.” You can read about the work of Laurie Bridges and Diana Park, who have created a two-credit course for undergraduate students “Wikipedia and Information Equity”. They share that “Engaging students in complex conversations about this information source is one way to improve students’ information literacy skills.” Naniette Coleman is a social scientist who has developed a program to support college faculty and students digital literacy skills using Wikipedia as “an innovative misinformation-combating approach”. You can also read about Naniette Coleman’s work.
If you’re curious to find out if Wikipedia editing is for you, check out NNLM’s next #CiteNLM event on November 18th or sign up for NNLM’s Wikipedia + Libraries Course which will be held starting in October. If you’re interested in learning more about #CiteNLM or our Program in a Box, contact Margie Sheppard. If you’d like to hear more about using Wikipedia as a team-building or instructional tool, Kelsey is happy to chat at Kelsey.email@example.com.
We are also excited to be hosting Kelsey Cowles for our Region 7 Presents webinar series. Join us on September 28th at 1pm ET to learn about Evaluating Health Information on Wikipedia.
This post is a coordinated effort between Kelsey Cowles, Research and Instruction Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library System (Pitt HSLS), and Bennie Finch, Education and Outreach Coordinator in NNLM Region 7.