By ELAINA VITALE
One in three Americans reports searching the Internet for health information, according to the Pew Research Center. Studies suggests much of this health research happens in a surprising place: Wikipedia. More people turn to Wikipedia for health research than trusted National Institute of Health resources, or sites like the Mayo Clinic.
Librarians are no stranger to Wikipedia — they encounter Wikipedia usage on the reference desk, in their encounters with students in instruction sessions, and in assignments from professors, and indeed to many on college campuses the ubiquity of Wikipedia comes as no surprise.
Some more striking statistics: Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website in the world, and only 9 to 10 percent of Wikipedia editors self-identify as female, according to Wikipedia’s own data. To librarians and other volunteer organizers, this has meant there is some work to do to make Wikipedia a better resource. Wikipedia edit-a-thons are one incredible way volunteer editors can work together to make Wikipedia a more inclusive space, and a space that is more representative of the diverse populations who turn to it to begin their research.
The National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM), the outreach arm of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), works to advance the progress of medicine and improve the public health by providing all U.S. health professionals with equal access to biomedical information and improving the public's access to information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health. The Middle-Atlantic regional office for NNLM is located at the University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library System.
As part of NLM’s strategic goal to reach more people in more ways through enhanced dissemination and engagement pathways, NNLM sought to create a Wikipedia edit-a-thon that engages librarians and other volunteers such as clinicians, educators and students across the country in improving the health-based content on Wikipedia, and working to make Wikipedia a better, more evidence-based resource.
NNLM held an inaugural, virtual edit-a-thon on April 17, 2018. NNLM staff trained interested volunteer editors on how to edit articles and add citations for trusted NLM resources like MedlinePlus, PubMed and Genetics Home Reference, and then hosted a virtual edit-a-thon via WebEx. As part of this initial campaign, volunteer editors and NNLM staff edited 111 articles and made 736 total edits to Wikipedia pages related to health, improving the content therein and ensuring visitors to edited Wikipedia pages would have strong resources to turn to from their initial health searches.
A second virtual NNLM edit-a-thon is planned from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 7. NNLM staff and volunteers will be working together to improve content on pages related to women’s health by adding citations for NLM resources and editing content. Join NNLM staff on the Nov. 7 in making Wikipedia a better, evidence-based resource! Find out volunteer and editing details at NNLM’s training page, and follow the fun by checking the hashtag #citeNLM2018!
Elaina Vitale is the Academic and Data Services Coordinator for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region.