What we learned from 1Lib1Ref 2019

The Wikipedia Library
Oct 20 · 17 min read

Wikipedia is an invaluable research tool, and more — and higher quality — references make Wikipedia more reliable and useful. Each year people from around the world join the 1Lib1Ref initiative to make small but meaningful contributions to this goal.

Because anyone can edit Wikipedia, the Wikipedia community has developed a core strategy to ensure the quality of information in its articles: including footnotes to reliable sources to allow Wikipedia readers to “verify” the information. Readers and editors who don’t feel confident about a piece of information in an article are able to add a {{citation needed}} tag next to that statement. These tags are similar to reference questions — members of the public asking for reliable research to back up the information they are reading. English Wikipedia alone has over 380,000 citation needed statements, and 210,000 articles on English Wikipedia have no references at all. Imagine if every librarian in the world took just a few minutes to address one of these citation-needed queries! The 1Lib1Ref campaign calls on contributors to add just one footnote to help improve the verifiability of Wikipedia, allowing them to have a practical impact on the sum of all human knowledge. In addition to improving the reliability of Wikipedia, this campaign introduces new editors to the projects via a simple entry point.

As the 1Lib1Ref campaign enters its fourth year, it has attained some very encouraging achievements: it has gained traction within the library world and endorsements from major partners such as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, and has supported and grown new communities. The 2019 1Lib1Ref campaigns in January and May showcased the power of harnessing collective efforts towards specific goals and the value of encouraging participation via micro-contributions. More than 50% of the total participants for 2019’s campaign were new editors. Participants made 13,261 edits in more than 50 languages with over 4.12 million words added. These contributions were encouraged through 64+ in-person (edit-a-thons, coffee hours, etc.) and online events (webinars, office hours, Q&A sessions).


1Lib1Ref participants at University Library, Belgrade — 11sasapus11, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Despite the campaign’s past successes, going into 2019 The Wikipedia Library team identified a number of potential improvements and changes which could help us reach our goal of “extending the 1Lib1Ref campaign via our network of affiliates and partners”. We knew there was a potential impact beyond the numbers we recorded over previous years, and to reach the full potential of the campaign we had to listen more to our stakeholders to provide a welcoming environment. In previous years we only learned about the limitations and potential improvements of the campaign by word of mouth; scaling the campaign would require a more thorough investigation.

There was a need to uncover the problems with the current way of organising as well as to learn from other successful campaigns within the Wikimedia movement. We held learning interviews with project organisers or leaders for Art & Feminism, Wiki Loves Monuments (WLM), past lead organisers of the 1Lib1Ref campaign, and other experienced individual and community organisers. Before going into these interviews we had some prespecified questions that we wanted to clarify or answer. These aims formed the basis of our research and strategy:

  • Understanding the strategies used by similar campaigns to organise community leaders (interviews with WLM and Art + Feminism teams, etc.).
  • Discovering which resources community organisers or volunteers need to ease their work (pre-, during and post-campaign resources/tips).
  • Improving our current resources to standardised formats that are easily adaptable on social media (for example presenting how-to guides as a picture/pdf that can easily be shared on social media and on communication mediums like WhatsApp and Telegram) since our target audience maybe more vibrant on alternative platforms.
  • Brainstorming possible reporting mechanisms to track offline activities and tell the stories that cannot be represented in quantitative data.

A summary of these collective interviews affirmed our goal to extend the campaign from being organised solely within the Wikimedia Foundation to also looking outward to more experienced and committed participants. The crucial concepts that were gathered were categorised into thematic areas such as community engagement, tools support, communication strategy and resource availability. These included some key principles:

  • Create a sense of community ownership of the campaign
  • Create an overarching global team willing to support the campaign
  • Create easily accessible and reliable communication materials
  • Standardise text to ease participation and localisation
  • Create resources to allow effective communication and participation
  • Ensure the mission of the project is well articulated to create a clear motivation

These principles provided a base for strategising around this year’s campaign. Time was going to prove whether these newly formed strategic moves were indeed beneficial to reaching our goal.


Campaign Strategy

Following the findings from the interviews and research it was quite clear what strategies were needed to reach our goals for the campaigns. We developed four functional areas of focus:

  • Communication — A well-planned communication strategy that encourages participation and support for 1Lib1Ref enthusiasts and key partners.
  • Community Engagement — An engagement strategy that includes our key partners at the decision-making and implementation stages.
  • Tools Development & Support — Revisiting our tools and developing them to a standard that serves the needs of the community as well introducing tools that complemented the campaign.
  • Evaluation & Impact — Gathering stories (negative & positive) and encouraging organisers and participants to report their achievements during the campaign period.

There was also an assumption that once we standardised all documentation for the campaign, people were going to be able to use these resources with little or no support. This would mean that the team would be able to focus support to expanding the campaign beyond what it had accomplished in the past. The May campaign focused on new regions — those where Wikipedia had historically had a limited presence.

Communication Strategy

1Lib1Ref participants adding references to the Marathi Wikipedia — सुबोध कुलकर्णी, CC-BY-SA 4.0

This year we focused on addressing issues around communication and visibility for the campaign. We identified the need to redesign the campaign website to improve ease of navigation and access to information tailored to suit visitors’ level of interest, participation or experience. The website was segmented into multiple layers of participation, organised with tabs to enhance navigation. Text on the pages was also decluttered and simplified to allow easy comprehension and translation.

All documentation were standardised to allow participants the ability to interpret the campaign in their local contexts. This was achieved by clearly stipulating the goals and parameters of the campaign on the site, adding phrases to address longstanding questions such as “can Wikimedians participate in the campaign?”, “When is it happening?” and “Can I host the campaign any time of the year?”. We also improved communication by adding case studies of how the campaign has been organised by different people across the world and the need to think within one’s context. A new domain was also purchased to improve visibility for our Latin communities: 1bib1ref.org.

The team also worked around improving social networking by creating participation guides for those who only wanted to share on social media. This section was organised into easy clickable buttons to post on multiple social media platforms. Participants were also provided a single email address where they could share their concerns about organising or participation; a mailing list was also created to provide stakeholders with a place where they could receive community support and start discussions on topics of interest. Lastly a channel was created on Slack for the global team to ensure frequent communication and engagement on practical issues around the campaign. We employed a mix of different approaches to ensure the word got out, from sending emails to all library-related mailing lists to pinging individual affiliates directly. These approaches were very useful to countries within our target audience, and afforded the opportunity for them to reach out with more questions around their needs for support.

A host of resources were curated to improve participation and to ensure that anybody can visit our project pages and be able to organise or participate freely. These resources communicated all the how-to-participate information through guides and case studies, and ranged from topics of organising to tool usage. Information was presented in formats that made local sense and could be easily disseminated. These included formats such as GIFs, PDFs, and photos. These helped us push communication on mediums that our target regions (emerging communities) heavily use: WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.

As part of our efforts to ensure local adaptation of our communication materials, we partnered with mysimpleshow.com to harness their tool’s potential in collaborating on videos to allow local teams to translate the videos into their own languages. This feature was used by the Latin American teams to translate into their different localised forms of spoken Spanish and by the Iranian team to translate into Farsi. The feature and the full usage of the software is part of a free package secured under a partnership between TWL and the mysimpleshow.com team. The feature is an opportunity for our communities to take advantage of to provide information in their own context.


Community Engagement

Campaign participants at CAICYT — Giselle Bordoy, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Forming a support team at this point had become more evidently necessary to deploy strategies that made room for inclusion and collaborative decision making. We took this step because we identified a need to design for the people we wanted to serve. It led to the formation of a global team made up of three tiers of supporters or participants;

  • Ambassadors — The core organisers: Experienced community leaders who have organised a 1Lib1Ref activity before, and are willing to mentor, inspire and provide support to other participants who want to participate or host events as part of the 1Lib1Ref campaign. A group of nearly 50 ambassadors representing six continents and 28 countries were approached to participate and 20 people committed to the task. Organisers in this global model interacted with and supported existing communities.
  • Champions — Institutional advocates: Avid volunteers who want to enlist new librarians and libraries while encouraging their institutions to promote and participate in the campaign. More than 30 champions participated in the global campaign and inspired others to participate.
  • Amplifiers — Social networkers: Visible voices who want to spread the word about 1Lib1Ref and are eager to publicise it before, during, and after the campaign. Around 60 amplifiers engaged our target audience online about the campaign.

We also collaborated with the Wikimedia and Libraries User Group to ensure their expertise was considered and their extensive network was engaged in the campaign. We had a conversation with some founders of the user group at the GLAMWiki conference in Tel Aviv, which sparked the idea to create a support service for the campaign through a webinar. This was run during the May campaign to provide training and support to those who were interested in the campaign or wanted to participate.

The strategy to ensure collaborative decision-making with the global team was implemented not only to include experienced organisers and supporters in some decision-making structures but to genuinely listen to their concerns or community concerns through them, as well as ensure inclusive input towards running the campaign. These approaches to listening and improving the campaign around community input yielded some great stories, some of which are highlighted below.

During the pre-conference days of Wikimania 2018, the Wikipedia Library Team led by Felix Nartey organised a training session for librarians in South Africa dubbed “Wikipedia 101”. The session focused on projects that were directly relevant to the library profession, with a goal to grow some activity around 1Lib1Ref in South Africa. This commenced a relationship with a librarian from the University of Cape Town by the name of Ingrid Thompson, who would later lead 1Lib1Ref activities in several libraries and institutions during both the January and May campaigns. Her activities directly churned 10-plus events in different libraries and universities and at least two webinars. She also led conversations with African librarian networks such as the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AFLIA) and the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA); she pitched the campaign to them, started a broader discussion on the subject, and created awareness about how Wikipedia and libraries can actually be good allies in ensuring credible and reliable knowledge is distributed to the world. It was no surprise to see her at Wikimania again this year following all the amazing work she had done; it was even more rewarding to learn that her institution paid for her to attend because of the impact of her work in connecting librarians and other library institutions to this opportunity.

User Darafsh had just become a coordinator of the Farsi Wikipedia Library Branch and was really passionate about increasing the activity level of the branch. He saw 1Lib1Ref as a key opportunity to engage the community and some librarians. The campaign saw very high participation from the Farsi community and placed their campaign second amongst the languages represented. The campaign seemed to have been highly welcome and at the end of this year’s campaign the group had gone on to make future commitments to participation.

Krishna has been a long-time Wikipedia Library coordinator and 1Lib1Ref organiser. He led activities in both the January and May campaigns for the Asian continent. He engaged at least three new countries, with more than seven events, and started the first ever 1Lib1Ref for a thematic topic such as gender. The idea of the thematic 1Lib1Ref campaign was to use the campaign to address some of the global gaps on our project: gender gap, language gap, content gap, etc. His zeal to support the 1Lib1Ref initiative has been enormous.

We should also emphasise future collaborative partnerships with institutions both in and out of the movement that can extend our work to our strategic priorities. During the May campaign AfroCrowd provided support towards reaching out to a new strategic priority: the Caribbean, a region that had seen very little or no Wikimedia interventions. With help from the 1Lib1Ref team from Argentina and the alliance with AfroCrowd we started a campaign with the goal to just create awareness of the campaign in the region. AfroCrowd and other groups were already devising strategies to break into the Caribbean, reducing the burden to reinvent the wheel in this case. Our efforts yielded some connections in Belize, an opportunity still in the works to train librarians from the country. We are looking at enhancing efforts in the region for subsequent campaigns and possibly using 1Lib1Ref to onboard new communities and participants.

The Argentina 1Lib1Ref team led by Giselle has been doing an awesome job since the launch of the May campaign in 2018. This year she led more than 10 Latin American countries to participate in the campaign. The most intriguing part of what she does is the high-level support she provides to the Latin American communities, especially around the creation of documentation and communication strategies for the region.

The 2019 campaign would not be complete without speaking about the enthusiasm and competition from the librarians in Canada led by Leah. There was a significant expansion of the 2018 Canadian competition: rather than being limited to Quebec-based libraries, the 2019 edition was a pan-Canadian event. This resulted in significant edits to both English and French Wikipedia. This activity put the Canadians and the French Wikipedia ahead of all other Wikipedia projects during the January campaign. It was a very intriguing experience as it resonated with our interview findings. A further look into the strategies that churned this amazing success reveals that the community:

  • Set a few achievable goals that were realistic and attainable
  • Rode on the fact that Canadian librarians like competition
  • Reiterated the values of the campaign, which resonate with librarian work
  • Expanded the campaign beyond Quebec by deliberately inviting librarians irrespective of where they resided
  • Articulated the vision which the librarians saw as an opportunity to enhance their organisation’s visibility around provision of access to credible sources
  • Created fun around the campaign and made the act of adding a reference more meaningful through localisation of activities/tasks

We are interested in exploring the approach of a competition on a larger scale (among all participants) soon; we encourage communities that want to try this approach within their communities, countries, or regions to contact us for further assistance.

The addition of the feedback form to specifically record qualitative data of campaign organisers and participants was very useful as it helped us to collect nearly real-time feedback that could be analysed and used within the same year. We were able to gather information on things that worked well or didn’t work well during the January campaign and apply our learnings to the May campaign. For example the use of the dashboard (see below) emerged as a huge challenge to most people; this information was easily collected through our qualitative collection form but could not have been captured by metrics measurements. It showed the significance of dissecting the various tiers of audience you have and providing a solution to serve each.


Tools Support and Development

Wikimedia Hashtags Search tool

The Hashtags tool continues to be our primary means of tracking campaign-related edits across the projects. Even though our metrics were heavily based on the tool we tried to collate results from both Hashtags and the Programs & Events Dashboard, a campaign management tool. The growing use of the Hashtags tool warranted not only improvements, but also a continuous effort to add new features that make its data more meaningful. A Google Summer of Code student worked on further improvements to the tool to make the data more accessible.

The Programs & Events Dashboard has been widely accepted and gradually growing in use for the campaign. It is becoming a significant component of the campaign as it provides data on certain metrics that the Hashtags tool is unable to gather. This generated several requests for improvement. The Wikipedia Library is currently working with the Wiki Education Foundation team that maintains the tool to introduce additional features to meet the needs of its users.

A number of improvements made to the Citation Hunt tool since the previous campaign helped significantly augment its usability. With the integration of ‘limit articles using PetScan queries’ and an option to manually enter article titles, participants could contribute in articles or categories they have a vested interest in. One noteworthy use of this feature was by the Feminism in India group to edit articles pertaining to Women in India. Many contributors used this tool to support their editing. It was generally helpful to new organisers as they found it easy to use and very easy to explain to their audience. A new language edition was also achieved through the campaign this year.

While new features were added, the customisation feature wasn’t used that much. This may have stemmed from the fact that the feature was new, not immediately conspicuous, and participants were not aware that the feature exists. It’s evident that we need to highlight these new changes in the future.


Evaluation and Impact

The interviews revealed the need to appreciate the context of impact and particularly design to include all sorts of stories and stats. This led to a collaboration between The Wikipedia Library team and the Learning and Evaluation team to create a means of tracking qualitative data from the campaign. We developed a feedback form that allowed us to collect stories and information that we were previously unable to collect. We also created a simplified way of collecting information from the hashtag tool by creating a programmed sheet that retrieved information directly from the hashtag tool. The usage of the dashboard was also encouraged to collect datasets that were not possible through the hashtag tool, a culmination of all these mediums of data collection provided a holistic view of the campaign and its relational impact.

Over 64 in-person and online events were organised during the 2019 1Lib1Ref campaigns. The mode of engagement and medium of support for this years campaign was extended beyond the use of just social media, as more than eight webinars were hosted to help participants all across the world. The overall stats tally for the campaign was; 13,261 edits in more than 50 languages, 4.12 million words added by 1,235 participants, 1,706 articles created and 15,621 edited. A deeper delve into these stats shows a significant increase in figures for the May campaign. This year’s May campaign achieved a 70% increase over last year’s campaign. Even though there were fewer edits in the May campaign (2,384) than the January campaign (10,877), the May campaign produced 1,190 new articles with 9,511 existing articles edited and 2.82 million words added, while the January campaign produced 516 new articles, 6110 edits on existing articles and 1.3 million words were added.

The campaign generally reached more than 5 million people on social media with over 5,060 posts made by 1,876 users spanning about 50 countries with over 15.5 million impressions. The campaign for the first time saw the French-language Wikipedia leading the contest and new entrants such as the Farsi Wikipedia taking a second spot during the May campaign. There was also a significant increase in participation from Africa and Asia: there were more than 16 online and offline activities between Africa (including first-timers South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Sudan, and Uganda) and Asia (including first-timers Iran and the Philippines). The Latin American community maintained a steady growth from last year and aided the move to focus more support on newer regions not yet present in our movement (the Caribbean).

The trend in our data also showed that nearly 50% of the people that participate in 1Lib1Ref are new editors and about 30% of total participants are existing users who are reactivated by the campaign.

A bar graph from the May 2019 campaign, showing the participant breakdown of the campaign

These stats demonstrate the need to provide our communities with opportunities that allow them to ride on social activities or campaigns to engage or even serve as a reminder. This is evident in similar campaigns such as Wiki Loves Monuments (WLM), Wiki Loves Earth (WLE), Art & Feminism, etc. and other campaigns or points of engagement will only increase our activity levels both online and offline. Also from the stats we have explained above, it’s evident that 1Lib1Ref has over the years been serving as a platform for onboarding newbies. As the figures grow for these newbies we need to begin to think of a bridge to ensure they are sustained within our movement, or even a means to engage them yearly on the projects of their interest as not everyone may necessarily be an everyday Wikimedian.

Press and Social Media

There were 58 press mentions of the campaign in various streams of media. As in previous iterations, several of them were tied to specific events. However, unlike in previous reports, this time around we were pleased to note a significantly greater diversity in language: the majority of sources were non-English, led by Spanish-language sources. Members of The Wikipedia Library team and volunteers were active on social media platforms, particularly Twitter and Facebook.


Future Plans

  • 1Lib1Ref has been adopted as a year-round activity with two major campaigns in January and May. We encourage this concept of a year-round campaign for future years as it provides a means for those who cannot still make the mainstream campaign dates to come up with something that works for them. This new development and support has been highlighted on the site to ensure awareness; however, we are aware that it needs to be spoken about more openly.
  • We are thinking of exploring thematic 1Lib1Ref opportunities in 2020. Some such activities happened this year, and we are exploring the feasibility of supporting them on a larger scale.
  • We are exploring a better strategy for working with the Rapid Grants team to meet the needs of communities organising #1Lib1Ref activities during the campaign months.
  • A campaign strategy for 2020 will be developed with the global team to ensure well defined roles and modes of engagement to improve the campaign’s growth.

The Wikipedia Library

Written by

The Wikipedia Library is an open research hub, a place for active Wikipedia editors to gain access to the vital reliable sources that they need to do their work

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade