Alice Read
Jun 7 · 6 min read

Why did we host an edit-a-thon?

In January of this year the Let’s Get Real conference hosted by Culture24 saw Kay Watson from the Serpentine Galleries speak about hosting an Art+Feminism Wikipedia-edit-a-thon at the Photographer’s Gallery. At the event they gave training on how to use Wikipedia and edited only women artists’ biographies. I found the talk totally inspiring and decided to investigate further.

Art+Feminism is “a campaign improving coverage of cis and transgender women, non-binary folks, feminism and the arts on Wikipedia”. On their website they point out that shockingly only 10% of editors on Wikipedia are women. Because of this statistic we were hyper aware that this event needed to be as much women editing women artists Wikipedia pages as focussing on women’s biographies.

As the PMC hosts a year-round series of events and has an Events Manager it was easy to fit this event into the schedule. The best way of hearing about our events is to sign up to our newsletter or to follow us on social media. We used both these platforms to promote the event and particularly encouraged transgender and cisgender women to attend. We also added it to the Art+Feminism event page.

Why libraries are so important to Wikipedia

Many of the articles we looked at on Wikipedia had lots of references but often they were mainly news items and less so from published academic sources. Adding books as references helps to improve the reliability of Wikipedia. With over 30,000 books in the library the PMC is a great place to improve the quality of many art-focussed Wikipedia pages.

How we decided on the list of artists to edit on the day

We decided to come up with a list of artists to edit on the day so that we could have a good selection of books from our library ready to use.

You can read as much as you like about how to edit Wikipedia but one of the things we found hardest was how to select the list of women artists.

We knew being the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art we wanted to focus on British women artists but that is still incredibly broad.

We started by looking at dictionaries and thematic books such as ‘Women’s Contributions to Visual Culture, 1918–1939’ to get a list of artists. But after an hour of going through each entry of Sara Gray’s ‘The Dictionary of British Women Artists’ I only made my way through 16 of 295 pages and 22 artists.

Of these 22 artists I found only two had published resources in house and for both of those it was only one journal entry each. This is when I realised a lot of the artists in these books would struggle to be accepted as ‘notable’ by Wikipedia. I also found was a lack of diversity in these types of books.

We quickly realised we needed to focus on women with monographs. It all started to come together when our Assistant Librarian got involved. She knew what relatively new monographs on women had come in off the top of her head. It became apparent that contemporary artists would be easier to focus on as their books had often been out for less time and therefore the information not edited into Wikipedia.

It was also difficult at first to tell if an article had enough references or not. It became clear that it was no so much about the amount of references but also the quality of the references. Someone like Cornelia Parker for example (before this Wikipedia-edit-a-thon) had very few books referenced. We began to look for notable women artists who we had monographs on who had poor referencing in Wikipedia and where our books were not referenced.

At one point we had about a list of 106 women artists, which we managed to get down to 30 and finally to 12. This was far more manageable as we still checked out 50 books from the library.

Through this process we found some gaps in our library and purchased some new books especially.

PMC edit-a-thon in progress

How we organised the day

Luckily, our Editorial Assistant at PMC had already been to a Wikipedia-edit-a-thon at Tate a few years ago so he was able to point us in the right direction regarding the structure of the day. If you can go to an edit-a-thon before hosting one it really helps. He was the one who explained a trolley of relevant books was essential.

We started with tea and coffee and then an introduction from our Deputy Director about the centre’s commitment to digital publishing. We then had a quick talk from one of Project Archivist giving us the heads up that the Daphne Haldin Archive would soon be catalogued. After that Stuart Prior from Wikimedia gave an introduction to Wikipedia and how to edit. This lasted approximately an hour and took us up to just before midday.

Before everyone started taking the books and working on the articles they had been assigned our Assistant Librarian gave an introduction to the collections available at the PMC and a heads up that the books are on loan and will be collected at the end of the day. After this around midday everyone was encouraged to start editing.

We edited for most of the afternoon with a coffee break. We finished by going through each article and seeing how much each article had been changed and checking that no-one had anything left in their sandbox. This is so important to do, as so many people forgot they hadn’t published to Wikipedia.

This was the full schedule.

10am–10.15am: Tea and coffee

10.15am–10.30am: Introduction

10.30am–10.35am: Daphne Haldin Archive introduction

10.45am–11.45am: How to edit a Wikipedia entry

11.45am–11.50am: Books introduction

11.50am–12.30pm: Start editing (Sign in and find your artist here:[Google Drive link])

12.30pm–1.30pm: Lunch

1.30pm–4pm: Continue editing

4pm–4.15pm: Tea and coffee

4.15pm–5pm: Continue editing

5pm–5.30pm: Wrap up

Things we learnt on the day

  • Only 18% of biographies on Wikipedia are of women
  • Wikipedia is the 4th/5th most popular website in the world
  • There is a ‘Talk’ tab at the top of every article that explains the reasoning for certain decisions regarding content
  • Working on one article each works best. At one point we had considered putting people in pairs but people still chatted to each other working on their own as lots of connections were found. For example how Lubaina Himid and Sonia Boyce have known each other since the early 1980s.

Top tips

Although I couldn’t get to an edit-a-thon before we hosted one I managed to contact the University of St Andrews who had hosted one previously to see what they had learnt.

Dr Catherine Spencer’s top tips that saved me on the day were to create a Google document that everyone can access where you can put the link to sign in to the event dashboard and assign people certain articles and to create blank Wikipedia accounts as creating too many in one day from the same place can cause Wikipedia to block you from making any more accounts. Ideally people should create them in advance but sometimes this doesn’t always happen. All three of the blank accounts I made were used on the day as we did get blocked!

Make sure you get someone from Wikimedia to help you host the event as not only can they give you an in-depth look at Wikipedia and excellent training, they can help everyone work through any strange errors or rejections that happen on the day during the editing session.

Results from the day

  • 16 articles edited, 202 total edits, 14 editors, 9,540 words added. More details can be seen on our dashboard from the day.
  • Of our all the attendees only one was male, which meant we contributed to improving the number of female editors on Wikipedia
  • Some anecdotal evidence were that people said they felt empowered editing Wikipedia, others liked working in a group for the day, and some found it inspirational.
  • We also sent out a short survey, and of those who answered our survey 100% found the event very useful, 65% had not visited the centre before, all would attend an edit-a-thon without further training and 100% felt confident to edit Wikipedia in their own time. All felt it was also a good networking event.

If nothing else Wikipedia teaches you that careful collaboration is everything.


Updates on digital projects from the PMC

Alice Read

Written by

Digital at the Paul Mellon Centre. Previously Royal Academy of Arts and Art UK.



Updates on digital projects from the PMC

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