On the frontlines of an infodemic, Wikipedians and librarians join forces

Alex Stinson
Down the Rabbit Hole
5 min readMay 14, 2020

Amid COVID-19, an annual campaign has a renewed purpose. #1Lib1Ref calls on librarians around the world to strengthen a key informational resource: Wikipedia.

The interior at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in in Alexandria, Egypt. Image by Mona Abo-Abda, (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Six months ago, I could have never imagined that a global pandemic would trigger a shared awareness of how critical and complicated access to good information is in our lives.

The public is not only seeking information about COVID-19, but also on a range of tangential topics that are now top-of-mind — from how to work from home and what restaurants deliver, to tips on hand washing and where to go for government benefits. Getting people this information (or not) has real consequences, and complicating matters is the wave of misinformation traveling through communities at warp speed.

For the past five years, I have been part of running the Wikimedia Foundation’s annual #1Lib1Ref (abbreviated for “one librarian, one reference”) campaign, which calls on librarians around the world to make Wikipedia stronger by adding missing references to articles on the site.

“Getting people this information (or not) has real consequences.”

Wikipedia and libraries share underlying values: the importance of verifiable references; doing proper research to bring quality, accurate information to the world; and relying on patrons or readers who want to join us in exploring those topics. In short, the #1Lib1Ref campaign celebrates the overlapping mission of librarians and Wikimedia to foster a more informed public.

The last few weeks have made the importance of this shared goal even more acute. Wikipedia is seeing record pageviews, and where the capacity exists, libraries are striving to support communities by shifting to digital services, even when many library systems around the world are closing. Needing support in finding the right information has become part of our shared experience of staying at home.

Old Drill Hall, Darling Street, Cape Town, South Africa, housing Cape Town’s Central Library. Image by NegativeC, (CC BY-SA 3.0).

I recently represented the Wikimedia Foundation at a WHO consultation on the infodemic paralleling the…