York Libraries hosts edit-a-thon to improve digital coverage of Black excellence

Three people looking at a laptop screen

A joint campaign that seeks to address gaps in Black content on Wikipedia and Wikidata will run throughout February and will feature an in-person edit-a-thon session at York University Libraries on Feb. 15.

The Black Histories Wikipedia and Wikidata Edit-a-thon is a collaboration between York University, University of Toronto, Toronto Metropolitan University and the Toronto Public Library, and brings together a group of interdisciplinary scholars and students to improve the coverage and quality of Black content online through weekly synchronous sessions.

Scott Library Black Histories Wikipedia & Wikidata Edit-a-thon, Feb. 15, 2023 - Join us to enrich Black histories

To build an understanding of care for the editing sessions, the month started with a kickoff panel event discussing Black community archives. This event featured Debbie Ebanks Schlums (York PhD student and Vanier Scholar in Cinema and Media Studies) as a panelist, alongside Jonsaba Jabbi (co-founder of Building a Black Archive) and with Funké Aladejebi (York University alumni and assistant professor at the University of Toronto) as moderator.

The campaign invites the public to participate, and those interested will receive editing training through documentation and during the synchronous editing sessions which will primarily be led by trained student facilitators.

The edit-a-thon will teach critical information and data literacy skills while diversifying online content. It aims to foster open scholarship and intentionally provides programming to engage with Black and racialized students. The campaign is built upon partnerships across multiple institutions to provide experiential education for students (both event facilitators and participants) on current technologies.

“For us at York U libraries, our librarians and archivists are able to provide a deep knowledge of our collections and resources that we can provide to our students and communities,” says Alexandra Wong, data visualization and analytics librarian, York University Libraries. “We also bring our vast experience with working with primary, secondary and tertiary sources, and how to use those sources to structure knowledge, metadata and citations in Wikipedia and Wikidata to create a better system where the sum of all knowledge is well-sourced and well-structured.:

On Feb. 15, Black History Wikipedia and Wikidata Edit-a-Thon: York University Libraries Edit-a-thon invites community members to drop into York’s Scott Library anytime between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The event is a beginner-friendly editing session to improve representation in the information and data online and will focus on improving online content around the theme of “Black Love and Joy.”

This year, the Black History Edit-a-thon team has expanded with the addition of two public history placement students, from the HIST4840 class. The two students placed at York U Libraries – Leena Hussein and Alanna Brown – are involved in public outreach, co-leading the task lists of what is to be edited during the event, learning Wikidata and Wikipedia themselves to teach it to others, and facilitating in-person event and online events.

“Growing up in Canada our education system for Black history stops at the Underground Railroad and there’s so much more to Black history than that, it includes stories of Black excellence, Black agency, and Black joy, so I find that joining this placement is very important in the sense that I’m helping to bring more information to Black history that’s outside of Black struggle and enslavement,” says Brown.

Hussein, partly inspired by her experience in the program, has just applied for a master’s in information science.

“We’re seeing a lack of Black spaces and if we look at platforms like Wikipedia where we have editors and people helping and corresponding daily, we see less than a percent of those people aiding in these edits who are Black,” says Hussein. “As a result of this, we see biases on these platforms where Black voices, Black events and organizations are just not seeing any visibility.”

Through this experiential education initiative, the students will gain familiarity and appreciation for open knowledge and metadata, learn how they influence the public’s interaction with history, and understand the slow and careful labour involved with producing open knowledge on important subjects.

“What I’ve learned through this program has much to do with the tangible skills I’ve learned, such as editing, and understanding how software in these databases are run,” says Hussein. “I’ve also gained intangible skills such as just understanding how biases are created in media and in these platforms. I found that in having this knowledge, I’m better able to understand why things are the way they are and how I as an individual can help to make things better.”

This edit-a-thon builds off the success of the previous 2020, 2021 and 2022 Black History Edit-a-thons, annual Ada Lovelace Day Edit-a-thons and 2019’s International Women’s Day Edit-a-thon.

“We hope to make Wikipedia and Wikidata editing accessible for our students, as we feel that all voices should be able to meaningfully contribute to and see themselves represented in public history platforms,” says Priscilla Carmini, scholarly communications librarian, York University Libraries.

The in-person York University Libraries Edit-a-thon session:

During Black History Month, join us for a drop-in, beginner-friendly editing session to learn more and to help improve coverage of Black histories in Wikipedia and Wikidata. No experience necessary. 

Date and time: Feb. 15, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Scott Library Atrium (2nd floor, at the top of the escalators)

Weekly synchronous online sessions:

Every Friday in February, participants can join facilitated editing sessions on Zoom and can learn the basics or get a refresher on editing Wikipedia and Wikidata, then learn and write alongside others who are passionate about improving digital coverage of Black histories and experiences. Participants can also join the event and edit at their own pace throughout the month.,

Dates: Every Friday in February
Register for a session online.