How the State Library of Victoria spent their lockdown improving Wikipedia

4 June 2021
James Gaunt

Victoria has been home to many famous Australians, but not all of them are household names.

Jessie Deakin Clarke was an Australian early refugee advocate who was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1997, while Alice Kitchin was an Australian nurse who served in Word War I, and earned the Victory Medal, among others.

Until recently anyone interested in their stories would need to look through various libraries and archives to find them, but in 2020 staff at the State Library of Victoria created pages for them on Wikipedia.

State Library of Victoria Principal Librarian Tim Hogan said, “we were looking around for meaningful work that staff could do from home, but also things that would be useful for the library to do. So that meant that we had to do some things that we wouldn’t necessarily do in normal times.”

“One of the ideas was getting staff to write a Wikipedia page on Victorian history or people that would include material from the Library’s collections, to highlight things that are notable for being in our collection.”

Alongside new pages on Jessie Deakin Clarke and Alice Kitchin, librarians also added over 100 new images from their collection to enhance pages, such as one on Australian painter Violet Teague.

“People don’t necessarily realise that we’re a library of pictures as well, and we have thousands of pictures, rare books or ephemera. Things that tell a story about Victorian people. So we wanted to highlight material of interest that was in the library that people might not know about”, Mr Hogan said.

Wikimedia Australia Community Support and Outreach Coordinator Caddie Brain has been connecting with librarians across Australia, and said librarian play an important part in adding to Wikipedia.

“Librarians are some of our greatest allies because they just naturally understand the platform. They understand referencing they understand what quality source material is all about. They just get it”, Ms Brain said.

Wikimedia, the parent organisation of Wikipedia, have been running a regular program called #1Lib1Ref since 2016 where they invite every librarian to add one reference to Wikipedia.

The program has been particularly embraced by the State Library of Queensland who contributed 4,238 edits in January 2017, nearly one quarter of all citations contributed worldwide.

State Library of Queensland Engagement Officer Jacinta Sutton said, “it’s important to us because we see Wikipedia and libraries as natural allies. We’re all about freedom of information and knowledge sharing, so we can help each other.”

“We can leverage the platform and the global audience of Wikipedia to reach new people, and we can help improve Wikipedia with the knowledge and expertise of the librarian and reference stuff.”

Back in Victoria, Tim Hogan hopes the State Library of Victoria can continue contributing to Wikipedia in the future, but for now the project is on pause.

“We’d like to, and I think when things settle we will incorporate it into our work. But for us it’s just a nice additional thing to do”, Mr Hogan said.