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UNC libraries give feminism a voice with Wikipedia edit-a-thon

Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon

Participants of Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon edit Wikipedia pages in Sloane Art Library on Tuesday, March 4, 2019. Less than 10 percent of Wikipedia editors are female, and this lack of representation leads to skewed representation. Participants come together to address this issue by editing and updating Wikipedia articles related to gender, art, and feminism.

Art + Feminism, a campaign to improve and create Wikipedia pages pertaining to female and non-binary artists, inspired UNC libraries and the Art and Museum Library and Information Student Society (AMLISS) to host an edit-a-thon on March 4 in the Sloane Art Library. 

The goal of the campaign is to strengthen the quality of Wikipedia pages about female artists and to give women a resource to add to the online research pool. This year’s campaign is "Gender + The Non-Binary."

“The purpose of our campaign is to get more women and non-binary people editing Wikipedia so their voices are on the record,” Alice Whiteside, head of the Sloane Art Library, said. 

A Wikipedia survey in 2011 revealed that 9 percent of contributing writers were women, a statistic that propelled the creation of Art + Feminism in 2014. 

Organizers gave a lesson on the usage and ethics of Wikipedia editing to the 24 volunteers who met at the Sloane Art Library on Monday, and resources were compiled to aid writers in their efforts to revamp the online pages, said Veronica McGurrin, president of AMLISS. 

Many of these volunteers had never edited on Wikipedia before, including junior Mac McArtor. McArtor said he was drawn to the event to learn about female artists and how to edit Wikipedia pages.

“Any opportunity to learn more about something you didn’t know, you should take," McArtor said. "Especially when you have the time to do it.”  

Kristan Shawgo, a social sciences librarian at UNC, spoke at the editing session about what Wikipedia defines as a notable page and why pages on feminists with limited sourcing are often flagged as being trivial.

McGurrin said that a white male-generated definition of what is notable reinforces a white, Westernized view, therefore information from reputable library and online sources is important in maintaining these online pages. 

“Meeting together like this takes away the hurdle that it takes to begin editing on Wikipedia, because it seems like a very intimidating process,” Shawgo said. 

Organizers believe that offering resources to update and revise pages on female artists empowers artists and writers alike.

“As a feminist, I think it is important to come to these kinds of events and support these kinds of causes,” McGurrin said. 

Supporting feminism, while not a prerequisite for attending the event, was a communal feature represented not only by pins and magazines offered on tables, but by an atmosphere of appreciation for female empowerment. 

“I would consider myself to be a feminist, in that, I believe that women deserve everything and more than every other person on earth deserves,” McArtor said.

Edit-a-thons expand beyond Art + Feminism; the next upcoming event at UNC will be a writing workshop held on April 25, focusing on editing pages about women in science. 

“The first step when (students) are doing research is the Wikipedia page, I've found. So when they're reading these Wikipedia pages, that's kind of their first impression of these artists," McGurrin said. "So if there isn’t a Wikipedia page, or if it's a Wikipedia page that's written by somebody who might not be as sympathetic to the artists’ work, it can have a negative impact on the student’s perception of the event, or artist, rather.” 

Furthermore, Whiteside said it can be empowering to see an inaccuracy and fix it yourself. 

“Kind of realizing that these really prominent artists aren’t receiving accolades on one of the first sources that people encounter is quite troubling and shows how important the Art + Feminism organization is in their numbers of how many edits they've made and pages they've created and that kind of data is really affirming,” McGurrin said.

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