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Women scientists get the Wikipedia pages they deserve thanks to UNC's Science Library

edit a thon
Kenan Science Library's Wikipedia Edit-a-thon taught attendees how to edit entries related to women in science.

UNC’s Kenan Science Library hosted its fourth annual Women in Science Wikipedia Edit-a-thon this week.

Participants gathered Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. to write women back into history in the Edit-a-thon, a drop-in event geared toward improving Wikipedia entries about and related to women in science. The event was co-sponsored by UNC Allies for Minorities and Women in Science and Engineering and STEM Pride of the Triangle.

Interim head of Kenan Science Information Services Therese Triumph said the idea of a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon was first introduced in 2013 by Emily Jack, the community engagement librarian at Wilson Library. Since then, a variety of different departments have put on their own Edit-a-thons, from psychology to African-American history. Triumph said she spearheaded the Women in Science Edit-a-thon in 2015.

“It's important to advocate for all people. Needless to say, women in STEM or non-binary people have been excluded generally because you write what you know, so if you are a white male from the Northern Hemisphere, you write about what you know,” Triumph said. “So, unfortunately it took a while for women and queer folk to realize that we have to get our history in there too.”

Since Wikipedia is such a large, open source of knowledge, it is beneficial to have librarians and others with a large amount of education on the subject editing it, and it is especially beneficial to have women and people of color contributing, Triumph said.

“One of the big things was when women scientists had pages, their pages did not look like the male scientists’ pages. So a male scientist’s page is very factual, talks about their research, has an information box that is a scientist information box," Triumph said. "Women didn't have that. You didn't know who their thesis adviser was."

The Edit-a-thon aims to make women scientists' pages to look like all scientists' pages.

Leah Bowers, a fourth year chemistry Ph.D. candidate, is the president of AM_WISE, which co-sponsored the event. According to its mission statement, AM_WISE strives to empower and improve the working environment for women and students of color in graduate and postdoctoral STEM departments at UNC.

“We get a group of interested folks together who want to edit Wikipedia pages of underrepresented scientists,” Bowers said. “And we essentially have lists of scientists’ pages (that) needed to be modified, added to, created from scratch, so that the general public can get a better idea of who these people are and what contributions they’ve given to society.”

Editors learned how to improve knowledge about women in science in several different ways. 

Beginners were taught how to add citations and links to articles in order to enhance the information that is already up and attract more readers by linking articles about women scientists to larger, more visited articles. More advanced Wikipedia editors expanded and updated existing articles, and even wrote brand new articles about people who have not been published on Wikipedia before.

STEM Pride of the Triangle, another sponsor of the event, is dedicated to creating a visible and interconnected community for LGBTQ+ and allied students both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Its chairperson, Jacob Robins, a third year Ph.D. student in the chemistry department, said that inclusivity is vital to scientists at UNC because while they do deal in hard science, they are people, too.

“In order to be a productive, happy lab member and grad student, you have to be confident in who you are, and you have to be able to feel like when you bring yourself to the workplace ... when you get into that space, that you’re going to be accepted,” he said. “And if you have some kind of paranoia or some kind of fear, you’re just not going to be as happy, as successful, as productive.”

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