Edit the Statistic

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What a delight to see every workstation occupied with student writers and editors typing away in the computer lab at Gladys Marcus Library for the Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon. A quick glance revealed students working on pages ranging from “Pattern Grading” to “Gothic Cathedrals” to the “British Fashion Council,” to name just a few.

The event, which took place on International Women’s Day, ties in with a broad-based effort by the Wikimedia Foundation, the online encyclopedia’s parent organization, to address the gender imbalance among editors of Wikipedia, the seventh most viewed website in the world.

Helen Lane, Emerging Technologies Librarian, who helped bring the event to campus, explained that only 8.5 percent of Wikipedia’s volunteer contributors are female. She and Stephenie Futch, a member of our Technology Development Team, organized the event as part of the Women and Technology: Symposium. They want to encourage student editors to make entries and edits to address the unequal representation of women on the site, and they received Diversity Grant funding to help make the event happen.

“We want to engage women and the entire campus community with a fairly easy way to access a technological experience,” Professor Lane said. “A lot of women shy away from the hard technical aspects of the digital world. And this event is one way for everyone to get involved without a huge technical literacy.”

The underrepresentation on the site isn’t limited to gender. Art and design topics tend to be marginalized. As an example, Professor Lane cited the page on Ruth Ansel, an important and influential graphic designer. Ansel worked at major fashion magazines for more than 40 years and won a lifetime achievement award in 2016 that is the equivalent of an Oscar in her profession. But the Wikipedia entry on her is just three paragraphs.

“Meanwhile,” Professor Lane adds, “every single Pokemon character has extensive representation.”

Sarah Gold, an ITM major, who has edited Wikipedia pages in the past, was busily working on pages related to international trade. She also planned to work on a page for Trash and Vaudeville, a punk-fashion landmark on the Lower East Side.

“I’m learning how to start a new topic page,” Ms. Gold said. “But I’ve also been able to use the library research tools to insert better-quality citations for existing pages.”

Unequal representation on Wikipedia is changed one page at a time, it seems, and the FIT community is right there, as always, leading the way.

When I initiated the Diversity Fund Grant some years ago, I had no way of knowing exactly what sort of projects would grow out of it. And so, as our computer lab is transformed into a hive of paradigm-shifting digital activity by FIT librarians and students, it is truly gratifying to see, on International Women’s Day, that growth in action.

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