Perhaps you work with a local history collection that deserves more worldwide exposure. Perhaps you’re wrists-deep in a fonds that contains fascinating correspondence with a variety of public figures. Perhaps you’ve run across a number of BMD entries of a famous family. Have you thought about using Wikipedia and Wikimedia to expose these pieces of cultural heritage?

Wikipedia, the “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” and its media-sharing counterpart, Wikimedia, are all about building both full-text and structured-data information collections about anyone, anywhere. Ontario’s towns, history, and people are well-represented already, because of enthusiasts and subject experts who have volunteered their time to write and cite articles about them. We in the heritage industry, who are holding unique and fascinating items in our collection, have plenty more to contribute.

You may have found, in the past, while writing a biographical sketch or a summary note in a record, that it was hard to find information online about a local person or place. Often the smaller and more remote items have no representation on the internet, only in physical collections. Wikipedia is a great way to change that: you can start a new article or add details to an existing article, and it’s easy to get started.

For example, I added a few sentences to the Chesley, Ontario article about the town’s woodworking museum, opened in a historic building. I added citations to news stories about the museum’s funding and opening. I also added citations to existing sentences that didn’t have any references. It’s as easy as Googling a claim, then finding a relevant link and allowing Wikipedia to automatically generate the citation. You can do this with news articles from periodicals uploaded to VITA, too!

Wikimedia can be another great way to share individual heritage items, if they’re in the public domain or you have the ability to license them under Creative Commons. You can simply upload the image, enter in some metadata, and then insert it directly into relevant articles.

For example, I grabbed a public-domain photo of the YMCA building in Schreiber, Ontario, from their VITA collection.


I uploaded it to Wikimedia and then inserted it into Schreiber, Ontario article with a caption. I added an aerial photograph to the “History” section and a photo of the old CPR station to the “Railway” section. And with that, the article about the town got a little more colourful – and the photo metadata links back to Schreiber Public Library’s collections, where readers can find more images and information.

Unfortunately, because Wikimedia is based in the US, things need to have expired from their significantly more confusing copyright protections. Read carefully – and, when in doubt, stick with items created in the 1800s: there’s a good chance that they have expired from the US’s “life of the creator plus seventy years” term.

If you’re uploading your first images, use the convenient Upload Wizard. And if you have any questions, work with this guide.

There are lots of handy resources available when you’re just starting out on Wiki editing. The Archives Association of Ontario has run training for archivists, and shared a webinar recording and handout on their Online Training page.

You’ll also want to read the guide for cultural heritage workers – it covers things like conflicts of interest and the best practices for linking to your own collections, including a citation template just for archival holdings. It’ll also caution you about things like having your edits reverted or articles deleted (hints: use your Sandbox to draft things in bits and pieces; never start a new article about something that isn’t referred to in other articles).

There are lots of ways to get involved with Wikipedia and Wikimedia if you’re a library or archives worker. Every year they put on a #1Lib1Ref campaign, which asks librarians to add one citation to an article that doesn’t have references to prove its veracity. (We wrote about last year’s.)

There’s also a new Wikipedia Library User Group: if you find yourself getting more interested in the whys and hows of Wiki editing, you may want to help out with that community. There are already over a hundred people signed up!

More locally, a librarian at York University, Stacy Allison-Cassin, is organizing a series of Wikipedia edit-a-thons across the country, focused on improving the coverage of local musicians and music-related people, places, and things. It’s called Music in Canada @ 150 and organization is ongoing.

If you want to be really ambitious, you can hold an edit-a-thon of your own once you’re experienced with the ins and outs of Wikipedia. It’s a great community event to throw, and often significantly improves the Wikipedia coverage around a topic of interest (I would suggest local history of some kind, but your community’s focus may vary).

Danielle Robichaud wrote a great article for me (in my guise of the Professional Development Editor of Partnership, an open-access journal about library practice) about “Wikipedia edit-a-thons: beyond the warm fuzzies.” She talks about the practical preparations involved in hosting an edit-a-thon, the ways in which edit-a-thons can fail, and a number of arguments you can make about how working on Wikipedia is great professional development – and perhaps great for your repository.

Danielle also started the list of archives in Canada – is your institution included? If not, add yourself – it’ll be good practice!