Archival Articles on Wikipedia

My regular readers will know that I edit Wikipedia from time to time, and that I am a doctoral student in an iSchool who studies archives. I was therefore overjoyed to attend this session at the Society of American Archivists annual meeting this August. The session chairs, Dominic McDevitt-Parks and Sara Snyder, successfully signed up new editors for Wikipedia accounts and introduced them to the basics of editing. As a group, we even made some progress on a few articles relevant to archives. A wiki page documenting the session is located here.

I fully agree with the goals of this session: to increase the quality of Wikipedia articles which relate to archival concepts, archival institutions, and archivists. Since August, I have been looking for opportunities to edit archival articles. Now, this term I am working as a Graduate Student Instructor (also known as a TA at universities not named Michigan) in a course on archival access systems. During a recent lecture, my lead instructor provided an overview of many of the archival software platforms that exist today. Following along, I happened to google Archon and ended up on its Wikipedia page: Archon (software). I was dismayed to see that the article was not up to date and listed the tool as in active development when in fact it has merged with ArchivesSpace and is no longer maintained. I made a mental note to follow up and edit this page to reflect the most current information.

A few days later, when I returned to complete my edits, I noticed that someone else had come in and begun my work for me! A sentence indicating the inactive status of the project was tacked on to the end of the article. I still made some edits, cleaned up the page, and made sure that things were up-to-date. However, during this time I discovered that ArchivesSpace itself does not have an article yet. That’ll be a task for a later date.

You may be asking yourself- what is the point of this story? Well, if you see an article related to something having to do with archives that needs work, edit it! I did a bit of writing on a small article and discovered a much larger task that I will tackle in the upcoming weeks.

What wiki-event is happening at SAA next year?? I’m there!


The Public Domain on my Birthday

Today is the day of my birth, and I figure that there’s no better way to celebrate than by highlighting what Public Domain materials have to say about June 10th. While browsing the Wikimedia Commons page for this date, I found a relevant and very interesting image:

American Association of University Women members with President John F. Kennedy as he signs the Equal Pay Act into law, June 10, 1963.

American Association of University Women members with President John F. Kennedy as he signs the Equal Pay Act into law, June 10, 1963.

Look how happy all of those women look, not to mention President Kennedy! Is it just me or does his desk seem rather cluttered? I see an ashtray, other mementos, files, a phone, papers… I especially like seeing LBJ in the back of the group, overseeing the signature. Little did this assembly know that in just a few short years this date would catapult my being into existence, unleashing unkown forces upon the world (I kid, I kid)…

On a more serious note, I encourage everyone to investigate and explore what is available on Wikimedia Commons and other public domain repositories. Before this, I didn’t know that my birth date loomed so large in the story of the struggle for equal rights and pay in the United States. Now I know more about this law and discovered that I have some amazing access to a fine image documenting this day. Three cheers for the public domain!


Gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom

This semester I am working as a Graduate Student Instructor (UMich’s term for TA) in a large introductory course for the Masters program here at the School of Information. Overall, the experience has been very rewarding. I enjoy teaching section and am happy to interact with students and explore rich topics across the broad field of information. In my section this week I encountered a situation that has stuck with me and rekindled an uneasiness I sometimes feel about the English language.

In this particular session, the students were doing blind peer reviews of each other’s most recent assignments. Split into pairs, I noticed that some of the students defaulted to referring to the author of the assignment under review as “him” or “he” when in fact it was not possible to tell if the student was male or female. At least one student corrected their partner on this point. I wished I could have stopped class and talked about the deficiencies of the English language in this situation. I have sometimes tried to incorporate the use of the gender-neutral pronoun “xe” into my vocabulary, and this would have been a great time to be able to deploy this invented word. Instead of he/she, xe can be used as a pronoun without signalling gender. Instead of saying “he/she  will be here soon” you instead say “xe will be here soon.” The pronunciation is similar to zed, without the d.

Interested in gender-neutral pronouns? Wikipedia is a good place to start. In addition to “xe,” “ze” and “ve” are also possible pronouns to employ in these situations where it is impossible to know an individual’s gender, or in other situations when a particular person does not identify as strictly male or female. This is something I would love to see catch more traction. Do any of you use gender-neutral pronouns or wish you did more often?


Excellent Coverage on Wikipedia and Cultural Institutions

Let me start by saying that I love Wikipedia. I’m not just a consumer of information from the online encyclopedia but also an editor, having made my first contribution back in 2006. While I have not been a consistent Wikipedian throughout the years, I make an effort to edit regularly these days and maintain a deep belief in the importance of this website on today’s internet. In a world of corporate web systems and services, Wikipedia is a refreshing organization in which people come together in the service of creating new knowledge and increasing human understanding of complex topics. For me, it represents a possibly-naive ideal that if everyone works together on this project, in the end knowledge will meaningfully increase and contributors will learn something about each other and the process of creating a global resource for learning and enjoyment.

All of this is not to say that Wikipedia is without flaws. Perhaps chief among these is a deep gender bias and an under-representation of female editors as well as topics on prominent women across the encyclopedia. A brief and admittedly superficial comparison of the article length of Halo: First Strike, a novel based on the popular video game series, and Flight Behavior, a novel by Pulizter-nominated  author Barbara Kingsolver demonstrates the results of the gender gap articulated in recent coverage of Wikipedia editors (e.g. this NYTimes article). The large number of male editors of Wikipedia articles has resulted in increased attention to male-centered topics such as video games. This leaves articles on novels by famous female novelists to languish as stubs, wiki-speak for articles which are too short to be of much value on the encyclopedia even though they cover notable or important topics (for more on stubs, see here). This is a disappointing trend as I would like to see more equal coverage of women in Wikipedia articles and would encourage more women to edit the encyclopedia and have a hand in its direction.

Which brings me to an article in today’s New York Times that I found refreshing. Noam Cohen gives a great description of what a Wikipedian-in-residence does, and highlights how edit-a-thons focused on women scientists, authors, and academics are attempting to address the gender gap issue through engagement with existing library, archival, and museum resources. It is always good to see coverage of Wikipedia in the national media that moves beyond the “can we trust Wikipedia??” baseline. The activities described in the article are positive developments as I see things and can only help improve the overall quality and usefulness of the encyclopedia over time. I’m all for long, detailed articles about Halo novels, but also think that Wikipedia should be a place where often overlooked but demonstrably important people can be included. All while adhering to proper Wikipedia formatting, citation guidelines, and style of course…


On the Obsolescence of LPs

I recently had the opportunity to pick through a pile of records (LPs for those of you who may be reading this and thinking I mean record as the term is applied in archival practice) and take what I wanted. One of the records I brought back to my apartment was the Beatles classic “Rubber Soul.” I returned home to my apartment, eager to place the vinyl disc into my record player and listen to John, Paul, George, and Ringo lay it down. However, I forgot that I was an Information nerd and that I would be able to just listen to the music. Reading the back side of the album cover, I noticed a fascinating passage below the track list and glamour shots of the boys.

This monophonic microgroove recording is playable on monophonic and stereo phonographs. It cannot become obsolete. It will continue to be a source of outstanding sound reproduction, providing the finest monophonic performance from any phonograph.

“This monophonic microgroove recording is playable on monophonic and stereo phonographs. It cannot become obsolete. It will continue to be a source of outstanding sound reproduction, providing the finest monophonic performance from any phonograph.”


As you can see in the image to the left, the text reads “This monophonic microgroove recording is playable on monophonic and stereo phonographs. It cannot become obsolete. It will continue to be a source of outstanding sound reproduction, providing the finest monophonic performance from any phonograph.” I was struck by the boldness of these claims, and the explanation of the technical achievements underlying the record. Never become obsolete? What hubris, Capitol Records! I suppose that the disc is still playable on the equipment I have, 50 years or so after it was pressed, meaning that the author of this claim is somewhat vindicated. But it still strikes me as a fascinating example of how limited our perspective can be when it comes to information technology and the permanence of different media. When “Rubber Soul” was released in 1965, computers were just becoming affordable for factories and scientific labs. The Apple I was still more than 10 years from existence. And yet, someone thought it was reasonable to claim that a Beatles record would never become obsolete.

What did they think would come after stereophonic playback? Triphonic? Quadrophonic? The Who didn’t even release Quadrophenia until 1973! Better yet, what claims do we make about our media storage and playback now that will be considered this ridiculous in 50 years? Who remembers ZIP drives? 3.5in floppy disks? Even the spinning hard drive is slowly being replaced in consumer-level computers. I don’t have the ability to see into the future and predict how we’ll store and access music, but I’m sure that people then will consider our attempts to preserve media as short-sighted as I view the claims on the back of “Rubber Soul.”


I’m a little late on this one, but I wanted to quickly comment on a new project, perma.cc, which came across my internet last week. Essentially, this is a tool (currently in beta but hopefully live soon!) that will allow users to submit web links for sources they would like to cite in academic articles. These links would have permanent URLs created for them, and have snapshots taken of their content for preservation.

A blog post I read about this project notes that link rot is pervasive across government reports (http://freegovinfo.info/node/4005). I will also add that in my short time in academia I have encountered numerous dead or otherwise incorrect links. This has proven frustrating at times and I’m happy to see some of my favorite institutions joining together to build a much-needed tool to enable digitally sustainable scholarship. Link rot is real- now something is being done about it.


Procrastination Stalks Me

For years, NPR has been a loyal friend to me each morning, keeping me informed as I begin my day. However, sometimes the transition towards my actual work is difficult. Take this morning, for example. This hour, the Diane Rehm show is discussing the effects of a declining government workforce, privatization, and contracting on the economy (here’s a link). I can’t stop listening. What I should be working on is my dissertation proposal, which is also about public-private partnerships and cultural heritage institutions, specifically archives.

Below I’ve inserted an image I am using to illustrate the concept of public-private partnerships. Basic, I know, but what do you think?

PPP icon


OK, that’s enough. The show is over, time to turn the radio off. Back to work.


Craig is a Linux user

Craigslist login screenThis past weekend I was doing a little spring cleaning and decided to post a few things to craigslist. When I went to access my account, I noticed that the screenshot on the login screen reminding users to watch out for scammers is pretty clearly taken from a computer running Ubuntu Linux. That just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Can’t believe I’ve never noticed that before, but its pretty cool. Keep rockin, craig.


Adventures on Wikipedia

Everyone procrastinates. One of my favorite ways to waste time while not feeling too bad about myself is to edit Wikipedia. The first edit I made on the site was back in 2006, and I’ve been known to dabble a bit with writing my own articles, cleaning up dead links, and reuniting orphan pages with the rest of the wiki. This is my user page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Adamkriesberg.

A few of the articles I have written were biographical articles about musicians I listen to. My rule of thumb is that if I’ve heard of someone, they must meet the notability threshold for inclusion on Wikipedia (very scientific, I know), which brings me to the real subject of this post. Like all good internet citizens, I watch videos on YouTube. Some of these videos are of artists performing original material and gaining impressive amounts of views. One musician in particular who goes by Danielle Ate the Sandwich is a personal favorite of mine. She is a singer-songwriter who plays ukulele and guitar, and has been posting videos for a few years. I’ve been following her on YouTube for long enough to know that she has gotten popular enough to tour smaller folk venues and make a living off of music full time. A few days ago, I googled her name so I could find her website to check her upcoming tour dates: I thought she was coming to a town near me. However, instead of clicking her personal site, I decided to check out her Wikipedia page, the second or third link on the results page.

Danielle Ate the Sandwich's Wikipedia Page

Danielle Ate the Sandwich’s Wikipedia Page, current version

Much to my surprise, Danielle Ate the Sandwich’s Wikipedia page was a mess. No references, no internal links to other articles, and to make matters worse it had been nominated for deletion! I had only a few days to act so I could save this page and ensure its continued existence on the web. I worked to add internal links, referenced the unsourced statements in the article, cleaned up the formatting, and added an infobox with a picture (Creative Commons licensed from Flickr, of course). As I moved to delete the proposal for deletion, I wondered about the user who nominated this article for deletion and clicked the username. As it turned out, this user was one of the most active editors on the wiki and had authored an insane amount of articles. With the article much improved, I don’t think he’ll be back to propose deletion again. More likely, he’s reading through other articles in need of serious work and thinking about what really belongs on the world’s largest open encyclopedia.

This interaction sums up many things I love about the internet. First, the fact that I even ended up on this article speaks to my experience discovering music online. Second, my ability to edit Wikipedia reflects my commitment and fascination with the site, and a desire to make it as accurate and useful as possible for the next person to come along and wonder how they can listen to this woman’s songs. Third, I am routinely reminded of how many dedicated folks are out across the internet every day, working on these same goals. They inspire me.

Either that, or I was looking to procrastinate and felt like spending some time making sure this article didn’t disappear from Wikipedia.


Hello world!

This is my first post on my first “real” website. That’s right- no more university server HTML/CSS pages for this guy! Anyway, maybe if I have this blog I will actually blog more. I am a believer in writing and know I should always be writing more than I do, so here goes nothing.

Since I don’t have much else to say right now, how about a quote? Here’s one from a favorite book, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness:

“When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.”

And with that, goodnight.