What role does Wikipedia have in higher education, and how do research libraries contribute? Several RLUK member libraries participated in Wikimedia’s flagship #1lib1ref campaign from 15 January-3 February 2017 to increase the number of citations on its articles, and others have hosted Wikimedians-in-residence in recent years. In the US, OCLC’s Research Libraries Partnership will also be implementing library partnerships with Wikimedia. So, what has the experience of RLUK members been, and what can we do next?

#1lib1ref – Sheffield’s experience

The #1lib1ref campaign aims to help increase the rigour of Wikipedia articles and to provide readers with more entry points to continue exploring the research behind an article.

Peter Barr, Liaison Librarian for Arts & Humanities at the University of Sheffield reports on an event they hosted on 2 February 2017**:

  • Most participants had not edited a Wikipedia page before, which was accepted as a gap in an information professional’s skillset
  • Getting practical experience in editing pages deepened the understanding of how Wikipedia functioned
  • Learning about the ‘5 pillars’ and other standards helped colleagues to place Wikipedia in context for their professional practice (especially digital literacy teaching)
  • Broadly, participants welcomed the growing relationship between Academic Libraries and Wikipedia to promote the role of scholarly information

However, according to Peter, participants at the event noted that there is much more to how libraries support students and researchers beyond citations – libraries have long had an essential role in supporting skills in critical searching and evaluation of information. And, what is considered authoritative and reputable in current times is contested and not necessarily clear cut. A focus on these information literacy skills could also lead to the more interesting and (at times, controversial) elements of Wikipedia: how pages are created and the community of editors and authors that create and debate edits. This is not yet covered in #1lib1ref, but could help better integrate new casual editors into the community.


Several research libraries in the UK have hosted Wikipedians-in-residence – they are editors who are placed with a library or other cultural institution to develop outreach, develop Wikipedia content related to that institution and open up content where feasible. RLUK members who have hosted Wikipedians include National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, Edinburgh, and the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford.

What’s next?

An IFLA paper on opportunities for engagement by academic and research libraries with Wikipedia identified several areas for possible engagement –for many libraries, these partnerships are an extension of libraries’ expertise in digital literacy, but in other cases libraries would require additional resources and support.

OCLC Research Library Partners will partner with Wikipedia in the US in 2017 to provide training for 500 public librarians as part of a Knight News Challenge grant, and develop training modules for anyone to use.

Longer-term, RLUK is in discussions with the Wikimedia UK community about the ways research libraries can contribute to goals that libraries and Wikipedia share, including access to knowledge and ensuring that everyone has the skills to use the information they find. As a source for finding research, there are still perceptions about Wikipedia that need to be addressed in academia, including challenges in the diversity of its editors, at the same time partnerships with libraries can help to bridge these gaps.

** Note: This report represents the reflections of those who attended the event as individual professionals, not an official view of the University Library.

Fiona Bradley,
Deputy Executive Director, RLUK