Texas iSchool students have been on the front lines during the spring semester tackling issues of digital representation and improving queer representation on Wikipedia. Over the winter break, iSchool Pride, a group of LGBTQIA+ and ally students were contacted by WNYC Studios’ NANCY podcast and UT libraries to participate in a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at SXSW on March 14. The NANCY podcast is a critically-acclaimed podcast that features stories and conversations about the queer experience today. After co-hosts Kathy Tu and Tobin Low won the WNYC Studios’ Podcast Accelerator in 2015, the podcast was launched this past March.
The NANCY podcast team explains that while Wikipedia is often the first source of information for many people, holes in the Wiki-sphere where LGBTQ issues are concerned create a lack of information which serves to “indirectly skew and damage public outlook and understanding of these issues.” Goals of the Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, “Keep Wikipedia Queer Downtown,” included increasing the perspectives contributing to LGBTQ information on Wikipedia, developing awareness of the online knowledge gap, andpromoting better and more accurate LGBTQIA+ representation online.
In preparation for the SXSW Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, iSchool Pride partnered with UT Libraries to host a pre-research event titled, “Queering the Record.” Led by iSchool Pride, Queering the Record took place from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. on March 6 at the Perry Castańeda Library. Students, faculty, researchers, and librarians passionate about representation and willing to use their research skills to fill in gaps in the wiki-sphere were encouraged to attend the event, the purpose of which was gathering sources on LGBTQIA+ related issues for volunteers to use at the Edit-a-Thon on March 14.
Queering the Record participants identified LGBTQIA+ topics for which Wikipedia pages needed to be created and updated. In addition, they provided links to reliable sources. Elle Covington, iSchool alumni and member of iSchool Pride, stated, “the NANCY podcast team gave us a list, and as we were doing research, we added more topics and pages that needed work.” Thirty-five people from across campus attended the event. The outcome after four hours of research was a 23-page Google document which the NANCY team was able to use at Keep Wikipedia Queer Downtown the following week.
On March 14, six iSchool students and one UT librarian joined with the Nancy team and other volunteers to edit more than 70 Wikipedia pages on topics as wide-ranging as comedian/blogger Samantha Irby, LGBTQ+ rights in Syria, Austin’s QueerBomb celebration, and the children’s book series, Frog and Toad. The Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon was open to 45 in-person participants and an unlimited number of virtual participants of all Wikipedia levels.
With erasure happening on Wikipedia and 90% of Wikipedia’s top editors being male, “Wikipedia is an opportunity to enable more representation and get more voices heard,” said Elle. “One reason for starting iSchool Pride was to be ourselves and begin growing our allies, but my hope was it would be an example forother student groups to start projects of their own,” they said. Queering the Record wasn’t on our radar, but it fit in with what we were hoping to do –raise awareness, and get people on campus involved; and then correct the inaccuracies that exist.” Elle hopes to see more events and SXSW panels that feature -and attempt to resolve- similar issues of representation in the future.