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The Wikipedia Library/1Lib1Ref/Lessons/2016

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A version of the Wikipedia 15 watermark, used to share #1lib1ref

The Wikipedia Library Team ran a social media campaign from 15–23 January 2016, asking the libraries world to "Imagine a World where Every Librarian Added One More Reference to Wikipedia." We never expected the campaign to engage the full audience, but rather to act as an inspirational aspiration. This campaign involved librarians all over the world in a conversation about how librarianship can benefit and help the global audience of Wikipedia. By providing the libraries community targeted messaging with clear calls to action – to make a small edit to Wikipedia, adding a reference – we created a global campaign under the hashtag that continues to spread and be a reference point for future outreach to library communities. If you missed the campaign or want to explore it more we highly recommend our Storify at: https://storify.com/WikiLibrary/1lib1ref

In general, we focused on using the campaign to test several experiments from the central position of the Program Capacity and Learning team at the Wikimedia Foundation. These experiments are designed around broader programmatic learning, while running a campaign focused on the very specific mission of the Wikipedia Library: improving the research ecosystem of Wikipedia for its readers and editors.


We decided to run the #1lib1ref campaign on a shorter timeline than we would have liked. The following contributed to our decision:

  • The timing was not ideal: we first developed what the campaign would look like in late October 2015, and knew that the campaign's development would overlap with both the winter holidays, the fundraiser, and other community efforts.
  • We wanted to get the campaign out around #Wikipedia15.
  • A number of our allies and contacts in the libraries world had been itching to help the Wikipedia Library, and we wanted to give them something simple to participate in while our larger strategic projects come into fruition.
  • We knew that a number of language communities, Wikipedia Library Branches and regional GLAM-Wiki leaders have been seeing the overwhelming success of the Catalan Library Network Project at Amical Wiki, and we wanted to give these communities an opportunity to find voices in their local context who could help them speak in that same direction.
  • We had evidence from other community activities that suggested this campaign could easily work (see the section below).

To this end, we decide to the run the #1lib1ref experiment, to test whether we could activate the international libraries community. In general, for a test run project, we call it an overwhelming success.

Why we thought it would work[edit]

In part, we decided to run the campaign in a shortened timeline because we had a lot of confidence in the libraries community participating:

  • From our outreach experience, we knew that librarians are in a particularly unique position for participating in our community: they understand, empathize with and regularly use most of the skills that our community values – good research and citation skills, a tendency for organizing information, training in helping people find research, and a desire to preserve knowledge of all types.
  • The combination of [Citation Needed] templates and the Citation Hunt tool (https://tools.wmflabs.org/citationhunt/) created a really low participation threshold – librarians didn't have to make decisions about which page they needed to work on or know what constitutes inclusion in their local language context. Moreover, these tools facilitate a behaviour common amongst librarians: chasing information in reference materials (this is a core part of reference librarian training).
  • We know that librarians have participated, historically, at high rates in campaigns like Art+Feminism and Wiki Loves Libraries. However, in both campaigns, the threshold for participating (running an event) was much higher than ours (adding a citation, and/or socializing the concept): we expected a simpler engagement to result in more participation.

We thus created the campaign to experiment with what we can do with this libraries audience, rather than to see if the audience would participate.

Outcomes by the numbers[edit]

We were able to measure impact through the following metrics:

  • All told, campaign pages exceeded 29,000 pageviews in the months of December and January
  • We were covered in over 50 different venues, including:
  • We saw the #1lib1ref hashtag perpetuate itself in a number of social media channels, including over 1100 Twitter posts by over 630 users reaching 3.6 million users with 5.5 million impressions. (Note that impressions significantly overestimate impact because they are tweets merely on a feed not necessarily seen).
    • Twitter users of the hashtag were 54% women
    • Twitter users were from all around the world, though Anglophone countries and Spain saw the highest levels of activity.
  • On-Wiki contributions:
    • As of the end of the campaign, 1,232 revisions on 879 pages, by 327 users in 9 languages used the hashtag #1lib1ref in the edit summary ([1]). We believe this is an underestimate by at least ⅓ (~1800 total edits) if not ½ (~2400+ total edits), because:

Experimental evaluation[edit]

1lib1ref was designed to test a number of things that we had been noticing both in The Wikipedia Library's focus on improving library support of Wikipedia's research ecosystem and in the communities' larger efforts to support GLAM-Wiki engagement of cultural heritage organizations.

Can we share a different Wikipedia story with librarians en masse?[edit]

A meme-ification of the campaign's story from User:Spiritia

We had been noticing at library conferences that the tone of librarians has significantly changed when they talk about Wikipedia: some even apologized for having taught patrons never to use Wikipedia 5–6 years ago, when press critiques of Wikipedia's quality were at their height.

When we meet a librarian at an outreach event, they often want to tell us how they teach patrons to use Wikipedia's references as a starting point for research; this is a great story, and a testament to the changes in Wikipedia and its press coverage over the past few years. However, as anyone who has done outreach for programs or editing knows, you end up repeating this conversation a lot, and it can lead down rabbit holes of time that could be spent convincing librarians to contribute. We wanted to communicate widely amongst librarians that we support this new story within the profession, to simplify the path to outreach in the future.

Outcomes: Overwhelming success, based on the social media, blog and news coverage during the campaign. Librarians were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the story we were telling, and even some of our partners and advocates who have shown reservations in other engagements or moments of opportunity participated readily in communicating this different story. We also got a fair bit of press and blog from the library field's communication networks. Though not overwhelming, this coverage gives us a really good sense of how/what about the story was compelling.

Some narratives that had strong appeal:

  • "Imagine a World in Which Every Single Librarian Added One More Reference to Wikipedia" – we used this as a foundational tweet
  • "Wikipedians love libraries"
  • "Librarians love Wikipedia"
  • "Even Wikipedia needs librarians too" [2]
  • Patrons use Wikipedia anyway, you can take a (coffee break/lunch break/15 minutes) to add a reference and help them.

Though we likely reached 15–20,000+ librarians, Wikimedians and members of the general public with this story,[1] we think there is opportunity for a wider reach, especially within library networks. The American Library Association suggests that there are at least 180,000 librarians in the United States alone, and we know a fair bit of our campaign visibility was with the fairly substantial Catalan and Spanish libraries communities,[2] so we haven't fully penetrated some of the biggest, most digitally connected networks of librarians in North American and European communities, much less throughout the emerging communities.

Can we pick an aligned audience, and drive participation and leadership through social media?[edit]

The biggest question around the campaign was whether the Wikimedia Foundation's Programs team was in a good position to facilitate a campaign that could help activate a wide array of communities. Our role in the Program Capacity and Learning team is to scale the impact of volunteer programs by providing strategic interventions and infrastructure. We wanted to figure out if such a campaign made sense within the context of our infrastructure mission.

Outcome: Success, but more community engagement is needed to make it truly a global event.

We know that at least some of the campaign pages were translated into 12 different languages,[3] and were covered in other language presses, even ones without campaign activity.[4] We tweeted and shared the campaign's tagline in each of those languages at least once in the campaign and tried to encourage major library organizations and Wikimedia affiliates to share the tweets in their own context. However, the languages with the most spread and activity, English, Spanish and Catalan, were ones with volunteers or local Wikimedia affiliates committed to sharing the story in multiple social media platforms and with strategic partners in their local context.

Next time we run a campaign like this, we will make sure to bring in more language leaders much earlier in the conversation. By bringing more leadership from local communities, we also hope to see greater sharing of the message in local contexts. Moreover, we think the aftereffects of the campaign will have more lasting effects on the outreach efforts of local leadership: We hope to use the campaign as a conversation starter for local communities, to help find the right library community advocates in their local context for engaging in Wikimedia efforts.

Can we activate librarians to participate en masse?[edit]

We know that the libraries community has improved understanding of the Wikimedia community. However, there have been few global deliberate efforts to engage a particular professional community in participating in Wikimedia projects; Wiki Loves Monuments and Art+Feminism have been the most successful campaigns, but they reach a wide range of audiences. Both of these events require considerable energy and investment for interested participants: organizing scavenger hunts and editathons are time intensive, resource intensive, and require deep knowledge of Wikimedia projects to be effective. By turning to a more focused and narrower audience, we were able to identify an activity which everyone in this audience can participate.

Outcome: Likely. We certainly got participation this year: dozens of events were created all over the world, dozens of library publications picked up on our blogging about the event, a number of librarians showed up as new editors, and some of them helped us track their contributions using the hashtag tool supported by hatnote. But this was not nearly as widespread as we had hoped. A greater lead time, the precedent of this year's participation, and more language communities actively socializing the event, will certainly make a greater outcome in the way of edits and local advocacy for the event.

We probably needed to include more tangible strategies for motivating other librarians, so that the librarians feel like #1lib1ref is a social activity: a good portion of our social media traffic was sharing in-person meetings that librarians developed impromptu in their own context. Here are some example tweets: from Lehigh University, from Otago Library New Zealand, and this one at the Brooklyn Public Library. We hope to replicate some of this model of events, to create a "Brown bag lunch and/or coffee break" kit, that makes it easier for librarians to encourage their peers in the event.

Can we use social media to drive non-trivial participation to the Wikimedia community?[edit]

An edit from the #1lib1ref campaign, fixing a "citation needed"

WMF communications strategies tend to generate lots of energy, but rarely converts that energy into project contribution (take for example the #Wikipedia15 campaign, or the Fundraiser). In part, the difficulty lies in the main communication language for the Wikimedia Foundation, English, which doesn't reach a wide range of potential contributors with lower threshold-to-participate opportunities.

Outcome: Success, Maybe...

We generated a lot of interest in the citation hunt tool (https://tools.wmflabs.org/citationhunt/en), and in turn that allowed a number of librarians who were either new, or had lapsed in contributing to Wikimedia projects, to edit at scale in way they hadn't done before. From this experience, we think an absolutely crucial part of using social media to create new editors is identifying a very small series of tasks that can be paired with a clear audience-focused message. Like Zooniverse or other crowdsourcing projects that benefit from a social media audience, we need to think about activities and behaviours that can both expose potential contributors to our values, while also giving them something small enough that barriers to participation remain low.

That being said, we can't be confident in understanding the scale of our impact. We committed to using the hashtag tool for tracking these contributions, but know that many editors in the campaign did not include hashtags in their edits. We still had a significant number of social media posts that suggest that between ½ and ¼ of edits were not tracked. Requiring editors to add hashtags to edit summaries on their own volition seems to not have the same kind of tracking impact, especially if they are new editors. Edit summaries are another behaviour that has to be taught, learned and acted upon. We estimate that more than half of the edits using the hashtag were from more experienced contributors. We hope that campaign support for hashtags in URLs will help resolve some of this issue: see here. However, we have yet to get commitment for this support (please share your interest in the tool on Phabricator).

Can we use a social media campaign to activate existing community leaders? And identify new leaders in a program?[edit]

The campaign banner for Catalan Wikipedia

As a newish program within the Wikimedia community, The Wikipedia Library has only in the past year really been expanding our multilingual presence. In part, the campaign was designed to probe the network of awareness amongst Wikimedians, to see what language and geographical communities were receptive to outreach into library networks, and which already had efforts in place that could multiply our main mission: improving the research ecosystem in Wikipedias.

A big part of probing the network is finding out who is ready to lead in their local context, advocating our mission, effort, and practice. By creating a simple call for action that points towards opportunities to lead, we hoped to help see leaders emerge within different contexts.

Outcome: Success, mostly

We were able to facilitate engagement in the campaign in at least 10 languages, and the campaign page was translated into 12 languages in total (Romanian and Catalan were completed off Meta). Moreover, we saw a number of librarian volunteers step up as either online leaders helping us spread the word, or in their local context, organizing editing events and coffee hours where their local community of librarians can participate.

Moreover, the campaign sparked the interest of a number of existing leaders and volunteers in both running editing events and reaching out to their local community partners. Subsequent to the campaign, we have been contacted by half a dozen librarians who were already allies of the Wikipedia Library program about doing expanded collaborations and efforts to pilot different models of research library engagement with Wikipedia. The Catalan community is also seeing considerable increase in interest within their already growing network of library supporters. That being said, we didn't see at-scale engagement in enough languages and geographies. We hope to repeat the campaign, with a more robust geographic and language support – we have already gotten interest from WMDE, Amical Wikimedia, WMES and others affiliates for supporting such a campaign.

Other lessons[edit]

  • We need more simple, gamified but substantive models for contributing to Wikipedia. Citation Hunt was an excellent tool for engaging librarians, and we have received feedback from librarians that the small action made the biggest difference for their participation.

What's next?[edit]

  • We are assembling a volunteer committee of social-media-savvy librarians and Wikimedians to help us decide how to run #1lib1ref in the future.
  • We are continuing strategic talks with several of the major networks involved in the campaign, including the International Federation of Library Associations, Digital Library Federation, the Association of Research Libraries and others.
  • #1lib1ref helped us identify some new advocates in communities like Italy, Romania and India, where we haven't previously had huge success engaging for Wikipedia Library branches.
  • Affiliates like Wikimedia Netherlands, Wikimedia Spain, and Amical Wikimedians will continue reaching out to their local libraries communities for participation in programmatic strategies like the Catalan Public Library Network: https://outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/GLAM/Case_studies/Catalonia%27s_Network_of_Public_Libraries .
  • The excitement of the campaign brought some really neat project ideas including: talk of a Wikipedia and Libraries journal, internationalization of tools like Citation Hunt and the Hashtag Referral tool, and the possibility of several Wikipedians in Residence at University libraries, like the one being piloted at West Virginia University. We plan to support these project ideas as advisers.

If you are interested in continuing outreach related to #1lib1ref, libraries or The Wikipedia Library in your local context, or would like to be an organizer for next year, the Wikipedia Library team would be more than happy to help you think about your outreach strategy. Email us at wikipedialibrary@wikimedia.org .