[Foundation-l] encouraging women's participation

phoebe ayers phoebe.wiki at gmail.com
Tue Jun 22 21:59:08 UTC 2010

On Mon, Jun 21, 2010 at 4:10 PM, Tim Landscheidt <tim at tim-landscheidt.de> wrote:
>  While I appreciate the efforts to encourage wider partici-
> pation, IMHO we should make sure that we keep the quality of
> our "products" and our "human resources" in mind. No edits
> at all may be better than one edit in ten days for probably
> 99% of the population. And I don't think that we will at-
> tract the right 1% who will wander the libraries and the web
> in search of the missing pieces of information, tackle thick
> books and pause before clicking on the "Save" button to es-
> timate whether their edit will find the approval of their
> peers, by emphasizing that editing is easy or fun - because
> it isn't. And it probably shouldn't be.
> Tim

spoken like a true wikipedian :)

(are you sure that editing isn't fun, though? I'm pretty sure that if
most of us didn't derive at least some joy from it (at some point in
our editing careers) we wouldn't be here having this conversation.)

I find it helpful to translate the question of whether editing is an
inherently elitist activity -- as it may well be -- by thinking of
analogies in the sphere of my day job, which is being a librarian in a
big university library.

To be a librarian -- or even to be a successful grad student or
professor -- you have to really, really like to do research. A lot.
You have to find true pleasure and satisfaction in chasing down the
world's most obscure references or figuring out how to make sense of
the literature on some topic. You have to be a total research nerd, in
other words.

But we cannot do research *for* every single student who wanders
through our doors (I serve a school of 30,000 people). We have to help
them figure it out how to do it themselves. And there's been a real
push in the last 20 years or so to move academic librarianship from
the model of the cranky old scholar who might let you touch the books,
to the model of teaching "information literacy" -- how to research and
evaluate information for yourself. I do a whole lot of teaching, and
it can be frustrating to watch student after student work on their
papers and do a bad job of their research and their bibliographies,
and complain about how it's not easy to do research, when you know
that it's possible to do it better. But my job is not to do it all for
them: it's also to aid them along the paths of becoming scholars
themselves. There's a real temptation to say "research isn't supposed
to be easy! It's supposed to be a rite of passage into the academy!
Get a backbone, kids!" But I think collectively in the profession we
have basically come to the understanding that taking that attitude
doesn't make it any easier for non-librarians and non-academics to
navigate our crazy, unusable systems -- doesn't make people of any age
any more likely to actually do research -- and that maybe, just maybe,
if we do enough outreach, and work enough on making our systems easier
and better, we'll reach more people overall as well as only the people
that are predisposed to become information nerds themselves.

I think of Wikipedia the same way. Sure, not everyone wants to or has
the ability to edit. And hey, there's a lot to be said for being
motivated enough to do it that you learn the systems without any help,
becoming a part of the community the way most of us did. But just
relying on those mechanisms does restrict our editor base a lot, and
saying that only those people willing to jump through many interface
and social hoops can join the club is just as unhelpful for our
worldwide community of researchers and writers -- and the world of
scholarship in general -- as keeping the books chained up in the
library was.

-- phoebe

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