I grew up with Encyclopedias. It was my job to look after them in our house. We had a black Collins 1973 set with gold lettering which moved around the house as my father constantly redecorated. The L- M had a piece of its binding torn, but I loved it for the way it broke the set in two on the shelf. One of them had its flyleaf desecrated with red crayon circles from my little sister. There was a complete cross section of the human body on layered glossy see-through pages. Each page had a seperate part of the human system, the circulation, reproductive, endocrine, digestive and so on, all in high gloss colour and it was like peeling a body away like an onion. It was enough to turn me into some psychopath but my heart was taken by the myths and legends collection which came with it. Stories, tales, fairy dreams and folk oddities from all over the world captured my imagination and would not release it.
I remember the Yearbook had a lot about Richard Nixon in it and it was strange to grow up reading about this guy and then hearing adults talk about Eamonn De Valera so much. That confused me, but it was nothing that rearranging the encyclopedias could not solve. They were authoritative, organised and linked but I wasn’t one of those kids that bowed at the altar of the encyclopedia. Subject headings, indexes and alphabetical arrangements became my manual of style but I would just as easily turn the books on their side and build walls of a fort with them. Of course, all that is gone now, but I am still an encyclopedia kid.
So I jumped at the chance to become a Wikipedian recently. I attended an editathon in the Science Lab recently about the Battle of Clontarf organised by 1014 Retold. I like Wikipedia. It became a part of my second age of information when I returned to study even if I always got it mixed up with wikileaks at the start. I think that was from too many lecturers starting off by saying that wikipedia was going to be the death of democracy or giving out about it somehow. I remember finally discovering that wikipedia was run by Jimmy Wales and I got him confused with Jimmy Cauty from The KLF and I remember thinking that fella, there is nothing he won’t do.
I like that wikipedia is not perfect. I like that anyone can edit it. I realise that it has a male bias and that the editors have gotten into trouble in the past with not being objective and acting as PR consultants for small countries, but nothing is perfect. Yes, people have engaged in revenge edits and edit wars but its accessiblity makes up for it. It is so easy to get information. The page design combines the layout of traditional encyclopedias with the simplicity of the google home page and everything of relevance is hyperlinked in the web structure that we know and love.
I knew that you could edit a wikipedia page already, but an editathon is the ideal way to start. We had a real life wikipedian-in-residence from the Natural History & Science Museum in London, John Cummings, who walked us through the ins and outs of making edits to the Battle of Clontarf page. John has also created the Monmouthpedia which is an amazing idea to curate a whole town with QR codes and translate them into different languages for visitors to access. There were historians there aswell as people who were into the idea of information sharing (Open Knowledge Foundation). There was even a phd student who was studying why people edit wikipedia. Most of us were beginners but it did not take us long to get the hang of it. We learned how to use wikimarkup to format a page and we set about updating the history of the Battle of Clontarf for the 21st century. I found it to be an enjoyable way of practising information skills without any sort of real pressure.