Editor’s Note: Perry Hewitt works at the intersection of publishing, marketing, and digital strategy. She currently leads marketing for ITHAKA, a not-for-profit working to advance and preserve knowledge and to improve teaching and learning through innovative use of digital. Perry advises students, startups, nonprofits, and cultural institutions; she also writes and speaks on topics including digital transformation, user experience, women and leadership, and the social web.
Last November, Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” 2016’s international word of the year, based in part on a 2,000% year-over-year increase in the word’s usage. Many are wary of consuming information online in a digital environment rife with fake news and clickbait headlines. Scholarly publishers and librarians have a responsibility to help readers overcome their fears, delivering high-quality, reliable content and going the extra mile to make truth widely accessible.
At JSTOR, a not-for-profit digital library of humanities and social science content created in partnership with thousands of publishers and libraries, we are working through our main platform and our JSTOR Daily magazine to bring peer-reviewed academic content to the mainstream. Three of our initiatives relate to Wikipedia – the 6th most used site on the internet, per Alexa. These include: our editors’ access program, new JSTOR topic pages, and support for campaigns like #1Lib1Ref – all of which aim to expand access to peer-reviewed research globally. I want to share our approach, so that publishers and libraries might adopt or be inspired by how these initiatives can be useful in the mission to increase reach of scholarly content and to combat “post-truth” assertions.
Wikipedia Editor’s Program
For five years, JSTOR has run a program providing free access to the archives of thousands of humanities and social science journals to active Wikipedia editors, the volunteers who write and edit the Wikipedia articles we all read. We do this to inform Wikipedia articles with peer-reviewed research; as the xkcd comic above reminds us, there are a lot of citations needed. This year, 500 editors have access, and JSTOR citations are found on articles about everything from Aeschylus to Scilloideae. Since Wikipedia metrics tracking began in 2014, we’ve seen over 29,000 references from journals on JSTOR added to Wikipedia articles. Additionally, through the Register & Read no-cost access program, many of these articles are available for anyone to read online for free. In 2016 alone, 1.4 million people took advantage of this reading program from links across the web, including Wikipedia.
It’s through these and many other activities that we can have an impact in the world. I encourage academic content providers – publishers and libraries – to look for and share ways to play a larger role.
In December 2016 JSTOR launched topic pages on the platform to provide background and context for the broad range of subjects covered. The topics are a subset of a 45,000-term thesaurus, built from 17+ source vocabularies and recently integrated with the platform. Using the topics, we query against the DBPedia knowledge base to match the thesaurus terms with Wikipedia entries, and pull them into the topic pages. In the three weeks post launch, there have been nearly 60,000 views of JSTOR pages with snippets pulled from Wikipedia. It’s still early days — sometimes the snippets are incomplete, so we’ve added a mechanism for user feedback and are eager to hear user response to this feature.
Wikipedia’s #1lib1ref Program
Finally, Wikipedia and JSTOR have a shared mission around greater access to information — and a strong partnership with the library community. Wikipedia’s #1Lib1Ref program is currently underway through February 3, encouraging librarians to contribute references to Wikipedia. We’re participating by putting a call to action on the JSTOR platform home page, amplifying the message through social media, and participating in local events.
It’s through these and many other activities that we can have an impact in the world. I encourage academic content providers – publishers and libraries – to look for and share ways to play a larger role. Here are five ways you can support high quality scholarly content informing public discourse:
- Write yourself. Our community is well-positioned to contribute authoritative voices and make connections between current events and academic research.
- Become a Wikipedia editor, as the platform tries to attract more diverse contributors. Also, mind the gap: develop content in topic areas underrepresented in Wikipedia. One of the events we’ll be participating in during #1Lib1Ref is the New York Botanical Garden edit-a-thon focused on improving entries related to women in science.
- Where possible, content providers should seek rights holder consent to donate access to editors of the Wikipedia Library. Help the editors by providing access to the best secondary sources for academic research.
- Content providers can consider offering individual access services, like Register & Read, to provide ways for unaffiliated Wikipedia users to view content. Beyond the benefit to readers, individual access programs can help content providers understand more about usage patterns to inform content collections.
- Build pathways connecting reputable resources. I’ve worked in digital long enough to remember resistance to external links on public websites — it was hard for nonprofits and corporations alike to relinquish that control. Smart linking between carefully curated collections and broader user generated content sites will make quality platforms stronger by creating healthy ecosystems rather than walled gardens.
From content producers and platforms to librarians worldwide, there are many in this community committed to creating and disseminating peer-reviewed scholarship to inform our post-truth world. Let’s make every effort to share these best practices for interaction through campaigns like #1Lib1Ref, and more broadly.