Tag: Wikipedia

We are not in a post-fact world: Wikipedia vs. claims of fake news

We are not in a post truth world
We are not in a post truth world – Screengrab of Wikimedia’s “We are not in a post-fact world” video by Victor Grigas, CC-BY-SA).

A question on the ‘virtual generation’: “Friends live with their computers rather than their brothers and sisters. All they do all day is use social networks to stay in touch, play online games with people around the world, and download (sometimes illegally) their favourite music and films.  Is this an exaggeration? Should we, as information professionals and custodians of the information society, worry?” (Hyatt, University of Northumbria, 2016)

We are not in a post-fact world: Wikipedia vs. ‘fake’ news

We live in the information age and the aphorism ‘one who possess information possesses the world’ of course reflects the present-day reality.”

(Vladimir Putin in Interfax, 2016).


What are we to make of the ‘post-truth’ landscape we supposedly now inhabit; where traditional mass media appears to be distrusted and waning in its influence over the public sphere (Tufeckzi in Viner, 2016) while the secret algorithms’ of search engines & social media giants dominate instead? The new virtual agora (Silverstone in Weichert, 2016) of the internet creates new opportunities for democratic citizen journalism but also has been shown to create chaotic ‘troll’ culture & maelstroms of information overload. Therefore, the new ‘virtual generation’ inhabiting this post-fact world must attempt to navigate fake content, sponsored content and content filtered to match their evolving digital identity to somehow arrive safely at a common truth. Should we be worried what this all means in ‘the information age’?

Higher Education in the Information Age

Facebook defines who we are, Amazon defines what we want

and Google defines what we think.”

(Broeder, 2016)

The information age is defined as “the shift from traditional industry that the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on computerization or digital revolution” (Toffler in Korjus, 2016). There are now 3 billion internet users on our planet, well over a third of humanity (Graham et al, 2015). Global IP traffic is estimated to treble over the next 5 years (Chaudhry, 2016) and a hundredfold for the period 2005 to 2020 overall. This internet age still wrestles with both geographically & demographically uneven coverage while usage in no way equates to users being able to safely navigate, or indeed, to critically evaluate the information they are presented with via its gatekeepers (Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft et al). Tambini (2016) defines these aforementioned digital intermediaries as “software-based institutions that have the potential to influence the flow of online information between providers (publishers) and consumers”. So exactly how conversant are our students & staff with the nature of their relationship with these intermediaries & the role they play in the networks that shape their everyday lives?

Digital intermediaries

Digital intermediaries such as Google and Facebook are seen as the new powerbrokers in online news, controlling access to consumers and with the potential even to suppress and target messages to individuals.” (Tambini, 2016)


Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg may downplay Facebook’s role as “arbiters of truth” (Seethaman, 2016) in much the same way that Google downplay their role as controllers of the library “card catalogue” (Walker in Toobin, 2015) but both represent the pre-eminent gatekeepers in the information age. 62% of Americans get their news from social media (Mint, 2016) with 44% getting their news from Facebook. In addition, a not insubstantial two million voters were encouraged to register to vote by Facebook, while Facebook’s own 2012 study concluded that it “directly influenced political self-expression, information seeking and real-world voting behaviour of millions of people.” (Seethaman, 2016)


image003Figure 1 Bodies of Evidence (The Economist, 2016)

This year has seen assertion after assertion made which bear, upon closer examination by fact-checking organisations such as PolitiFact (see Figure 1 above) absolutely no basis in truth. For the virtual generation, the traditional mass media has come to be treated on a par with new, more egalitarian, social media with little differentiation in how Google lists these results. Clickbait journalism has become the order of the day (Viner, 2016); where outlandish claims can be given a platform as long as they are prefixed with “It is claimed that…”

Now no one even tries proving ‘the truth’. You can just say anything. Create realities.” (Pomerantzev in the Economist, 2016)

The problem of ascertaining truth in the information age can be attributed to three factors:

  1. The controversial line “people in this country have had enough of experts” (Gove in Viner, 2016) during the EU referendum demonstrated there has been a fundamental eroding of trust in, & undermining of, the institutions & ‘expert’ opinions previously looked up to as subject authorities. “We’ve basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers…There is nobody: you can’t go to anybody and say: ‘Look, here are the facts’” (Sykes in the Economist, 2016)
  2. The proliferation of social media ‘filter bubbles’ which group like-minded users together & filter content to them accordingly to their ‘likes’. In this way, users can become isolated from viewpoints opposite to their own (Duggan, 2016) and fringe stories can survive longer despite being comprehensively debunked elsewhere. In this way, any contrary view tends to be either filtered out or met with disbelief through what has been termed ‘the backfire effect’ (The Economist, 2016).
  3. The New York Times calls this current era an era of data but no facts’ (Clarke, 2016). Data is certainly abundant; 90% of the world’s data was generated in the last two years (Tuffley, 2016). Yet, it has never been more difficult to find ‘truth in the numbers’ (Clarke, 2016) with over 60 trillion pages (Fichter and Wisniewski, 2014) to navigate and terabytes of unstructured data to (mis)interpret.

The way forward

We need to increase the reputational consequences and change the incentives for making false statements… right now, it pays to be outrageous, but not to be truthful.”

(Nyhan in the Economist, 2016)

Since the US election, and President Trump’s continuing assault on the ‘dishonest media’, the need for information to be verified has been articulated as never before with current debates raging on just how large a role Russia, Facebook & fake news played during the US election. Indeed, the inscrutable ‘black boxes’ of Google & Facebook’s algorithms constitute a real dilemma for educators & information professionals.

Reappraising information & media literacy education

The European Commission, the French Conseil d’Etat and the UK Government are all re-examining the role of ‘digital intermediaries’; with OfCom being asked by the UK government to prepare a new framework for assessing the intermediaries’ news distribution & setting regulatory parameters of ‘public expectation’ in place (Tambini, 2016). Yet, Cohen (2016) asserts that there is a need for greater transparency of the algorithms being used in order to provide better oversight of the digital intermediaries. Further, that the current lack of public domain data available in order to assess the editorial control of these digital intermediaries means that until the regulatory environment is strengthened so as to require these ‘behemoths’ (Tambini, 2016) to disclose this data, this pattern of power & influence is likely to remain unchecked.

Somewhere along the line, media literacy does appear to have backfired; our students were told that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not (Boyd, 2016). The question is how clicking on those top five Google results instead of critically engaging with the holistic overview & reliable sources Wikipedia offers is working out?

A lack of privacy combined with a lack of transparency

Further, privacy seems to be the one truly significant casualty of the information age. Broeder (2016) suggests that, as governments focus increasingly on secrecy, at the same time the individual finds it increasingly difficult to retain any notions of privacy. This creates a ‘transparency paradox’ often resulting in a deep suspicion of governments’ having something to hide while the individual is left vulnerable to increasingly invasive legislation such as the UK’s new Investigatory Powers Act – “the most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy.” (Snowden in Ashok, 2016). This would be bad enough if their public & private data weren’t already being shared as a “tradeable commodity” (Tuffley, 2016) with companies like Google and Apple, “the feudal overlords of the information society” (Broeder, 2016) and countless other organisations.

The Data Protection Act (1998), Freedom of Information Act (2000) and the Human Rights Act (1998) should give the beleaguered individual succour but FOI requests can be denied if there is a ‘good reason’ to do so, particularly if it conflicts with the Official Secrets Act (1989), and the current government’s stance on the Human Rights Act does not bode well for its long-term survival. The virtual generation will also now all have a digital footprint; a great deal of which can been mined by government & other agencies without our knowing about it or consenting to it. The issue therefore is that a line must be drawn as to our public lives and our private lives. However, this line is increasingly unclear because our use of digital intermediaries blurs this line. In this area, we do have legitimate cause to worry.

The need for a digital code of ethics

  • “Before I do something with this technology, I ask myself, would it be alright if everyone did it?
  • Is this going to harm or dehumanise anyone, even people I don’t know and will never meet?
  • Do I have the informed consent of those who will be affected?” (Tuffley, 2016)

Educating citizens as to the merits of a digital code of ethics like the one above is one thing, and there are success stories in this regard through initiatives such as StaySafeOnline.org but a joined-up approach marrying up librarians, educators and instructional technologists to teach students (& adults) information & digital literacy seems to be reaping rewards according to Wine (2016). While recent initiatives exemplifying the relevance & need for information professionals assisting with political literacy during the Scottish referendum (Smith, 2016) have found further expression in other counterparts (Abram, 2016).

This challenge is not just for school librarians to prepare the next generation to be informed but for all librarians to assist the whole population.” (Abram, 2016)

Trump’s administration may or may not be in ‘chaos’ but recent acts have exposed worrying trends. Trends which reveal an eroding of trust: in the opinions of experts; in the ‘dishonest’ media; in factual evidence; and in the rule of law. Issues at the heart of the information age have been exposed: there exists a glut of information & a sea of data to navigate with little formalised guidance as to how to find our way through it. For the beleaguered individual, this glut makes it near impossible to find ‘truth in the numbers’ while equating one online news source to be just as valid as another, regardless of its credibility, only exacerbates the problem. All this, combined with an increasing lack of privacy and an increasing lack of transparency, makes for a potent combination.

There is a place of refuge you can go, however. A place where facts, not ‘alternate facts’, but actual verifiable facts, are venerated. A place that holds as its central tenets, principles of verifiability, neutral point of view, and transparency above all else. A place where every edit made to a page is recorded, for the life of that page, so you can see what change was made, when & by whom. How many other sites give you that level of transparency where you can check, challenge & correct the information presented if it does hold to the principles of verifiability?


Now consider that this site is the world’s number one information site; visited by 500 million visitors a month and considered, by British people, to be more trustworthy than the BBC, ITV, the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph according to a 2014 Yougov survey.


While Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website in the world, the other internet giants in the top ten cannot compete with it for transparency; an implicit promise of trust with its users. Some 200+ factors go into constructing how Google’s algorithm determines the top ten results for a search term yet we have no inkling what those factors are or how those all-important top ten search results are arrived at. Contrast this opacity, and Facebook’s for that matter, with Wikimedia’s own (albeit abortive) proposal for a Knowledge Engine (Sentance, 2016); envisaged as the world’s first transparent non-commercial search engine and consider what that transparency might have meant for the virtual generation being able to trust the information they are presented with.

Wikidata (Wikimedia’s digital repository of free, openly-licensed structured data) represents another bright hope. It is already used to power, though not exclusively, many of the answers in Google’s Knowledge Graph without ever being attributed as such.


Wikidata is a free linked database of knowledge that can be read and edited by both humans and machines. It acts as central storage for the structured data of its Wikimedia sister projects including Wikipedia, Wikivoyage, Wikisource, and others. The mission behind Wikidata is clear: if ‘to Google’ has come to stand in for ‘to search’ and “search is the way we now live” (Darnton in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013, p.5) then ‘to Wikidata’ is ‘to check the digital provenance’. And checking the digital provenance of assertions is pivotal to our suddenly bewildered democracy.

While fact-checking websites exist & more are springing up all the time, Wikipedia is already firmly established as the place where students and staff conduct pre-research on a topic; “to gain context on a topic, to orient themselves, students start with Wikipedia…. In this unique role, it therefore serves as an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web.” (Grathwohl, 2011)

Therefore, it is vitally important that Wikipedia’s users know how knowledge is constructed & curated and the difference between fact-checked accurate information from reliable sources and information that plainly isn’t.

Knowledge creates understanding – understanding is sorely lacking in today’s world. Behind every article on Wikipedia is a Talk page is a public forum where editors hash it out; from citations, notability to truth.” (Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, December 2016)

The advent of fake news means that people need somewhere they can turn to where the information is accurate, reliable and trustworthy. Wikipedia editors have been evaluating the validity and reliability of sources and removing those facts not attributed to a reliable published source for years. Therefore engaging staff and students in Wikipedia assignments embeds source evaluation as a core component of the assignment. Recent research by Harvard Business School has also shown that the process of editing Wikipedia has a profound impact on those that participate in it; whereby editors that become involved in the discourse of an article’s creation with a particular slanted viewpoint or bias actually become more moderate over time. This means editing Wikipedia actually de-radicalises its editors as they seek to work towards a common truth. Would that were true of other much more partisan sectors of the internet.

Further, popular articles and breaking news stories are often covered on Wikipedia extremely thoroughly where the focus of many eyes make light work in the construction of detailed, properly cited, accurate articles. And that might just be the best weapon to combat fake news; while one news source in isolation may give one side of a breaking story, Wikipedia often provides a holistic overview of all the news sources available on a given topic.

Wikipedia already has clear policies on transparency, verifiability, and reliable sources. What it doesn’t have is the knowledge that universities have behind closed doors; often separated into silos or in pay-walled repositories. What it doesn’t have is enough willing contributors to meet the demands of the 1.5 billion unique devices that access it each month in ensuring its coverage of the ever-expanding knowledge is kept as accurate, up-to-date & representative of the sum of all knowledge as possible.

This is where you come in.



It’s up to other people to decide whether they give it any credibility or not,” (Oakeshott in Viner, 2016)

The truth is out there. But it is up to us to challenge claims and to help verify them. This is no easy task in the information age and it is prone to, sometimes very deliberate, obfuscation. Infoglut has become the new censorship; a way of controlling the seemingly uncontrollable. Fact-checking sites have sprung up in greater numbers but they depend on people seeking them out when convenience and cognitive ease have proven time and again to be the drivers for the virtual generation.

We know that Wikipedia is the largest and most popular reference work on the internet. We know that it is transparent and built on verifiability and neutral point of view. We know that it has been combating fake news for years. So if the virtual generation are not armed with the information literacy education to enable them to critically evaluate the sources they encounter and the nature of the algorithms that mediate their interactions with the world, how then are they to make the informed decisions necessary to play their part as responsible online citizens?

It is the response of our governments and our Higher Education institutions to this last question that is the worry.


Wikimedia at the University of Edinburgh

As the Wikimedia residency at the University of Edinburgh moves into its second year we are looking to build on the success of the first year and work with other course leaders and students both inside and outside the curriculum. Starting small has proven to be a successful methodology but bold approaches like the University of British Columbia’s WikiProject Murder, Madness & Mayhem can also prove extremely successful. Indeed, bespoke solutions can often be found to individual requirements.


Time and motivation are the two most frequent cited barriers to uptake. These are undoubted challenges to academics, students & support staff but the experience of this year is that the merits of engagement & an understanding of how Wikipedia assignments & edit-a-thons operate overcome any such concerns in practice. Once understood, Wikipedia can be a powerful tool in an educator’s arsenal. Engagement from course leaders, information professionals and support from the institution itself go a long way to realising that the time & motivation is well-placed.

For educators, engaging with Wikipedia:

  • meets the information literacy & digital literacy needs of our students.
  • enhances learning & teaching in the curriculum
  • helps develop & share knowledge in their subject discipline
  • raises the visibility & impact of research in their particular field.

In this way, practitioners can swap out existing components of their practice in favour of Wikimedia learning activities which develop:

  • Critical information literacy skills
  • Digital literacy
  • Academic writing & referencing
  • Critical thinking
  • Literature review
  • Writing for different audiences
  • Research skills
  • Community building
  • Online citizenship
  • Collaboration.

This all begins with engaging in the conversation.

Wikipedia turned 16 on January 15th 2017. It has long been the elephant in the room in education circles but it is time to articulate that Wikipedia does indeed belong in education and that it plays an important role in our understanding & disseminating of the world’s knowledge. With Oxford University now also hosting their own Wikimedian in Residence on a university-wide remit, it is time also to articulate that this conversation is not going away. Far from it, the information & digital literacy needs of our students and staff will only intensify. Higher Education institutions must need formulate a response. The best thing we can do as educators & information professionals is to be vigilant and to be vocal; articulating both our vision for Open Knowledge & the pressing need for engagement in skills development as a core part of the university’s mission and give our senior managers something they can say ‘Yes’ to.

If you would like to find out more then feel free to contact me at ewan.mcandrew@ed.ac.uk

  • Want to become a Wikipedia editor?
  • Want to become a Wikipedia trainer?
  • Want to run a Wikipedia course assignment?
  • Want to contribute images to Wikimedia Commons?
  • Want to contribute your research to Wikipedia?
  • Want to contribute your research data to Wikidata?


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Tambini, Damian; Labo, Sharif (2016-06-13). “Digital intermediaries in the UK: implications for news plurality”info18 (4): 33–58. doi:10.1108/info-12-2015-0056ISSN 1463-6697.

“A new kind of weather”. The Economist. 2016-03-26. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2016-12-10.

Toobin, Jeffrey (29 September 2014). “Google and the Right to Be Forgotten”The New Yorker. Retrieved 2016-12-11.

Tuffley, D, & Antonio, A 2016, ‘Ethics in the Information Age’, AQ: Australian Quarterly, 87, 1, pp. 19-40, Political Science Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 December 2016.

Upworthy celebrates power of empathy with event in NYC and release of new research study. (2016, Nov 15). PR Newswire Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/docview/1839078078?accountid=10673

Usher-Layser, N (2016). ‘Newsfeed: Facebook, Filtering and News Consumption. (cover story)’, Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 96, 3, pp. 18-21, Education Source, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 December 2016.

van Dijck, Jose. Culture of ConnectivityA Critical History of Social Media – Oxford Scholarshipdoi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199970773.001.0001.

Velocci, A. L. (2000). Extent of internet’s value remains open to debate. Aviation Week & Space Technology, 153(20), 86. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/206085681?accountid=10673

Viner, Katherine (2016-07-12). “How technology disrupted the truth”The GuardianISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-12-11.

Wadhera, Mike. “The Information Age is over; welcome to the Experience Age”TechCrunch. Retrieved 2016-12-12.

Weichert, Stephan (2016-01-01). “From Swarm Intelligence to Swarm Malice: An Appeal”. Social Media + Society. 2 (1): 2056305116640560. doi:10.1177/2056305116640560ISSN 2056-3051.

Winkler, R. (2016). Business news: Big Silicon Valley voice cuts himself off — Marc Andreessen takes ‘Twitter break’ to the bewilderment of other techies.Wall Street Journal Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/docview/1824805569?accountid=10673

White, Andrew (2016-12-01). “Manuel Castells’s trilogy the information age: economy, society, and culture”. Information, Communication & Society. 19 (12): 1673–1678. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2016.1151066ISSN 1369-118X.

Wine, Lois D. (2016-03-28). “School Librarians as Technology Leaders: An Evolution in Practice”. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science. doi:10.12783/issn.2328-2967/57/2/12ISSN 2328-2967.

Yes, I’d lie to you; The post-truth world. 2016. The Economist, 420(9006), pp. 20.

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Legal and Economic Investigation. IUP Journal Of Knowledge Management, 14(3), 28-71.

Save the date! Celtic Knot conference at Edinburgh University 5 & 6 July

By AnonMoos [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By AnonMoos [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

‘Celtic Knot’ conference

A collaboration between Wikimedia UK and the University of Edinburgh

10am to 5pm on 5th and 6th July 2017

University of Edinburgh Business School.

If you want to know what’s important to a culture, learn their language.” Joanne Harris

This Wikimedia UK event will focus on Celtic Languages and Indigenous Languages, showcasing innovative approaches to open education, open knowledge and open data that support and grow language communities.

Identifying ways in which our cultural heritage can be not just preserved but, as living languages, engaged with and expanded on so as to enrich the linguistic map of the British Isles and beyond through a cross-pollination of ideas & knowledge exchange.

Building bridges between communities, this event seeks diverse participants who will share their practice and discover fruitful new collaborations.

Please save the dates. The official call for session proposals has now closed but email ewan.mcandrew@ed.ac.uk if you would like to attend or a session you would like to showcase. Abstracts are being reviewed in April 2017 and notification sent out shortly afterwards.

CC-BY-SA (Own work)
Celtic Knot Conference CC-BY-SA (Own work)

If you are interested in attending the event or can help forward this event to interested colleagues in your network then please let me know by contacting ewan.mcandrew@ed.ac.uk.

At this time we are asking people to save the date, and suggest ideas (no longer than 100-200 words); showcasing the best of your work and linking in with your ideas & suggestions for speakers, keynotes & sessions:

  • Presentations (15 minute talks with 5 mins Q&A).
  • Lightning talks (5-7 mins)
  • Workshops (30 or 60 minute workshops)
  • Discussion spaces.

Conference Themes

  • Building language confidence: participation, public engagement & social equality.
  • Putting our language on the map: preserving & opening up our cultural heritage.
  • Languages on the road to open: ongoing or new projects and initiatives in open knowledge, open education and open data.
  • The politics of language: Local, national, and international policy and practice; advocacy for funding, institutional and community support and investment
  • Hacking; making; sharing

All presentations and discussions are encouraged to be as engaging and interactive as possible and facilitate learning and sharing by the attendees.

Following enquiries, the criteria for submissions is that presentations/workshops should be:

Therefore, any proposals should make it very clear how their presentation will be of interest to this audience.

To assist with seeing links with the Wikimedia projects you can click here.

Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.
‒Rita Mae Brown

If you have an idea for a session then email me your proposal indicating the session type, conference theme and how your proposal meets the Wikimedia criteria at ewan.mcandrew@ed.ac.uk no later than Friday 17th March 2017.

Please save the dates. The official call for session proposals has now closed but email ewan.mcandrew@ed.ac.uk if you would like to attend or a session you would like to showcase. Abstracts are being reviewed in April 2017 and notification sent out shortly afterwards.

Reflections on a Wikipedia assignment – Reproductive Medicine

Wikipedia as an important source of health information and not medical advice.

“The Internet, especially Wikipedia, had proven its importance in everyday life. Even the medical sector is influenced by Wikipedia’s omnipresence. It has gained considerable attention among both healthcare professionals and the lay public in providing medical information. Patients rely on the information they obtain from Wikipedia before deciding to seek professional help. As a result, physicians are confronted by a professional dilemma as patients weigh information provided by medical professionals against that on Wikipedia, the new provider of health information….

We state that Wikipedia should not be viewed as being inappropriate for its use in medical education. Given Wikipedia’s central role in medical education as reported in our survey, its integration could yield new opportunities in undergraduate education. High-quality medical education and sustainability necessitates the need to know how to search and retrieve unbiased, comprehensive, and reliable information. Students should therefore be advised in reflected information search and encouraged to contribute to the “perpetual beta” improving Wikipedia’s reliability. Therefore, we ask for inclusion in medical curricula, since guiding students’ use and evaluation of information resources is an important role of higher education. It is of utmost importance to establish information literacy, evidence-based practices, and life-long learning habits among future physicians early on, hereby contributing to medical education of the highest quality.
Accordingly, this is an appeal to see Wikipedia as what it is: an educational opportunity. This is an appeal to academic educators for supplementing Wikipedia entries with credible information from the scientific literature. They also should teach their protégés to obtain and critically evaluate information as well as to supplement or correct entries. Finally, this is an appeal to medical students to develop professional responsibility while working with this dynamic resource. Criticism should be maintained and caution exercised since every user relies on the accuracy, conscientiousness, and objectivity of the contributor.” (Herbert et al, BMC Medical Education, 2015)

Reproductive Medicine Wikipedia assignment at Edinburgh University – September 2016

Reproductive Medicine undergraduates - collaborating to create Wikipedia articles.
Reproductive Medicine undergraduates – collaborating to create Wikipedia articles.

In September 2016, Reproductive Biology Honours students undertook a group research project to research, in groups of 4-5 students with a tutor, a term from reproductive biomedicine that was not yet represented on Wikipedia. All 38 were trained to edit Wikipedia and they worked collaboratively both to undertake the research and produce the finished written article. The assignment developed the students’ information literacy, digital literacy, collaborative working, academic writing & referencing and ability to communicate to an audience. The end result was 8 new articles on reproductive medicine which enriches the global open knowledge community and will be added to & improved upon long after they have left university creating a rich legacy to look back upon.

One of the new articles, high-grade serous carcinoma, was researched and written by 4th year student, Áine Kavanagh.

High-grade serous carcinoma - new Wikipedia article researched and written by Áine Kavanagh, in September 2016.

Rather than a writing an assignment for an audience of one, the course tutor, and never read again, Aine’s article can be viewed, built on & expanded by an audience of millions. Since creating the article in September 2016, the article has now been viewed 2196 times.

Pageviews for the High Grade Serous Carcinoma
Pageviews for the High Grade Serous Carcinoma

Guest post:

Reflections on a Wikipedia assignment

by Áine Kavanagh.
Reproductuve Medicine students - September 2016
Reproductive Medicine students – September 2016

The process of writing a Wikipedia article involved me trying to answer the questions I was asking myself about the topic. What was it? Why should I care about it? What does it mean to society? I also needed to make the answers to those questions clear to other people who can’t see inside my head.

It then moved onto questions I thought other people might ask about the topic. Writing for Wikipedia is really an exercise in empathy and perspective. Who else is going to want to know about this and what might they be interested in about it?

Is what I’m writing accessible and understandable? Am I presenting it in a useful way? It’s an incredibly public piece of writing which is only useful if it serves the public, so trying to put yourself in the frame of someone who’s not you reading what you’ve written is important (and possibly the most difficult part).

It’s also about co-operation from the get-go. You can’t post a Wikipedia article and allow no one else to edit it. You are offering something up to the world. You can always come back to it, but you can never make it completely your own again. The beauty of Wikipedia is in groupthink, in the crowd intelligence it facilitates, but this means shared ownership, which can be hard to get your head around at first.

It’s a unique way of writing, and some tips for other students starting out on a Wikipedia project is to not be intimidated. Wikipedia articles in theory can be indefinitely long and dense and will be around for an indefinitely long time, so writing a few hundred words can seem like adding a grain of sand to a desert. But if the information is not already there then you are contributing – and what is Wikipedia if not just a big bunch of contributions?

There’s also the fear that editors already on Wikipedia will swoop down and denounce your article as completely useless – but the beauty of storing information is that you can never really have too much of it. There’s no-one who can truly judge what is and isn’t worthy of knowing*.

*There’s no-one who can judge what’s worth knowing, but the sum of human knowledge needs to be organised, and so there are actually guidelines as to what a Wikipedia article is (objective account of a thing) and is not (platform for self-promotion).

Áine Kavanagh

#1Lib1Ref – Wikipedia turns 16

Getting citations into Wikipedia – can you spare 16 minutes to mark Wikipedia’s 16th birthday?


#1Lib1Ref - 1 Librarian adding 1 Reference
#1Lib1Ref – 1 Librarian adding 1 Reference


It’s been quite the week in politics this week. #CitationDefinitelyNeeded

#1Lib1Ref - 1 Librarian adding 1 Reference
#1Lib1Ref – 1 Librarian adding 1 Reference

On Sunday 15th January 2017, Wikipedia will turn 16 years old. How often do you think you have used the free online encyclopaedia in this time?

In this Google Talk, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Executive Director, Katherine Maher, speaks engagingly about Wikipedia’s humble beginnings in 2001, where it is now and, importantly, where it is going.

To mark Wikipedia’s birthday, the Wikipedia Library are repeating their successful #1Lib1Ref campaign from last year. This global campaign “1 Librarian 1 Reference” (#1Lib1Ref) is to get Information Services professionals and educators adding citations to Wikipedia.

Events are taking place at the National Library of Scotland, the Bodleian Library in Oxford and all over the globe from January 15th To February 3rd 2017 but here at the University of Edinburgh we are kicking things off by asking you to spare a mere 16 minutes to mark Wikipedia’s 16 years on Friday 20th January 2017. (You won’t even need to leave your desk).

Your 1,2,3 to taking part in next Friday’s #1Lib1Ref event.


  1. Have a nosy at what is involved: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/The_Wikipedia_Library/1Lib1Ref – This link runs through what is involved (essentially finding one reference to back up a statement on Wikipedia that has no citation backing it up).
  2. Create a Wikipedia account ahead of Friday’s event. This 3 minute video shows what you need to do to setup your account. (NB: It is better if you do create an account at home ahead of time as Wikipedia limits the number of accounts that can be created from a single IP address within a 24 hour period to a mere 6 accounts.)
  3. On the day itself – This 5 minute video demos what you need to do. Essentially using the Citation Hunt tool to find a Wikipedia page that is both missing a citation  & that you are interested in helping out; and guiding you as to how to go about finding a suitable reference to fill that knowledge gap. NB: This post from the Biodiversity Heritage Library also illustrates the process too.


As you save your citation, please remember to add the hashtag #1Lib1Ref in your edit summary so that we can track participation in the event. We will announce these contributions on social media with the  strengthening Wikipedia’s links to scholarly publications and celebrating the collective expertise of the world’s Information Service professionals (so any pics you can share with the #1Lib1Ref hashtag would be greatly appreciated).

This is a chance to create incoming links or citations from articles that are usually the top Google hit for their topic. Citations can be to paper or electronic sources, that you are interested in professionally or otherwise. If you can supply citations for topics or authors that are under-represented in Wikipedia, then all the better. In January 2016, librarians around the world made thousands of edits to Wikipedia, with publicity seen by millions of people. You can read more about last year’s event here.

We live in the information age and the aphorism ‘one who possess information possesses the world’ of course reflects the present-day reality.” (Vladimir Putin in Interfax:Russia & CIS Presidential Bulletin, 30 June 2016).

To mark Wikipedia’s 16th birthday, and to assert that facts really do matter, let’s find Wikipedia pages we can help improve… and spend a few moments improving them with a reference (or two).

#FactsMatter #1Lib1Ref

Wikipedia assignment – Translation Studies MSc



The artwork "Een vertaling van de ene taal naar de andere" / "A Translation from one language to another" by Lawrence Weiner. Placed in 1996 at the Spui (square) in Amsterdam. It consists of three pairs of two stones placed against each other. On each stone there is an inscription "A Translation from one language to another", in another language - Dutch, English, Surinam and Arabic. Author: brbbl (CC-BY-SA)
The artwork “Een vertaling van de ene taal naar de andere” / “A Translation from one language to another” by Lawrence Weiner. Placed in 1996 at the Spui (square) in Amsterdam. It consists of three pairs of two stones placed against each other. On each stone there is an inscription “A Translation from one language to another”, in another language – Dutch, English, Surinam and Arabic. Author: brbbl (CC-BY-SA)

The University of Edinburgh offers a taught Translation Studies. As part of an independent study module, students were asked to choose a Wikipedia article that was at least 4000 words long and to translate it into another language. 29 people took part in the assignment, translating articles from English to Arabic, Chinese, French, Greek, Turkish, Japanese and from Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and Norwegian (bokmal) into English. Students were allowed to choose the article and language they wished to work on but the article choice had to be run past their course tutor who would check the article’s suitability for a class assignment in terms of the article’s subject and the degree of challenge to the language used in the article. Importantly, the tutors were prepared to reject any articles they thought were too simple in the language being used or too frivolous in the subject matter with students reminded that the purpose of the assignment was to further develop their translation skills in tandem with supporting the dissemination of important articles into another language. (The relative importance of the article being decided in negotiation between the student and the tutor.)

The assignment was structured with two in-person training sessions after which students were expected to translate the articles in their own time and submit them. The first in-person session introduced the students to editing Wikipedia and then got them to select the articles they would be working on. The Gapfinder tool was used to help identify trending pages with no corresponding coverage in the target language. A week later at the second in-person session, the students began the process of translating their chosen article.

The students used the Content Translation tool to prepare their translations which helped with the formatting of the article so that they could focus on the translation itself. There is a screencast demonstrating how to use the Content Translation tool which students watched at the end of session one and received more detailed instruction on the use of the tool in session two. The students had until the end of the semester (15 December) to complete and publish the translations.

As of writing, the assignment is now complete and a third in-person drop-in session was held to assist the students with any issues relating to the publishing of the articles. The students were also supported by email. Issues did arise, such as the source article being edited by a Wikipedia community member during the translation process. However, the student in question was able to flag this concern via email and I was able to look at the issue and advise promptly not to change the nature of the translation but instead stick with the older version they had begun to translate. Referencing and notability has also been flagged up when an article has been published in the target Wikipedia but again the student in question was reassured that ensuring the referencing is as clear & detailed as on the source Wikipedia will mean there is no problem. The course is routinely monitored with any issues noted to ensure best practice is documented for future iterations of this project. Student volunteers and course tutors have also provided video interview feedback on the course.

The is the first time Wikimedia UK has supported a translation classroom course, and the first time it has encouraged the use of the Content Translation tool – and we are keen to learn how this will develop. The course has been making a very positive impression within the university so far and there’s an commitment on both sides to continue this assignment next semester too.

In addition, through the running of this course in Translation Studies MSc, the residency has been introduced to Edinburgh University’s Translation Society (EUTS). Student representatives from EUTS learned of the Wikipedia Translation assignment through the Translation Studies MSc course leader and requested to take part in the exercise. As there was not enough in the computing lab to accommodate them during the in-person sessions, the EUTS reps sought to meet in order to learn more about how their society could collaborate with Wikimedia in a way that would be mutually beneficial. The meeting was extremely positive and there are now plans to have an EUTS translation project beginning in February 2017 where the student reps will invite all 100+ of their members to attend and take part in. Discussions are at an early stage but both parties are keen to see this happen with current consideration being given to whether the project should have an over-arching theme, fitting in with students’ interest areas and Wikimedia’s strategic priorities; using University College London’s translation editathon themed on women’s health as a model for the collaboration.

There have been additional benefits from the session as also in attendance during the assignment was a staff member from Edinburgh University’s MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine. The staff member in question works as a Eurostemcell Translation Manager and is keen to support the translation of Eurostemcell related articles into different languages as the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine works closely with European partner labs to share research knowledge related to the study of stemcells; particularly on Wikipedia as they receive research funding on this very basis. Consequently, a Danish Wikimedia trainer has been contacted and secured for a scheduled Eurostemcell Wikipedia editathon at a Danish partner lab in Copenhagen at the end of November 2016. If this Danish pilot works well then the Eurostemcell team plan on holding Wikipedia editathons every year for World Stem Cell Day.

Robert Louis Stevenson (public domain pic from Wiki Commons)

A Christmas Sermon – Robert Louis Stevenson on Wikisource

Robert Louis Stevenson (public domain pic from Wiki Commons)
Robert Louis Stevenson (public domain pic from Wiki Commons)

In ‘A Christmas Sermon’, a short public domain text available on Wikisource, Robert Louis Stevenson meditates on the holiday season, death, morality and man’s main task in life: “to be honest, to be kind… to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence.”

‘A Christmas Sermon’ appeared in a collection of essays entitled ‘Across the plains: with other Memories and Essays’ (1892) and was written, along with The Master of Ballantrae, shortly after Stevenson’s father had passed away and while Stevenson himself was recovering from a lung ailment at Lake Saranac, New York, in the winter of 1887.

More openly-licensed Christmas texts can be found at Wikisource’s Portal:Christmas including Is There a Santa Claus? (1897).

Wikisource, the hyper library hosts over 340,000 out-of-copyright longer texts (plays, poems, short stories, novels, letters, speeches, constitutional documents, songs & more) as demonstrated by the range of texts on Robert Louis Stevenson’s page here.

Yule cat (from Public Domain Super Heroes)

Yule Lads and Yule cat – on the greatest Open Education Resource: Wikipedia.

Yule Lads – on the greatest Open Education Resource: Wikipedia.


The Yule Lads - Picture taken by Inga Vitola CC-BY via Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/360around/8438686745/in/photolist-dRGtz4-dBRVEa-dBGFuw-5MeWDT-dBGFTu)
The Yule Lads – Picture taken by Inga Vitola CC-BY via Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/360around/8438686745/in/photolist-dRGtz4-dBRVEa-dBGFuw-5MeWDT-dBGFTu)


Yule lads are 13 trolls from Icelandic folklore who put rewards (or punishments) in shoes laid out on windowsills by children on the 13 nights in the run up to Christmas. Some Yule lads are mere pranksters while some are… homicidal monsters who eat children.

You can find out more about the Yule lads (and when they’re due to arrive in town) on the greatest open education tool; Wikipedia.

But just in case, below is a list of their names & descriptions so you can watch out for them (and their monstrous Yule Cat)!

Yule cat (from  Public Domain Super Heroes)
Yule cat (from
Public Domain Super Heroes)


Icelandic Name English translation Description
Stekkjarstaur Sheep-Cote Clod Harasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs.
Giljagaur Gully Gawk Hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk.
Stúfur Stubby Abnormally short. Steals pans to eat the crust left on them.
Þvörusleikir Spoon-Licker Steals spoons to lick. Is extremely thin due to malnutrition.
Pottaskefill Pot-Scraper Steals leftovers from pots.
Askasleikir Bowl-Licker Hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their bowl which he then steals.
Hurðaskellir Door-Slammer Likes to slam doors, especially during the night.
Skyrgámur Skyr-Gobbler A Yule Lad with an affinity for skyr.
Bjúgnakrækir Sausage-Swiper Would hide in the rafters and snatch sausages that were being smoked.
Gluggagægir Window-Peeper A voyeur who would look through windows in search of things to steal.
Gáttaþefur Doorway-Sniffer Has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð.
Ketkrókur Meat-Hook Uses a hook to steal meat.
Kertasníkir Candle-Stealer Follows children in order to steal their candles.
Screengrab of Histropedia Wikidata Query Viewer (CC-BY-SA).

Histropedia – knowledge from Wikipedia visualised as dynamic timelines

Histropedia Timelines – In the (Saint) Nick of Time.

Can you spot Saint Nick in the below timeline of saints?

Screengrab of Histropedia Wikidata Query Viewer (CC-BY-SA).
Screengrab of Histropedia Wikidata Query Viewer (CC-BY-SA).

For today’s post, the Open Education resource we present to you is Histropedia – the timeline of everything.

Histropedia allows users to create visually dynamic timelines using structured data from Wikidata, articles from Wikipedia and images from Wikimedia Commons. It has in excess of 340,000 timelines listing 1.5 million articles from Wikipedia: including timelines on the Battles of World War One, the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, the Novels by Charles Dickens, Empires, Famous Artists, the filmography of David Bowie and many more.

This 1 minute 22 second video demonstrates how quickly & easily timelines can be put together using Wikipedia articles & categories to dramatically visualise events.

By way of example, I was able to create this Santa Claus in the movies timeline in a matter of minutes going from the 1900 movie, A Christmas Dream, by Georges Méliès right up to modern day with films like Trading Places (1983), Miracle on 34th Street (1994) and Arthur Christmas (2012). The published timeline is now available for others to view and add to as a free open education resource where each timeline event can be clicked on to take you through to the Wikipedia article to find out more.


histropedia-screengrabScreengrab of Histropedia timeline for Santa Claus in the movies. (CC-BY)

Further, now that the Histropedia now has a Wikidata Query Viewer option this means that the structured data can now be queried even further. For example, I was curious to find out more about Saint Nick so I was able to ask Wikidata to show me all the saints it had information about and show them on a timeline according to their year of birth and colour coded by their place of birth. Click here to view the result.

Screengrab from Histropedia Wikidata Query Viewer Tutorial – Timeline of University of Edinburgh female alumni colour-coded by place of birth and labelled in Japanese, Russian, Arabic and English (CC-BY)

Histropedia’s developers, Navino Evans and Sean McBirnie, joined us at Repository Fringe at the University of Edinburgh in August this year where we recorded a short video tutorial in order to demonstrate how to create a Histropedia timeline using their Wikidata Query Viewer – this time on female alumni of the University of Edinburgh; colour-coded by their place of birth and labelled in Japanese, Russian, Arabic & English (depending on whether the query could find an article in these 4 different language Wikipedias).

This OER video tutorial has now been viewed a thousand times and is available to view on the university’s Media Hopper channel on a CC-BY license.

To find out more about Histropedia, you can read this article from the Wikimedia UK blog but why not have a go yourself!

May 2014 – The Right to Be Forgotten & the Mackintosh Building Fire

Two very different events took place in May 2014. As many will recall with great sadness, the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building, often considered Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece, was severely damaged by fire when “a canister of expanding foam” used in close proximity to a hot projector, caused flammable gases to ignite. Since that time, conservation efforts have been ongoing to reopen the Mackintosh building in 2018.

Screengrab of the Mackintosh Building fire
Screengrab of the Mackintosh Building fire

Elsewhere in May 2014, the Google Spain case was being heard at the European Union Court of Justice.

The Right to be Forgotten (GDPR).

Case Summary

The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ (RTBF) was actualised by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) following its ruling in May 2014 in Google Inc. vs. Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos (aka the Google Spain case). The court ruled that personal information about a Spanish citizen, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, relating to his home being repossessed in 1998 could be removed from search engine results and that any EU citizen could apply to search engines to request that certain links be removed where they are “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant”. This controversial ruling, has since become the key pillar, Article 17, of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) set to become law automatically in every EU member state on 25th May 2018 (Ruaraidh, 2016).

The ruling affects not only search engines but any organisation that hosts EU citizens’ information or does business in the EU. (Werfel, 2016). Google’s reaction to the ruling was to de-list search results from the domain extension the delisting request originated from (e.g. Google.de for Germany and Google.fr for France). However, the results could still easily be seen if you utilised a different domain extension; such as Google.com. As a result, France slapped a $112,000 fine on Google for its refusal to remove results outside of France. Consequently, Google now utilises geolocations to determine which country the searcher is searching from and de-lists all affected search results accordingly, regardless of domain extension; thereby “obeying the letter of the law, if not the spirit.”(Tarantola, 2016).


Importance of the Case:

The case has been described as a breakthrough in data protection leading to “a brave new world” (Ruaraidh, 2016) while, at the same time, trampling the ‘right to know’ and marking “the beginning of the end of the global internet, where everyone has access to the same information.” (Granick in Toobin, 2015)

I find the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ as a central pillar of the GDPR a really fascinating subject. The arguments on both sides are really pertinent ones for right now: the ‘right to be respected’ (Ruaraidh, 2016) or ‘right to privacy’ on the one hand versus freedom of information or ‘the right to know’ on the other. Not least because Toobin (2014)’s article in The New Yorker showed both the risks of having a ‘right to be forgotten’ which can be abused (e.g. a Croatian pianist asking for a bad review in the Washington Post to be de-listed) versus the case of the Catsouras family in the USA who were the subject of a chapter in Werner Herzog’s new movie ‘Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected world’(2016). The Catsouras case involves a family where their teenage daughter tragically died in a car crash. Mr. & Mrs. Catsouras, along with the daughter’s siblings, had a memory of their daughter that they held on to which was shattered when the police crime scene photographs, taken by the Californian Highway Patrol, somehow came into the public domain and went viral. Suddenly Mr. & Mrs. Catsouras were confronted with graphic images of their daughter’s body decapitated in the fatal accident. So far their attempts to get the pictures de-listed or removed from the internet have been thwarted because the US has no ‘right to be forgotten’ so the fact the GDPR includes it as its central pillar, Article 17, means that the father, Christos Catsouras has said the European Court of Justice ruling represented a “broader victory. “I cried when I read about that decision,” he told me. “What a great thing it would have been for someone in our position. That’s all I wanted. I would do anything to be able to go to Google and have it remove those links.”(Toobin, 2014).

Google processes 90% of searches in Europe (Fioretti, 2014) and has reviewed in excess of 1.5 million webpages, de-listing 40% of them across Europe (Lumsden 2016); effectively creating a library where book titles are removed from the searchable catalogue. The books are still there “but their existence would be unknown and therefore, their access made more difficult.“(Gratton, 2016).

Wikimedia understandably are not a fan of what the Right to be Forgotten means in practice:

Accurate search results are vanishing in Europe with no public explanation, no real proof, no judicial review, and no appeals process… the result is an Internet riddled with memory holes – places where inconvenient information simply disappears.(Tretikov in Fioretti, 2014).

While Google claim the CJEU ruling forces them into a role they are uncomfortable with i.e. deciding what is & is not included in their ‘card catalogue’ (Walker in Toobin, 2015); others maintain that Google’s role has always been more than passive intermediary; therefore “if you’re going to be in the business of search then you need to take on privacy obligations.” (Rutenberg in Toobin, 2015). Forcing private companies to become judge & jury on public searching can hardly be ideal however; especially when Google notifying affected sites can, ironically, increase public scrutiny through what’s been termed ‘the Streisand effect’.

The GDPR will certainly toughen the penalties for non-compliance of these privacy obligations. Previously, £500,000 was the maximum penalty in the UK for breaching privacy rules. Now organisations will be penalised 4% of their turnover, or twenty million Euros, whichever is greater (Davidson, 2016). Organisations, therefore, will need to know & understand the data they hold on individuals in much stricter way. For some, this is a triumph, heralding a new ‘right to be respected’ (Ruaraidh, 2016). Others see it as Balkanizing the internet; resulting in a race to the bottom to see which country’s laws can apply the most pressure on Google (Zittrain in Toobin, 2015).



The debate over freedom of information vs. the right to privacy will continue to be a source of heated debate. While IM professionals should be very wary of Right To Be Forgotten compromising a record’s integrity & trustworthiness, tighter data protection protocols for UK organisations are likely to become the norm from here on.

Advice from the Information Commisioner’s Office, and independent legal firms, is to start planning your approach to GDPR compliance now (Rustici, 2016). The 2018 deadline is not far away for an institution the size of Edinburgh University to get prepared for with 37,510 students (2015/2016 Student Factsheet) and 13,818 staff (Sept. 2016 HR factsheet). While Brexit creates great uncertainty on the UK’s adherence to EU laws, the likelihood is that, regardless of Brexit, UK Higher Education Institutions will still have to comply with the GDPR. (Rustici, 2016)

Google could, post Brexit, lobby the British court not to adhere to RTBF in the UK however the ICO are advocating the terms of the Data Protection Act (1998) be extended as a way of ensuring UK organisations adopt a stricter data protection strategy more in line with GDPR (Lambe, 2016). While research is currently exempted by the GDPR, Edinburgh University would appear to still be bound to it in that it processes personal data of EU subjects. Therefore, the university will have to ensure it puts a plan in place ensuring a culture of ‘privacy by design’. (McCall, 2016).

This means implementing the ICO’s 12 steps including: designating a Data Protection Office; reviewing rules governing data erasure & portability; getting I.T. to map out & review the data processes throughout the university and how data is shared with 3rd parties; liaising with HR to raise awareness of data protection throughout the university. Reviews of data protection policies and how consent is given & recorded. Data breach protocols will have to be tightened up and any breach must be reported to the ICO within 72 hours. Subject Access Requests will no longer be charged for and must be responded to within a month.

Ultimately, the university may need to ensure it is far more familiar with its data processes & its data protection strategies than it is at present. This may mean that they will better understand the value of the data that it does keep but it is likely that, in seeking to avoid liability, they will err on the side of increased erasure of data rather than less; resulting in ‘premature forgetting’ (Sartor, 2016). The balancing act remains a delicate one but it is something for ‘custodians of the record‘ to prepare for in their increasingly pivotal role.

If the record is to mean anything, now and in the future, it has to have integrity, intactness, trustworthiness, and that can’t be the case if individual people have the opportunity or right or authority to pick and choose and prune and primp the way they are portrayed.” (Joseph Janes, 2016, American Libraries)

Meanwhile…. at the Glasgow School of Art Archives

While organisations around the UK prepare for the GDPR coming in 2018, the Glasgow School of Art archives had to move following the Mackintosh fire to take up residence in their new temporary home of The Whisky Bond site until the Mackintosh building reopens in 2018.

The World War One Roll of Honour Project

Thankfully, the Glasgow School of Art’s WW1 Roll of Honour survived the fire.

GSofA’s First World War Roll of Honour was designed and made by former GSA student Dorothy Doddrell in 1925 to commemorate the efforts of GSA staff, students and governors who served in WW1.

Dorothy Doddrell (All Rights Reserved to Glasgow School of Art)
Dorothy Doddrell (All Rights Reserved to Glasgow School of Art)

With the support of the Centenary Memorials Restoration Fund, it also underwent conservation in 2014.

The memorial is now temporarily on display in GSofA’s Reid Building where it will remain until it can be reinstated in the Mackintosh Building following the completion of restoration work to the building.

WW1 Roll of Honour (All rights reserved to Glasgow School of Art)
WW1 Roll of Honour (All rights reserved to Glasgow School of Art)

The Roll of Honour takes the form of an illuminated parchment in paint and gold leaf set within a substantial copper and wood framed triptych.

Unlike most war memorials, the Roll of Honour records the names and regiments not only of those who died, but also of over 400 GSA staff, students and governors who served in the war.

Herald advert (All rights reserved by Glasgow School of Art)
Herald advert (All rights reserved by Glasgow School of Art)

A recently discovered advertisement placed in the Glasgow Herald on 1 November, 1920 shows that the School of Art required the support of the wider public (or at least the readership of the Glasgow Herald) in collating the necessary information in order to deliver a suitable memorial.

Researching the names on the WW1 Roll of Honour

  • In 2015 a research project, supported by a Scottish Council on Archives’ and Heritage Lottery Fund Skills for the Future traineeship, sought to explore and document the stories behind the names recorded on the Roll of Honour.
  • A team of volunteers is now continuing with this research, using original material from GSA’s rich archives and collections to create biographies of those staff and students who feature on the memorial. The resulting biographies have and will continue to be made available on the Archives and Collections online catalogue: www.gsa.ac.uk/archives.

How it worked

  • The investigation process begins with scouring the GSA’s student registers for any recorded instances relating to a listed name which may give an indication of the years they studied at the GSA, the classes they attended, which teachers they had, where they lived, what job they performed and so on.
  • Consulting a number of other sources: census records, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage records, medal cards, regiment histories, photographs as well as any notable artworks or architectural designs bearing their name.

I was a volunteer on the WW1 Roll of Honour project.

Screengrab of William Lindsay Renwick's entry on Glasgow School of Art Archives' website.
Screengrab of William Lindsay Renwick’s entry on Glasgow School of Art Archives’ website.

William Lindsay Renwick was one name on the roll of honour that I researched among many others: a University of Glasgow graduate, he undertook bookbinding classes at the Glasgow School of Art before becoming a professor of English Literature at Durham University and Edinburgh University where he was the founder of the School of Scottish Studies. William Lindsay Renwick fought at the Battle of Loos during World War One where he felt ‘like a ghost, an old ghost, sceptical and disillusioned.’”

Professor William Lindsay Renwick is commemorated on The Glasgow School of Art’s First World War Roll of Honour.

The research I undertook changed the way I viewed war memorials. It shouldn’t have but it did. I realised the name on the Roll of Honour was just one part and there was much more to be said: places lived in; jobs undertaken & where; family members; wives; children; the subjects they studied; their notable artworks; their achievements; the regiments they served in; the battles they fought in; the lives cut short and those lived afterwards; where they married; what they did; how they died. Uncovering the life story behind each name was detective work of the most rewarding kind.

As part of last week’s Samhuinn Wikipedia editathon to honour the dead, we created 16 new articles to remember notable lives & contributions; one of which was on William Lindsay Renwick who founded the School of Scottish Studies. Hence, while the debate about the Right to be Forgotten is an important one, it has to be balanced against the importance of remembering. And that’s where Wikipedia can play a vital role in ensuring digital provenance where the record is trustworthy, reliable and remembered.

Eugene Bourdon (1st Professor of Architecture at the Glasgow School of Art)
Eugene Bourdon (1st Professor of Architecture at the Glasgow School of Art)

Eugene Bourdon exhibition 5th November to 4th December 2016

From 5th Nov – 4th Dec the Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections are actually holding an exhibition in GSA’s Reid Building of the work of GSA’s first professor of architecture Eugene Bourdon (see here for more info: http://gsapress.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/the-gsa-to-mark-centenary-of-his-death.html). To accompany the exhibition the A&C team will be providing a series of lunchtime talks (dates to be confirmed), one of which will be about Eugene Bourdon (who died at the battle of the Somme) which you would be more than welcome to attend.


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Conflict of Interest

Wikipedia’s Conflict of Interest policy is there to obviously protect against the very real threat of people ‘white-washing’ pages or generally abusing one of the core pillars of Wikipedia; its neutral point of view. It is not however there to get in the way of people genuinely trying to improve Wikipedia’s content.

That being said, I am aware of institutions banned from editing Wikipedia until 2020 because staff were involved in editing the institution’s Wikipedia page.

So if you find you have looked at the Wikipedia page for yourself or the institution you work for and believe it could be improved then what should you do? The question would be who is best placed to do this given Wikipedia’s stance on conflict of interest in order to a) preserve Wikipedia’s intergrity as an objective tertiary source and b) avoid the editor being blocked on account of Conflict of Interest editing.

Ideally, the best person would be a third party; someone clearly independent of the institution/individual being written about so that objectivity can be better demonstrated.

This is not always possible however so in the National Library of Wales example they asked a volunteer to sit for an afternoon with the necessary material to update the NLW Wikipedia page. Thus, there was some degree of distance between the writer and the written about.

The main area of contention is paid editing – where someone has a financial interest in the page being written about but writing about a friend, family member or close work colleague is obviously not advisable either. Asking a volunteer to do the editing gets round this. (Although this can lead into a philosophical debate as to whether anyone can be truly objective… or altruistic for that matter).

Sometimes it is also not possible to find an objective 3rd party volunteer to help in which case it is permissible, though not strictly advisable, to edit the page yourself if, and only if, you fully disclose on your userpage the conflict of interest (e.g. Displaying that you are related to person X or work for company Y).

Full disclosure and transparency of purpose are the key.


Wikipedia:Plain and simple conflict of interest guide

I note with interest the following line from the Plain and Simple guide to COI page.

Practices not regarded as COI

Employees at cultural and academic institutions:

We want experts editing Wikipedia articles. Merely being employed by an institution is not a conflict of interest.”


The main thing is disclosure of your link to the institution hence why an edit to an existing page is probably best suggested on the article’s Talk page disclosing your own connection to the subject being written about and having a disclaimer on your user page.

In terms of the format of how to write this disclosure on your userpage there are a great number of examples linked to from Point 3 in the Advice section of the Plain & Simple Guide to COI.

Although you could just have something as simple as: I work at the University of ____________ and am chair of the __________________.


If you want to completely avoid any perception of COI then you can also request that someone else edit the page from the Wikipedia community using the {{request edit}} template in the Source code of the article’s Talk page although you’d have to wait to see if anyone picked up on the request.


While the advice is that you are strongly discouraged to edit affected articles and a more objective third party is much more agreeable to the community, as long as you disclose your connection and observe Wikipedia’s rules stringently to avoid any possible suggestion of bias so that even a competitor would be happy with the objectivity of the edits then there should not be an issue. Suggesting the edits on the Talk page in the first instance or in a relevant WikiProject may also go some way to assuage any community concerns.

So the advice when you perceive a conflict of interest is:

“You are strongly discouraged from editing affected articles.

You may propose changes by using the {{request edit}} template on talk pages.

The short version:

  1. Learn Wikipedia’s rules.
  2. Be up-front about your associations with the subject.
  3. Avoid creating new articles about yourself or your organization.
  4. Avoid making controversial edits to articles related to your associations.
  5. Don’t push people to change their minds about issues relating to your associations.
  6. Ask for help appropriately.