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Q&A with Wikipedian Kelly Doyle: Closing the Gender Gap Online

Kelly Doyle stands at a podium. She holds up her hand, gesturing as she speaks. She wears a conference badge. Behind her is a screen that says "Outreach / Community Building."

Kelly Doyle speaks at the 2016 Wikipedia Diversity Conference. Photo by Andrew Lih.

Who adds information to Wikipedia? Anyone can! Kelly Doyle works as the open knowledge coordinator for the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, Because of Her Story. Doyle collaborates with other Smithsonian staff members to make sure notable American women are represented online, especially on Wikipedia.

Kelly, what is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia where all articles are created and edited by volunteers. It's also the fifth most visited website in the world, and there are more than 280 language editions of Wikipedia. Information must come from verified sources (usually news sources or books) and be presented in a neutral point of view. The goal is not to sway anyone's opinion but to provide information. And as soon as information is added on Wikipedia, it's freely available to anyone around the world.

What's a typical day like in your job?

I work to ensure the Smithsonian's women's history collections and knowledge are available on Wikipedia. I'm not actually editing Wikipedia day-to-day. I ask curators, "What are areas of women's history you see as being underrepresented?" Then I find out what we can do to change that.

I work with our museums to organize and promote edit-a-thons, events where volunteers work together to improve information on Wikipedia. I also work with the Wikimedia community, including other groups that edit Wikipedia, to understand how Smithsonian can help expand this knowledge source.

What do you love about your job?

This is the dream job for a Wikipedian. I can talk to an expert every single day about a niche topic that can be expanded on Wikipedia. We have so much information that's just waiting to be added. I could spend an entire year just working with a single museum, but I make sure we're working with many museums and sharing diverse content. It's a game-changer to have Smithsonian staff and volunteers working to change the gender gap on Wikipedia.

How does your work with Wikipedia ensure more people learn about women's history?

Less than 19% of Wikipedia biographies in English represent women, according to the organization Wiki Women in Red. Women's stories have been silenced on Wikipedia in much the same way they have in our world. Before the day that physicist Donna Strickland won the Nobel Prize, she was not deemed notable enough to have an article on Wikipedia.

The good news is, there are women who are fighting this fight every day. All of the Wikipedia work I've ever done has involved ending gender disparities. And there are tons of groups, organizations, and editing cohorts all over the world working to make Wikipedia more balanced.

At the Smithsonian, in just the past year, we have engaged 58 in-person volunteer editors. Those editors have added 11,442 words about American women to Wikipedia at our events. We have uploaded historical images of women to Wikipedia that have generated more than 900,000 views.  

In April 2019, we added a high-resolution image of [abolitionist and human rights activist] Sojourner Truth that has been viewed more than 350,000 times on Wikipedia. It has been added to different language versions of Truth's Wikipedia article, too. This was an early win for us. It proves that there's a desire for better images of women, especially women of color, on Wikipedia.

Sojurner Truth sits for a formal portrait. She wears a dress, shawl, and bonnet. There's a cabinet displaying dishes and jars behind her.
Volunteer editors added this high-resolution portrait from our National Portrait Gallery collection to Sojourner Truth’s Wikipedia page.

Can you share any favorite moments from Wikipedia programs?

For an event at the National Air and Space Museum, I asked museum staff to come up with 50 names of the top women in flight, air and space, and astrophysics who needed articles or better articles. We wanted to add an image for each woman. We know articles with images get more views because the article feels more complete. But Phoebe Waterman Haas didn't have an image that could be used.

Luckily, the National Air and Space Museum has a children's illustrator on staff. She illustrated Waterman based on an historic image. We added it to her page during the edit-a-thon. It remains the lead image on Waterman's Wikipedia article.

Illustration of Phoebe Waterman Hass, who smiles at the viewer. Her hair is pinned up and she wears a white shirt with a high collar.
Phoebe Waterman Hass. Illustrated by Diane Kidd, Educator and Illustrator, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Can editing Wikipedia help empower women? Why does it matter who edits Wikipedia?

More than 80% of editors on Wikipedia are men. It's important that we don't just add biographies of women, we need to make sure women are contributing to Wikipedia. Issues that matter to women aren't being covered as well or aren't being covered at all.

I would love to see more young women editing Wikipedia. Even if they come to one event and edit one page, they will move through their lives understanding the online gender gap a little more. I'd also like to see more diverse women get involved. Wikipedia articles have huge racial gaps as well as gender gaps. We need more Wikipedia entries on women's issues and the issues faced by women of color.

College students have told me, "if something's not on Wikipedia, it tells me that it's not important." I've been trying to get people to understand that Wikipedia isn't complete. There are still tons of gaps. Anyone who wants to get involved can make their mark.

How can people get involved if they want to edit Wikipedia?

Though we're currently in planning phases for our next programs, we keep this Wikipedia page updated with our upcoming events as we announce them. Other ways to help include adding a new image of a woman to Wikipedia Commons, then another volunteer can update a Wikipedia entry to include that image. There are many public domain images that can be added to Wikipedia from images marked Open Access CC0 in the Smithsonian's collections.



The Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, Because of Her Story funds Doyle's work to add Smithsonian-researched women's history to Wikipedia. To support our work sharing women's history across the web, you can  to stay in touch. You can also donate to the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative.

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