IU Librarian serves as regional ambassador for Wikipedia

It’s only natural to think most librarians aren’t big fans of Wikipedia, since many fear the crowd-sourced online encyclopedia has just a bit too much factual wiggle room to be considered a reliable source.

But Chanitra Bishop, a digital scholarship and emerging technologies librarian at the Herman B Wells Library on the Bloomington campus, is breaking down any such thought barriers in her field .

Chanitra Bishop

Chanitra Bishop

She’s a volunteer Wikipedia regional ambassador to Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, and she spends part of her time helping students and professors understand Wikipedia and its potential for the classroom.

“Using Wikipedia is another way for someone like myself, who is interested in teaching people information literacy skills, to understand new technology and online information,” Bishop said. “And the skills students learn through this project translate when they leave the academic environment: engaging critically with information they find online and not just taking it at face value, as well as knowing how to locate additional information.”

Bishop started working with Wikipedia in fall 2010, helping IU students who were writing articles for the Wikimedia Foundation’s Public Policy Initiative. The pilot project explored the use of Wikipedia as a higher education teaching tool by having professors assign their students to contribute to articles. That initiative has since evolved into the Wikipedia Education Program.

Bishop soon realized many students weren’t aware they could contribute to articles.

“A lot of students didn’t know how it worked,” Bishop said. “So we learned the mechanics of Wikipedia, and we also talked about appropriate content, using library materials to support your information, what’s factual versus what’s personal opinion, and that you want to cover the full spectrum of information and not be one-sided. And many students weren’t aware of Wikipedia’s history function, which allows users to follow the changes that have been made to an entry.”

In her current role as a volunteer Wikipedia ambassador, Bishop conducts similar information literacy sessions for students. As a liaison between Wikipedia and colleges and universities within her tri-state area, she often interacts with classes virtually, adding another layer of information literacy training for those students.

Bishop is available to work with IU professors on all regional campuses; she can be reached at chbishop@indiana.edu.

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