Volunteers work to bolster Canadian women’s biographies on Wikipedia

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TORONTO — It’s often the first source students turn to when doing research, but an archivist says many Canadian women’s accomplishments are left off Wikipedia.

A group of librarians, archivists and students is working to fill in these gender gaps at an “edit-a-thon” hosted by York University Libraries in honour of International Women’s Day.

Anna St.Onge, director of digital scholarship infrastructure for the Toronto university’s library system, says participants have been scouring the stacks to back up their edits and citations on the open-access online encyclopedia.

The list of biographies slated to be bolstered includes the late poet Libby Scheier, Toronto-based filmmaker Ann Shin, and trailblazing former MP Jean Augustine, who also served as Ontario’s first Fairness Commissioner.

New articles have also been created for York University history and women’s studies professor Varpu Lindstrom, who died in 2012, and Sherrill Cheda, the late chief librarian of Seneca College.

According to the Wikimedia Foundation, only 17 per cent of Wikipedia’s biographies are about women, and St.Onge says Friday’s event is part of a broader effort to improve those numbers.

“It’s a way of contributing to the discourse in subtle ways, and redressing some of the … imbalances,” she said.

“Sometimes those individuals had profound impacts in their community, and for whatever reason, and there’s lots of factors, their story sort of gets erased or subsumed through larger narratives.”

St.Onge pointed to a Wikipedia article suggesting that the site’s gender bias reflects the fact that most volunteer editors are men. Librarians and archivists have been working to address this underrepresentation by trying to recruit new and diverse contributors, she said.

“I see Wikipedia as a bit of an ecosystem that we as libraries and archivists, we can be contributing to that, and making sure that other voices are heard in that space,” said St.Onge.

“Part of the way of addressing inequities …  is to actively engage with those communities, bringing our own stories.”