Before the internet and Wikipedia, when I needed information, I dialed the reference librarian at my local library. The materials I needed could be wide-ranging. How to spell pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is one example. Or, I might want to know the population of Liechtenstein. The librarian seldom failed me which is why, while I was in public life, whenever talk arose of cutting the position, I shot from my dais, my teeth bared like a Tasmania Devil.
Later, when I discovered Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, I called the reference librarian less and less. Wikipedia became my first love. The articles were accessible, even though the system was developed by computer geeks. (Click ) That alone explains why Wikipedia is a male dominated world, representing 85% of the 30,000 English language contributors. (“Is Wikipedia Woke?” by Dimitra Kessenides & Max Chafkin, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Dec 26, 2016 Jan 6, 2017, pg. 72.)
Also not surprising, articles about women are underrepresented and so are female editors. (Ibid, pg. 72) That might explain why Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, appears on the list for American Women Novelists, but not on the list for American Novelists. (Ibid-72.) That bias also explains why one can findo copious research material about Star Wars but will be hard pressed to find data on Adeleye-Fayema, a British-Nigerian woman who co-founded the Women’s African Development Fund for the purpose of promoting women’s rights throughout the continent. (Ibid pg. 72.)
Jimmy Wales, who co-founded the electronic encyclopedia, fears failure to be inclusive will hurt the enterprise. “If we’re not providing space for women, someone else will. “ (Ibid pg. 72.) His comments may be prescient. Web traffic to the site has begun to decline, as has the number of editors from around the world. Digital assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa (Click) and Apple’s Siri (Click), while drawing their data from Wikipedia, are diverting users.
I admit, I’m a woman who can be fickle. I was devoted to my reference librarian until I met Wikipedia. And, while I can’t imagine ditching my second love for bots named Alexa and Siri, who knows? Given they have gals’ names, it’s possible a woman like Adeleye-Fayema might already be in their database. That would be refreshing.
(Originally published 4/21/17)