Yesterday, I attended a free event at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. It was a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on all things Gothic, as part of Robert Louis Stevenson Week – happy 166th birthday, RLS!

Wikipedia Edit-a-thons/Editathons are where a group of people gather together to add and improve Wikipedia entries on a specific subject, in this case Gothic fiction, architecture etc. I saw the event advertised via Twitter midweek and I was interested because:

  • free training in Wikipedia editing is a great idea;
  • I adore RLS and have been to some events in previous years (when it was an RLS Day; it has since grown to a Week) so the chance to make a Gothic/RLS-themed badge (using fab atmospheric designs of bats, howling dogs, RLS etc by Tessa Asquith-Lamb), see the RLS exhibition and attend a talk on illustrations of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by NLS Curator Andrew Martin (which was really interesting and funny) seemed too good to miss out on; and
  • the clincher: when I looked through the list of ideas of articles to be improved, I spotted that Mary Stewart’s Touch Not the Cat was one of the books listed!

So of course I booked a place. I was a little nervous, never having done any Wikipedia editing, but it was a fascinating, enjoyable day. The ‘Wikimedian’, Ewan McAndrew from the University of Edinburgh, was excellent and supported by helpful NLS staff. The Visual Editor option on Wikipedia makes it all feel similar to using WordPress – perhaps as I improve on one, I’ll improve on the other (here’s hoping). And there is a great template on Wikipedia that lets people know that you are a newbie editor and basically begs others to be patient and kind!

It was an interesting morning. Something I had never really considered before is that Wikipedia, being an encyclopedia, is interested in verifiability more than truth – don’t bother putting information on Wikipedia if you can’t back it up with sources. Accompanying this is the generalisation that blogs should not be cited as they might not be reliable sources.

I had thought that I would tie in to the Gothic theme of the day by citing Mary Stewart’s ‘Notes on the Novel’ (from her lecturing days – including notes on Ann Radcliffe) – available right there in the NLS in the Special Collection Room – but, as these have not been published, I can’t use them as a source. Nor can I use her letter in which she reveals her thoughts on being classified as a Gothic writer, as that hasn’t been published either. I get it, of course, I just hadn’t given it any thought before.

[UPDATE: I didn’t mention that one of the Five Pillars of Wikipedia is that there are No Firm Rules. So, generally speaking, primary sources are not used – but you can make a case for using them to improve an article. Saturday’s Editathon was followed up by more links, tips and advice from the organiser, from which I want to quote the following: ‘the act of “publication” is important because of the role of editorial oversight and peer review to ensure quality’ but with ‘notes and personal correspondence in which she gives her views on her own life and career “publication” becomes much less important’ and so I ‘could reasonably cite some unpublished material’. I think I will give it a try!]

After our training was a nice lunch (great veggie platters!) and there were even home-made RLS-moustache-shaped biscuits. Nobly, I took mine home for my son: it was very tasty, apparently.

Moustache cookie

Then it was upstairs to the Reading Room to get editing. I am not the fastest learner and I need to look at examples of good Wikipedia pages (as provided at the training) to see how to improve on what I have done with the Touch Not the Cat page. Yesterday, I monkeyed about with the first section, adding little pieces of info and giving it the headings of Background and Setting. I left the Plot section alone – it seems a bit too spoilerish to me but I don’t feel confident about changing it because that’s someone else’s work (ditto there is a reference to a blog, as above these aren’t generally seen as good sources and it seems to be a dead link anyway but it still feels a bit pushy if I delete it…) I have added sections on Genre and Intertextuality too. I’m not sure if I’m happy with any of it so I will have another look at it after work tomorrow if I can.

[UPDATE: Having explored Wikipedia, I now know that spoilers should not be deleted solely because they are spoilers.]

I have inserted a template on the page saying it is being changed and inviting others to help with this. Please do! It would be so good if we created a huge and reliable Wikipedia presence for Mary Stewart. Here is the Touch Not the Cat page – have a look and have a go!

[UPDATE: Tip: You will see within the references in the Wikipedia Touch Not the Cat page that I cite the Australian Author magazine several times. Its archive goes back to 2013 (AA Online) or 2005 (AA Singles) – I got hold of this 1977 article by emailing them. Fortunately, I received a friendly and helpful response to my email and, even more fortunately, this article has survived in the incomplete back catalogue.]

The day ended with us getting to take home some swag, as pictured above, and we were given a certificate for taking part. The certificates were created using the printing press on which the first edition of  Treasure Island was printed – I think I’ve got that right, I felt a bit swoony with the gorgeousness of it all when we were told about that.

Please get in touch if you have any Wikipedia editing or WordPress blogging tips to share. Has anyone else taken part in an editathon?