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Student placement collaboration between faculty and YUL empowers student contributions on Black Histories

Student placement collaboration between faculty and YUL empowers student contributions on Black Histories

Teaching and Learning

Collaborating with YorkU Libraries

Collaboration between York U Libraries and a fourth-year public history course is helping students to produce web profiles via Wikimedia platforms—all in an effort to change the way Black histories are being shared online.

York U librarians and archivists provide expertise to fourth-year History students on new ways of learning and engaging with sources for Wikipedia and Wikidata

At a time when the rate of the creation and sharing of information is rapidly increasing and contributing to disinformation, librarians and teaching faculty in postsecondary institutions are finding new ways to incorporate information literacy into their instructional goals.
Now, a new collaboration between York U Libraries and a fourth-year public history course in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), is helping students conduct well-sourced research to produce web profiles via Wikimedia platforms—all in an effort to change the way Black histories are being shared online.

This year, York U Libraries supported the placement of two students from HIST4840, taught by Jennifer Bonnell, associate professor in the Department of History at York University, where they worked as research assistants at the libraries and during the Black Histories Wikipedia and Wikidata Edit-a-thon, a collaboration between York University, University of Toronto, Toronto Metropolitan University and the Toronto Public Library.

“This year’s addition of the Black Histories Edit-a-thon project has provided a great opportunity for my students to be involved in a real-time, crowd-sourced method of making historical sources from marginalized groups more accessible to researchers and the interested public,” said Bonnell. “The project offered an opportunity for hands-on work to bring Black history to wider audiences and my students have gained transferable skills in working with digital scholarship applications, event planning and facilitation.”

— Jennifer Bonnell, Associate Professor, Department of History, York University

Read More about Professor Bonnell's history course

From Left to Right: Alanna Brown, Leena Hussein (fourth-year history students) and Alexandra Wong, Data Visualization and Analytics Librarian, YorkU Libraries

This year’s placement provided a unique way for librarians and archivists to not only provide expertise but help culminate the students’ learning in an annual multi-university event.

“For us at York U libraries, our librarians and archivists are able to share our deep knowledge of our collections and resources with our students and communities,” said Alexandra Wong, Data Visualization and Analytics Librarian, Open Scholarship Department. “We also bring our vast experience with working with primary, secondary, and tertiary sources and how to use those sources for citations in Wikipedia and Wikidata to create a better system where the sum of all knowledge is well sourced.”

During this placement, students, Leena Hussein and Alanna Brown are learning how organizations like galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAM) are contributing to the public record and students learned how to write for public audiences. This includes how to edit and create Wikipedia articles and Wikidata items using sources from York University Libraries to celebrate Black histories.

"Growing up in Canada our education system for Black history stops at the Underground Railroad and there’s so much more to Black history than that, it includes stories of Black excellence, Black agency, and Black joy, so I find that joining this placement is very important in the sense that I’m helping to bring more information to Black history that’s outside of Black struggle and enslavement."

—Alanna Brown, fourth-year History student, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), York University.

Students also further engage with the network of academic and public libraries to support the collaborative effort of the Black History Edit-a-thon, which includes co-creating editing topics, public outreach, and helping to facilitate the Edit-a-thon. The edit-a-thon also brings together a group of interdisciplinary scholars and students to improve the coverage and quality of Black content online through weekly synchronous sessions.

Professor Bonnell says unique experiences like the Black History edit-a-thon can have an impact in more than just their education in the course.

“Projects like this often play an important role in shaping their choices for future careers and next steps beyond graduation,” said Bonnell. “An opportunity to work closely with library staff and to learn about the career pathways and training that staff pursued helps students to make career choices of their own. Placements like this become the first step in developing a professional network they can choose to carry with them into graduate study and future career opportunities.”

Hussein agrees.

“What I've learned through this program has much to do with tangible skills, such as editing for example, and understanding how software in these databases is run,” says Hussein, a fourth-year history student. “I’ve also learned intangible skills such as understanding how biases are created in media and in these platforms. I found that in having this knowledge, I'm much better able to understand why things are the way they are and how I as an individual can help to make things better.”

The students gained familiarity and appreciation for open knowledge and metadata, learned how they influence the public’s interaction with history, and the slow and careful labour involved with producing open knowledge on important subjects. The skills gained included working with primary and secondary sources from the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collection and York University Map Library, writing for the public (non-academic writing) through Wikipedia contributions, how to structure open data for reuse, and practices to facilitate a collaborative and community-driven event.

"I am delighted projects like this create immediate positive outcomes and experiences for students who are gaining excellent experiences participating in publishing projects. Libraries for some time now have provided publishing experience for our students from more traditional platforms such as books and journals that we manage and host to newer models of publishing such as this wikimedia project. Each publishing output brings unique considerations that students are exposed to and must think through in order to participate. This uniquely aligns with York University Libraries prioritizing UNSDG goals.”

— Joy Kirchner, Dean of York University Libraries.

“It's just been very surreal to be able to create and just know that I'm making some sort of difference,” said Hussein, who was inspired by her experience and now applying to a Masters of Library Science program.

“For faculty like me, collaborations with YorkU librarians are enormously valuable: librarians and archivists can offer hands-on training for students in archival research and digital scholarship applications,” said Bonnell. “The workshops they offer in these areas have been valuable to my undergraduate and graduate students, and they help me as a researcher keep up to date on digital applications that can aid my research and its dissemination. In short, they offer immersive experiences and training in practical research and research dissemination technologies beyond what I can offer in the classroom. They are a vital partner in equipping our students for a rapidly changing career landscape.”

For more information on the Black Histories Wiki-edit-a-thon, read more here.

For information on Professor Bonnell's history course, read more here.

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