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Hesburgh Library Edit-a-Thon highlights historic gender gap in South Bend

| Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Hesburgh Library’s Center for Digital Scholarship hosted its first ever Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon to highlight the gap between male and female contributors on the site and to shed light on the historical impact of South Bend women.

The Edit-a-Thon, an event open to Notre Dame as well as the wider South Bend community, taught participants how to edit and contribute articles with a focus on prominent South Bend women.

Kai Smith, a visiting librarian and one of the organizers for the event, said Wikipedia’s platform provided people with the opportunity to both examine the systemic disparity between men and women prevalent in historical study and explore the wealth of prominent figures in South Bend. Although Wikipedia is an online platform with near-universal opportunity for access to those with Internet, the site displays a noticeable gender gap, with only 13 percent of contributors and editors being women.

“It addresses the larger gender gap issue that Wikipedia has of not having many women editors,” Smith said. “It encourages people to not only add female figures to Wikipedia, but also to kind of bridge that gender gap.”

As part of the Edit-a-Thon, participants “adopted” a South Bend woman by researching her life, work and legacy in online databases such as University Archives. Smith said as she and other Notre Dame and South Bend librarians compiled a list of South Bend women to research, she discovered the wealth of prominent female scholars, activists and community leaders who contributed to South Bend’s history. Prominent women included community leaders such as Eugenia Braboy and Helen Pope, religious leaders like Sister Maura Brannick and Sister Mary di Pazzi Rockford and educators such as Gloria Kaufman and Dr. Virgina Calvin.

“There’s pretty amazing people here, and I must say, I was really surprised at the community activism there is,” Smith said. “Even in the founding of Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame, a lot of the sisters were very active in the community and the creation of institutions. It’s pretty phenomenal.”

In order to help participants get started, Smith held several introductory workshops on guidelines for properly starting, editing and citing Wikipedia pages, a process she said is relatively straightforward.

Fellow organizer and librarian Sheila Smyth said South Bend libraries have fostered similar initiatives and hoped the event would become a recurring event.

“I hope it becomes a tradition for Women’s History Month and that it becomes something even public schools can get into,” Smyth said.

Several participants, such as first-year law student Carlene Miller said the event helped shed light on the important role women in South Bend played in community activism. Miller, who focused her research on community activist and healthcare professional Helen Pope, said the Edit-a-Thon gave her the opportunity to explore the achievements of other women in the South Bend area.

“It’s good to see the list of women and see that there’s this long history and tradition of female activism and community activism of women in South Bend,” Miller said.

Fellow first-year law student Christine Bannan said the event helped her understand the importance of contributing to history through online technology and provided an opportunity to both engage with South Bend history and draw attention to social gender bias.

“It made me think about other causes of the gender gap in society,” Bannan said. “Wikipedia is free, it’s public, it’s open access, yet we still have that huge disparity between men and women editing, and it draws attention to the fact that there are more systemic causes.”

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