Improving discoverability and accessibility of information resources with Wikidata

Jay Colbert is the Metadata & Discovery Strategy Librarian at the University of New Hampshire, where he develops policies, best practices, standards, and directions for all forms of metadata. Having a background in participating in many Wikipedia edit-a thons including organizing Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thons at the College of William & Mary and the University of Utah, Colbert was familiar with the Wikimedia world, but he’d never edited Wikidata. So he signed up for one of Wiki Education’s Wikidata Institute courses with an interest in improving discovery of and access to his information resources.

Jay Colbert

Colbert primarily focused on editing the page of Oscar Wilde under the username Dorianjay. He noticed how the current references were unreliable, thus updating the page.

“Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite authors and historical figures, and I wanted to see if there was anything I could contribute to his page,” Colbert says. “Some of the statements on his page included information that wasn’t referenced or of good quality, so I ended up editing the pages for those related items a lot.”

Colbert also stumbled upon his own item someone had created and was intrigued viewing his professional life from a third person perspective.

“It was interesting to see what statements another person could make about me with the available public resources,” Colbert says. “And it was nice to be able to update what needed updating, such as my photo or my preferred professional name.”’

As Colbert was editing Wikidata, he noticed that values within statements could be ranked through deprecation or preference. With this structure, all values that have been true for a property (such as where a person lived or the name of a country) can coexist; contradictory information can also coexist. Database queries will favor the preferred values.

But Colbert also observed how the visual order of statements and values could introduce bias or affect how a person thinks about the information.

“During the course, I was noticing the visual order of statements and their values for Wikidata items,” Colbert says. “A database won’t register any sort of hierarchy based on that order unless a value within a statement is preferred or deprecated, for example, but a human reading it or editing it still might. Visual hierarchy is an important consideration in UX design.”

Colbert’s observations while editing in Wikidata, this ultimately led to a scholarship idea he recently submitted to the “Code4lib Journal” proposing that individuals approach data as cyborgs.

“My proposed scholarship would take a theoretical cue from Donna Haraway’s ‘A Cyborg Manifesto,’ which posits the idea of the cyborg as a rejection of rigid boundaries, primarily between humans and animals, and humans and machines,” Colbert says. “I argue that we should become ‘cyborgs’ and move beyond the human/machine binary when editing and creating structured data for Wikidata. I hope that doing so would expand our understanding of what Wikidata can be and do and would help us reckon with who or what we prioritize when creating structured data.”

Colbert encourages other librarians to take advantage of Wikidata and its tools, as they provide a variety of information that others can learn from. Taking the Wikidata Institute course was a great first step for him.

“Librarians can also use Wikidata without editing it, either in metadata projects or even research projects. Wikidata can be a great tool for teaching information literacy and search skills because all the data is queryable. And like with Wikipedia, you can teach the importance of evaluating the sources used for items.”

Colbert is currently working with his colleagues on the Homosaurus, an international LGBTQ linked data vocabulary used by libraries and other cultural institutions all over the world. The vocabulary aims to serve as a companion to broader subject vocabularies and enhance discoverability of LGBTQ resources.

“Most of the work involves filling current gaps in the Homosaurus and other vocabularies. For example, right now, the board is working through approving terms relating to non-monogamy,” Colbert says. “I am developing terms relating to slash fiction (fanfiction where the main couple is queer, normally male/male) and fandom in general.”

Homosaurus terms can be added to Wikidata items as a form of authority control.

On Wikidata, Colbert knows that by doing something as simple as adding a date or reference to a statement, he is making a significant impact on the movement to increase access to accurate information.

To enroll in a Wikidata course similar to the one Jay took, visit

Image of Jay Credit: Dorianjay, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hero Image Credit: Olivier Aumage, CC BY-SA 2.0 FR, via Wikimedia Commons


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