Edinburgh University searches for ‘Wikimedians’

The Encyclopedia Britannica was founded in Edinburgh. Picture: Tony Marsh
The Encyclopedia Britannica was founded in Edinburgh. Picture: Tony Marsh
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EDINBURGH is famous as the home of the Encyclopedia Britannica – now one of its most prestigious universities is to embark on the next stage of the information revolution.

Bosses at Edinburgh University have unveiled plans for a team of “Wikimedians” who will work to boost the range and accuracy of data available on Wikipedia and similar open-access platforms.

They are looking to hire a “Wikimedian in residence” amid moves towards creating a “network” of experts tasked with co-ordinating and presenting specialist information held by the university.

The fixed-term, part-time position – which has a pro-rata salary of between £31,000 and £37,000 – will see the 
successful candidate collaborate with university staff, 
students and members of the public to improve digital skills and knowledge access.

University chiefs have stressed the plans are not aimed at promoting their institution or securing “positive spin”.

An advertisement for the post states: “Do you have an eye for detail and a love of facts? Are you an experienced Wikimedian with experience working with the Wikimedia community?

“What would you do to engage our staff and students in editing, contributing and sharing open knowledge? We are recruiting a Wikimedian in Residence to work in Information Services alongside our learning technologists, archivists, librarians and information literacy teams.”

Recruitment plans come as the number of people using Wikipedia continues to soar, with figures suggesting the internet-based encyclopedia is receiving around 330 million different visitors a month.

The site is written collaboratively by largely anonymous volunteers who are not paid.

Anyone with internet access can produce and make changes to articles, except in cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption or vandalism.

Edinburgh University’s Wikimedia plans also underline the city’s status as an international centre for information access.

The first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica – the oldest English-language general encyclopedia – was issued here in 1768 and sold by printer Colin Macfarquhar at his office in Nicolson Street.

James Blake, a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Young Academy and a senior lecturer in journalism and TV at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “If this teaches and trains Edinburgh staff and students to embrace and engage with technology, and make best use of mobile platforms, then that’s a good thing.

“And if it makes people more aware of what Edinburgh 
University is doing, and how they can get involved with it, that can also be a good thing.”

But political figures have criticised the plans as a waste of money.

Cameron Buchanan, Conservative Lothian MSP, said: “It sounds very much like a gimmick to try and inform people that they’re up to date with social media, but I don’t think it is a priority for the university – particularly with cuts to the education budget.

“The salary seems excessive – it’s very high. I think the money could be better spent on other things at the university.”

Edinburgh University Students’ Association and the National Union of Students declined to comment.

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com