May 12, 2018

Susan Barnum | Movers & Shakers 2018 – Advocates

Susan Barnum


Public Services Librarian, El Paso Public Library, TX


MLIS, University of North Texas, 2013


@megalibrarygirl on Twitter; WikiProject Women in Red; Wikipedia User: Megalibrarygirl

Photo by Bernardo Jauregui


Wiki Woman

“Susan Barnum’s work as a public services librarian at the El Paso Public Library has impacted millions of people,” says nominator Merrilee Proffitt of OCLC. How has she affected so many? By editing Wikipedia.

Barnum’s volunteer work on Wikipedia (where she goes by MegaLibraryGirl) and her day job go hand in hand. “I have all these books sitting around, and they fill in a gap for references on Wikipedia,” she says. One of the 350 Wikipedia articles Barnum wrote is about El Paso’s El Segundo Barrio. She later learned that the piece was used as background in an El Paso History Museum exhibit. Illuminating underappreciated ethnic history is just one aspect of Barnum’s work. As Librarian in Residence at the Women in Red (WiR) WikiProject, she helps increase representation by writing or editing Wikipedia articles about notable women worldwide.

The names of people mentioned on Wikipedia who don’t have their own article appear as red rather than blue links, hence the group name. “When Women in Red started [in late 2015], only about 15 percent of biographies on Wikipedia were about women,” says Barnum. “In writing about history, there’s going to be a bias against women, because men got the chance to do more things. But it shouldn’t be [that] bad.” By October 2017, the percentage had increased to over 17.

As Librarian in Residence, she’s the go-to person for people who “need reference help or to find an offline book or [info] in a database,” says Barnum. “Most of the time I’m able to [help], but if I can’t, the great thing about being a librarian is that if you reach out to other librarians, they want to help, too.”

“For a lot of reasons, women get buried in history,” says Barnum. “Sometimes there isn’t a single source that gives a lot of information about a given woman; instead, you have to look around. That leads people who don’t know a lot about women’s history to want to delete the article. So we’re always working to make sure our articles are well referenced so they don’t get challenged and deleted.”

Making sure that women aren’t written out of history is crucial to Barnum. “People tend to focus on what men did,” she explains. “Women were very active against apartheid, for example. There are so many amazing women around the world…. I’m glad I get to meet them this way and know them a little bit.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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