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Become a ‘neighborhood librarian’ with Wikidelphia

With an 11-year-old goal of "information advocacy," the editors behind the city's own Wikipedia want you to explore — and maybe join the volunteer ranks, too.

Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution in Old City. (Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)
This is a guest post by Paul Sank, staff editor of Wikidelphia.
Frankly, a lot of us were puzzled as we sat in a 2011 meeting, listening to the instigator, Stan Pokras, tell us about a concept he called “information advocacy.”

It was a new idea to us. Stan was inviting us to volunteer, but we were barely acquiring any grasp of the concept.

I wound up getting more deeply involved than most of the others. Soon, Stan told me another name for his idea. A “neighborhood librarian” would be somebody who would refer neighborhood residents to sources of just about anything they needed. Stan also told me about “city wiki” sites. I then understood that if a neighborhood librarian is to have a full supply of information, it would help to have a home online. Finally, a tangible project emerged: Wikidelphia.

For 11 years now, Stan and I have slowly built Wikidelphia up to scale. We have thousands of pages on subjects from all over the city.

The entries are categorized using mostly verb phrases such as “Is-Social Service,” “Does-Youth Development” or “Teaches-Art.” The category system includes a geographical infrastructure, so to speak, under the “Where” category. I’m especially proud of this feature, because a lot of work went into it. There’s now a category page for every Philly neighborhood, and each page includes a map. It has links to adjoining neighborhoods, too, so you can go “neighborhood hopping.”

Another feature is brought to you by the category “Using-Volunteers.” Most entries under this category have a direct link to where you can inquire about or  sign up to volunteer for a local organization. There are currently 321 such opportunities on Wikidelphia.

At the Fireman’s Hall Museum. (Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)

One thing that has surprised me is how many museums Philadelphia has. Stop for a moment and take a guess how many! … Ready? Under our category “Is-Museum,” we currently have 92. A few are outside the city, but wow, Philly has a lot of museums!

Something that I had to get used to was the fact that Wikidelphia doesn’t have a standard page format. Stan wanted to make pages his way, and I wanted to have an unchanging format. We compromised. Stan formats pages his way, I format them my way, and when we get more editors on board, they’ll be at liberty, too.

Let me tell you something I thoroughly enjoy: To find new subjects, I look through a long list of Philly news sources every week. Much to my delight, sometimes I find a useful story about a place that has barely opened yet. It’s that new! Sometimes I find a story about a place that is still being planned, or it’s under construction.

For example, I saw a story about the Museum of the American Revolution many months before it opened. I started a page about it. Over the following months, I found more stories and added them to the page. By the time the museum did open, I already had a full page about it, including the history of its opening as told by journalists in a list of stories. I love it when this happens.

I hope you’ll find Wikidelphia helpful enough to visit it regularly. If you’d like to suggest a new page, our Main Page has a prominent link for that. At the top of the Main Page, you can “Request account” and become a volunteer editor. Unlike at Wikipedia, we’ll train you personally.

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