The Wikipedia Library
Why do publishers give access away and how can you get it?
I watch a lot of TikToks because it is all dopamine. The moment you no longer want to see videos of YIMBYs, it switches to fashion. The algorithm is deft at giving you what you want when you want it. Using the app is probably not the best for someone’s neural chemistry, but your mileage may vary. The video below, by bmacs001, sparked some interesting thoughts after it appeared on my for you. It is only 45 seconds, but it is worth a watch. I reuploaded it to YouTube because the TikTok embeds are not great.
Jake Orlowitz founded the Wikipedia Library in 2011 with the central idea of giving Wikipedians access to sources that only large institutional libraries have access to. At the time, Wikipedia had an informal resource exchange network where people with access to sources would email PDFs to users who needed them. By mid-2012, three companies — JSTOR, High Beam, and Credo — donated a fixed number of accounts. Today, The Wikipedia Library gives access to 99 sources through a mixture of donations and reduced-price purchases.
It is easy to think of the donations of sources as altruistic, but it leads to things in a publisher’s best interest. It is well known that open access papers get cited more often than paywalled ones due to ease of access. Through this effect, Wikipedia articles are more often built on accessible sources rather than the best sources. The way this changes future uses of a source is muddy. A 2013 paper found that the likelihood of citing a source did not increase after its inclusion, but they only looked at a limited number of fields.
A 2016 paper proposed that Wikipedia citations can be used as a measure of impact factor. In 2021, another group of researchers suggested something similar after looking at the use of psychology journals on Wikipedia. Your journal offerings slip in rankings compared to your rivals may decrease future sales when libraries make their yearly round difficult decisions of which very expensive databases to subscribe to.
It only takes 500 edits over 6 months to get access to the Wikipedia Library and then 10 edits each month to maintain access. I use my JSTOR and Newspapers.com subscriptions regularly for projects both on and off Wikipedia. So much useful information is hidden behind paywalls, and it can be yours for a small amount of your time.