From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
me in the WMF offices, June 2010. Credit Sage Ross.

Hello! And welcome. My name is Phoebe Ayers. I am an academic engineering librarian, currently based in Cambridge, Massachusetts where I work for MIT Libraries. I've been writing about, editing and using Wikipedia on and off since August 2003. There is always something else I want to do.

I work on Wikipedia, but I also talk and write about it a lot in various contexts, and as a former member of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation was involved in our project-wide governance. I have also been involved in a variety of other projects, including lots of in-person outreach and event work, detailed below.

For why I work on Wikipedia -- why I started and why I continue -- see my essay Why work on Wikipedia?

You start talking about the long term — about being one of the first large information sources on the web that is truly free. You start talking about what will happen if this works; that because it's free, it's going to be the default resource for a whole lot of people, and you start to get a little bit awed by the responsibility to build it properly, and keep it open, and keep it sane, and most of all, to get the facts right, because this work is going to be a base on which many unforeseeable future projects will be built. -- user:CatherineMunro

Other userpages: on meta ~~ on other projects

Things I do around here[edit]

Board of Trustees[edit]

me at Wikimania 2012, on how to make Wikipedia better (also, by the looks of it, on how to survive sleep deprivation)

In July 2010 I was selected for a two-year term on the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees through the chapters seat selection process. During 2011-2012 I served as the Executive Secretary. In July 2012 my term ended, as I was not re-elected by the chapters. With the resignation of Arne Klempert (who held the other chapter-appointed seat), we were replaced by Alice Weigand and Patricio Lorente.

I ran for the board again in Spring 2013 and was reelected by the community for a two-year term, serving until 2015.

The 10-member volunteer Board of Trustees governs the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the infrastructure for Wikipedia and her sister projects, as well as development and maintenance of the MediaWiki software. The work of the Foundation includes legal, press, financial, technical and administrative support, as well as community-focused activities; the Board is responsible for fiduciary and legal oversight as well as charting the strategic direction of the WMF, including thinking about the future of the Wikimedia projects and movement as a whole. That means that the Board approves the annual plan (budget) for the WMF, but also think about longer-term strategy and "big picture" issues. You can find more about the Board here.

  • Note: unless explicitly stated otherwise, please assume that any edits or statements I make here (or on any other projects) I am making as a community member and not in any official capacity whatsoever.

Book: How Wikipedia Works[edit]

With Charles Matthews and Ben Yates, I am the author of How Wikipedia Works, a book about using and editing Wikipedia. It was published in September 2008 by No Starch Press. Find more information here, or find the full text of the book at Wikibooks: How Wikipedia Works. The book is licensed under the GFDL, relicensed under CC-BY-SA, and covers all aspects of Wikipedia from a community perspective. The book's official website is

If you are interested in leaving comments or questions, please add them to the Wikibooks site or feel free to email me. The old page about the book, with suggestions, can be found here; user:phoebe/book; Feel free to email me if you would like to be notified of announcements and news about the book. Cheers!

Article (and other) editor[edit]

This user has been editing Wikipedia for more than 15 years (20 years, 1 month, and 21 days)

  • Editor on en:wp since August 2003 | 10K+ edits as of 2011 sometime | 15K edits as of Jan 2015 (I am slow but thorough)
  • As of 2019-20, I've been focusing on climate change related articles, and trying to analyze quality of these. I've also been working on articles about prisons and related topics.
  • You'll see me editing a smattering of lots of things, thanks to leading editathons and helping others edit.
  • I have a decade+ project going to work on historical scientific biographies and related topics. I care about the library articles and core topics, and have historically worked on marine science articles. I like doing merges. Lately I've been doing a lot of work on biographies, both old and new.
  • However, I also have interests in lots of other areas and I like to research things. Sometimes I just fix typos, or merge articles, or rewrite clunky phrasing. Things I'd like to see improved include core articles, heavily-accessed articles, applied science and technology articles (including engineering), and sourcing for nearly everything.
  • Referencing is my true love. I estimate I've added roughly a couple hundred references (so far) to print sources for articles I didn't originally write, mostly due to my Dictionary of Scientific Biography project.
  • Lately I've been doing a lot of fixing and maintenance of references, especially working off of this vast list and fixing broken links. This often entails updating the journal name if it's wrong (often is), checking other metadata, and finding a current or archived URL.
  • a very, very outdated list of contributions | see what I've been up to lately

Conferences and meetups[edit]

10 years, baby!

I am a big believer in the benefit of getting together face-to-face to build community, socialize, and get work done. I feel extremely privileged that I have gotten to meet Wikimedians and go to Wikimedia events on five continents, over many years. I have organized or helped with the organization of dozens of events, large and small, in the Wikimedia world. Here's an incomplete list:

  • Wikimania: I have had the great joy of being involved in the international Wikimania conferences, and I care a lot about making it a great event. I have been involved in writing and fixing up the event handbook and documentation on meta, at m:Wikimania. My involvement has been as an organizer (Wikimania 2006-2009) and I ran the program of Wikimania 2017 in the beautiful city of Montreal; as a bid jury member, moderator or advisor (Wikimania 2007-2012), and as a presenter/moderator at the actual conference (2005-2013, 2018). I'm currently on the Wikimania Steering Committee. For a full resume of my participation (and a scratchpad for notes), see here. As of 2020, I have been to all of the Wikimanias except Esino Lario (2016): 15 years of amazing intercontinental joy.
  • WikiConference North America: WikiConference North America in San Diego, 2016 was the third annual all-hands editor conference in North America, with participants from Canada, Mexico and the United States. I helped run the conference with a fine crew of folks. I also co-led WikiConference 2019 hosted at MIT and Boston. So great!
  • WikiSym: WikiSym is an academic conference about wikis and open collaboration; it is unaffiliated with Wikimedia but there is obvious overlap -- many research papers about Wikipedia get presented at WikiSym. I was chair of WikiSym 2010 and was on the conference steering committee for a few years; I have also been on the program committee and planning committee as Wikimedia liaison (for 2008 and 2009 respectively).
  • RCC: I went to several of the early "Recent Changes Camps" for wiki enthusiasts, and helped out with Recent Changes Camp San Francisco, May 9-11 2008: "The family reunion for the wiki ohana!"
  • Anniversaries: I was involved in both the 10 year anniversary and the 20th anniversary of Wikipedia celebrations: for the 10th I helped run a 2-day conference + party in San Francisco, and for the 20th (a Covid year) I ran a trivia game for our global webcast!
  • Local meetups: I was involved with the irregular San Francisco-area meetups, which has a mailing list & regular activities. I also helped out with SF-area events, notably our annual booth at Maker Faire. In 2013 (and beyond) I ran events at the University of California, Davis.
  • Boston: I help run the long-running Boston meetup group and organize regular events at MIT Libraries with my colleagues there, which everyone is welcome to attend.

The Real-Life Barnstar
For your dedication to Wikipedia meetups, and that Kat had given you the RL version -- User:WikiLeon

UC Davis WikiProject[edit]

In 2013-2014, I worked on the UC Davis WikiProject, a GLAM project based in the UC Davis libraries to train students, faculty and librarians in how to edit, produce evaluation and analysis materials, share UC libraries materials on Wikipedia, build community and work with other UC libraries. A page about the project is here. This was (I think) the first long-term Wikipedia project based specifically out of a university library (as opposed to a national library, a museum, or another type of department).

The project, and my work, was focused on running training workshops (edit-a-thons and teaching workshops) for the UC Davis and surrounding community throughout the academic year; assessing the level of interest in Wikipedia on campus; and building some tools for evaluating articles and assessing contributions that will be of interest to academics contributing to Wikipedia.

Note: this disclaimer isn't really needed anymore since I no longer work for UCD or am working on the project, but I'll keep it for historical interest. Disclaimer: While my focus is on training others to edit and making sure faculty teaching with Wikipedia and librarians interested in adding materials have the information they need, rather than editing specific articles myself, you may see me categorizing or tagging UC-related articles and articles relating to subjects studied at UCD (especially our specialties in science and agriculture). Additionally, while this project is part of my job, it is unrelated to my work as a Wikimedia trustee and also unrelated to the editing I continue to do as a volunteer. I do not believe this project poses a conflict of interest (but rather is an opportunity to spend *even more* of my time on Wikipedia work), and have checked with the WMF legal team about any conflicts with my other Wikimedia duties. If you have concerns about any of my work, (as always) please feel free to revert any of my changes and leave a note with any concerns on my talk page.

Boston and MIT meetups[edit]

Beginning in 2015, I've been helping my amazing colleagues at the MIT Libraries run edit-a-thons on site. Here's a few; a complete list is at the Boston meetup page. All our events are open to the whole community.

And I've been doing occasional stuff with the New England Meetup group, like organizing our 2016 Wiknic! I'm the 2019-20 chair of the group.

Other projects[edit]

research into Wikipedia
  • I'm interested in and participate in the Wikipedia and wiki research community. I presented a short paper at m:Wikimania 2005; completed a literature review of ongoing research that was presented at ASIS&T'06; and helped with a successful research BoF at Wikimania '06. As per above, I was also involved with WikiSym (an academic conference about wikis), chairing it in 2010. Check out the new Research index on meta!
Signpost community newsletter
  • For several years, I have contributed occasional stories for the Signpost; in 2009, I was the lead reporter for the "news and notes" section, writing almost every week, stopping when I joined the Board of Trustees out of fears of conflicts of interest.
  • I give general presentations about wikis and Wikipedia to various groups, particularly librarians. In recent years I have presented at:
    • The American Libraries Association annual conference
    • The Special Libraries Association annual conference
    • The Charleston conference
    • SXSW
    • and several other venues.
  • A handout I developed for librarians may be found here. I am happy to share slides, notes, and thoughts on what works & what doesn't. More notes are here. Someday I will get around to making a full listing of my talks, with slides! But that day is not today. You can, however, find my recent stock Wikipedia presentations on Slideshare.

I sometimes give interviews, as a Wikipedian or on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation. I have been interviewed for both radio and print stories, and on a few occasions for TV. I am a member of the Communications Committee (comcom) list and help out where I can.

  • I am interested in good essays about Wikipedia; please add them to essays.
  • I also served on the now-defunct m:Special Projects Committee, from May 2006-2007ish.
  • for a couple of years in from late 2008-early 2010, I worked on summarizing the Foundation-l mailing list at the List Summary Service; hopefully this is useful to those who need to quickly catch up with the list.
  • I can often be found on IRC, where I go by brassratgirl; and can sometimes be found sending long-winded posts to various Wikimedia mailing lists. I almost always regret this in the morning.

Things I do in other places[edit]

In the rest of my life, I am a librarian at the amazing MIT, specializing in electrical engineering and computer science. I have academic training in literature and history, as well as library science, and have worked as an engineering librarian at UC Davis and the University of Washington as well as MIT. Professionally, I am interested in open access and scholarly communications issues, scientific information and data management, collection management, how people find and learn to find information, the effective use of collaborative tools (such as wikis) within communities, and how trustworthy information and knowledge is created both on- and off-line. I have a personal website here.

Things I care about[edit]

  • Foundation governance, transparency, and sustainability; integrating new contributors into governance smoothly; exploring what it really means to "lead with a community."
  • Goodwill and fun with my fellow Wikipedians: hence, meetups and Wikimania :) Events are very important to the community as a whole, and I encourage everyone to go to and organize meetups.
  • References and sources in articles. This is not about arguing whether crufty websites 'count' as sources; this is about making sure the 90% of totally verifiable content gets good references added, for the sake of the readers.
  • Communicating about Wikipedia.
  • Gender on the projects; the construction of outsiders versus insiders, and implications for creating knowledge.
  • Free knowledge; parse this as you will.
This user knows that
Black Lives Matter.

Friends and usernames[edit]

1.9This user has 1.9 centijimbos.

on usernames

I use the name [[user:phoebe]] on all the Wikimedia wikis; I do not have a second or official account. I will always note when I am explicitly making an "official" edit (such as when uploading board minutes); everything else I say and do on my own behalf, and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the WMF, MIT, or any other organization.

There are a few User:Phoebe accounts on a few smaller wikis that date to pre-SUL that aren't me. I think none of those folks are active, though.

I used to edit content under the name brassratgirl. I generally teach and present using my given name. That username is longstanding and has nothing whatsoever to do with MIT, or this. It is also not symbolic of anything in particular. If you're curious, ask and I'll send you the explanation. (I am also not user:BrassRat, or related to any other variation). wikihiero

personal principles[edit]

From the past: or the use common sense department, or why it's good to remember not to make a big deal out of things.
On RFAs and project history

A question from the very first batch of archived RFAs, in 2003 (around the time I joined the project):

  • Wow. I don't know. What are the responsibilities of being a sysop?
  • As far as I know, there aren't really any responsibilities, just a list of obvious things not to do.

I'd encourage anyone new to the project who is thinking about being an adminstrator, or who is getting heavily involved, to read up on your history; many of these friendly people are still around today, though many others sadly aren't.

On policy
  • If all policy discussion was conducted in verse, the world would be so much better.
On sourcing

I wrote a mini-essay about why sourcing is important, and posted it on Foundation-L. You can join those (unfortunate?) readers here.

On arguments
  • (nb: I wrote the following paragraph soon after joining wp, but it holds true today; though after a couple of years I don't mind holding my own in a debate, I still don't participate in many arguments.) Things I like doing on Wikipedia: browsing, wikifying, adding citations, verifying things like bibliographies and expanding articles about common yet complicated things, and having the sense of working on an encyclopedia in the grand tradition of same, albeit in a completely new fashion. I also like reading articles. Things I don't like at all: debates about controversial subjects, flame or edit wars.
On pet peeves:
things to keep:
  • A few of the unpopular things I have fought to keep over the years:
On mergers

Oppose. Bananas do not have nearly the nutirition and great flavor of plantains when cooked right. It would be an insult to plantains to combine the two. from Talk:Banana.

On splits

People seem to think that Gauge Theory is difficult. Bah! What's really confusing is the history of this article ;) From Talk:Gauge theory

On trivia
from user:rothorpe
  • On trivia
    • I'm in favour of trivia sections
    • People will add their pet facts
    • Reverting them feels cruel, integrating them feels foolish
    • Apartheid for trivia is the best policy

Editing resources[edit]

A referencing challenge[edit]

There are many useful and scholarly online sources of further reading and information that I feel should be systematically cited in appropriate articles. For example:

for those with access to printed or expensive resources:

  • see here for a project to collect history of science biographical resources

more to come

editing and teaching resources[edit]

be afraid

Random things:


These are handouts for learning and teaching Wikipedia. Feel free to print them, distribute them, use them for presentations, change them, claim them, whatever you need to do.

Tip of the moment...
Watching for changes

Clicking the "Recent changes" link in the interaction menu on every page will give you a list of all edits in the last few minutes. If you just want to watch for changes to articles you have edited, use your Watchlist. You can add articles to your Watchlist by clicking "Watch this page" tab (starred) at the top of any article (the talk page will be auto-watched, too). You can click "Related changes" in the toolbox menu on any page to see changes made to the pages linked from the one you are viewing. And finally, you can click the "My contributions" link to view a log of your edits; if yours is no longer the edit marked with "top", then someone else has edited the page.

To add this auto-randomizing template to your user page, use {{totd-random}}


This article does not cite its references or sources.
You can help Wikipedia by not citing "My Friend Carl" as a source.[3]

shamelessly stolen from user:Ravedave

Reference: unreferenced/unsourced template should be used extremely liberally | as should Template:Not verified | Wikipedia:WikiProject Fact and Reference Check | Wikipedia:Newspapers and magazines request service | journals cited by Wikipedia

Librariana: Wikipedia:WikiProject Librarians | Library-stub articles | Wikipedia:Reference Desk

Research: Wikipedia:WikiProject Wikidemia | (see also: meta)

Fix it: Wikipedia:Cleanup resources | cleanup templates | articles to be merged (perhaps my favorite cleanup task | Wikipedia:Typo | the professor test | Engineering x fact-check articles | Electrical Eng x fact-check | Unreferenced BLPs | db reports | broken ref names | no sources | citation needed (8,111 from Feb '07 | 309,558 total - on Feb. 12, 2013 |328,455 total on Nov. 12, 2013) | ref cleanup | a satisfying task

Make it great: Wikipedia 1.0 | Wikipedia:List of articles all languages should have | Template:Grading_scheme and Category:Wikipedia editorial validation (meta-discussion) | core biographies!

Meet: Wikipedia:Meetup (I'm still a Seattleite at heart) | Wikimania

Tools: catscan, the greatest thing ever | stats are good for you