“Monika Sengul-Jones is, more or less, she says, “a professional thinker.”
With a background in social theory and a focus on gender and technology, Sengul-Jones said she is concerned with “questions of access and representation” and “how that gets tangled up in objects — mostly digital, but not always.”
This year she joined the Seattle office of the Online Computer Library Center as the Wikipedian-in-Residence, part of the nonprofit’s Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project, aimed at strengthening the ties between U.S. public libraries and the free online encyclopedia.
Sengul-Jones is also GeekWire’s newest Geek of the Week.
“I care about the daily lives of people and how they make sense of their worlds,” Sengul-Jones said. “This informs my approach to gender and technology. More generally, I like to read, think, and to make things — be they projects or metaphorical bridges or new arrangements.”
In addition to her work with OCLC, Sengul-Jones is finishing her doctorate in Communication at UC San Diego.
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Monika Sengul-Jones:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I joined OCLC’s research division [in Seattle] last March as the Wikipedian-in-Residence after devoting a few years to critical outreach and Wikipedia editing. Now I get to geek out over the social, historical, and technical process of collecting ideas into a networked wiki-encyclopedia to raise the profiles of libraries and Wikipedia and their shared visions and missions. It’s awesome: I love encyclopedias, I love bringing the people behind technologies together, and I love libraries. I get to dovetail my intellectual and collaborative work with what the team at WebJunction does best, which is instructional design for public library staff. It’s a dream job — and so relevant to the current needs of our social milieu.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Information literacy is not a new issue for libraries, Wikipedians, or academics. What is unique about the project I’m doing now is bridge-building between these communities. On one hand, public libraries house incredible, diverse and rich collections. They also put on excellent programming. But for-profit search engines are so easy to use. Getting information has never appeared to be so easy. And many of us are going to search engines or social media first, and not to libraries — which provide free access to paywalled articles, books, and put on educational programming. It’s the case for me, if I want information on the fly about my child’s medical condition, for instance, I’ll do a quick search and often end up on Wikipedia. It’s the sixth most accessed website globally. Social research tells me I’m not alone. More than half of doctors’ — medical doctors — source of health care information on the job is Wikipedia. (I’ll let that sink in for a minute.)
“Meanwhile, the volunteers who have built Wikipedia have developed a tremendous social-technical information system to verify what’s published online. But there’s room to improve the participation model. Let’s be honest, not everyone has the capacity to volunteer to write an encyclopedia for free, for fun. The sizable gender gap amongst regular editors has impacted the content, and systemic bias more generally. So in terms of information literacy we’ve got clear opportunity to build a bridge between the public libraries as epicenters of authoritative and verifiable information, and where people are going to get information, which is the internet. These come together with the project I’m working on.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “Fiction, art, conversations with friends and colleagues. My two children, partner, and family also inspire me — they are all goofy. And the library! We take our kids to our local public library at least a couple times a week. So much inspiration there.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Phone. But I also want to make a pitch for bicycles. I’m so tired of traffic, cars (and driverless cars hyped as a solution to mass traffic). I could live without it but I don’t want to. I bicycle to work as much as possible.””
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