Between the Lines

Wikidata Bots: How library staff elevate faculty information and publications for research on the web

Almost everyone has heard of Wikipedia,  a free online encyclopedia created and edited by volunteers, but what about its sister project, Wikidata?  Like Wikipedia, Wikidata is a free and collaboratively edited reference source, but it functions like a database rather than an encyclopedia.  Wikidata imposes a high degree of structure on information, which allows users to ask highly complex questions and receive direct answers. For example, if you want to know how many streets in France are named after women, you can ask Wikidata. (There are 541 at current count.)

Using Wikidata, library staff is able to enhance Vanderbilt’s reputation and advance our broad mission of contributing to the public good by promoting our faculty’s scholarship and making it discoverable and accessible to researchers. The goal of the world-wide WikiCite project is to create a freely-accessible and openly-licensed database of all academic literature, allowing researchers to ask similarly complex questions about scholars and their publications. Since starting the library’s own project, 85 faculty publications have been added with almost 1,700 edits completed. “Our goal is to provide complete information about the scholarly outputs of Vanderbilt faculty,” says Cliff Anderson, Associate University Librarian for Research and Digital Strategy, “While we are just at the beginning, we are excited about the potential impact of this project.”

In pursuit of this goal, Steve Baskauf developed “VanderBot,” a set of scripts that can read and write to Wikidata, greatly improving the efficiency by which Vanderbilt’s faculty are discoverable through Wikidata.  “VanderBot helps us to automate certain tasks,” said Baskauf, Digital Science and Digital Curation Specialist. “The script can determine whether data already exists in a record or can create, for example, a new item, add or change labels and descriptions, or add references and qualifiers to existing statements.” Baskauf has made his code free and available for other coders to adjust to meet their own needs.