At the beginning of 2019, in cooperation with Wikimedia Serbia, a program for training our senior fellow citizens to write articles on Wikipedia was launched in the Belgrade City Library. Workshops, in which participants get one-on-one training, are held once a week. The workshops last for 4 hours, and the participants are free to decide for themselves how much time they want to devote to this activity within the given period. The age of the students is not limited, nor is the level of digital (computer) literacy.
The idea of launching this project originated from several phenomena characteristic of modern society:
Retirement – punishment or reward?
The end of working life, retirement, is a kind of stress for every person. The daily rhythm, life and work habits change and life slows down. In modern consumer society, it is a common view that upon retirement one ceases to be a socially useful entity and becomes a social burden. Such attitude to a retired person can cause profound psychological trauma and withdrawal from public life. 1 All the more so if one considers that the working age limit, according to psychotherapist Dr. Zoran Milivojević, has shifted from 65 to 70 in modern society. This means that people who retire today are still active members of society, whose knowledge and experience should not be easily dismissed.
Retirement raises the problem of excess free time, and therefore the need to fulfil it with some creative activities. Many people continue their professional engagement after retirement, while others devote themselves to volunteering in various ways. In such circumstances, excess leisure is no longer a problem, but becomes a benefit and a privilege.
Volunteer work and what motivates it
It is a misconception that money is the primary motivator for a job to be done responsibly and in good quality. However, many scientific studies, conducted from the mid-20th century to the present, have led to the realization that a far greater motivator can often be purposefulness, that is, the awareness that our work is needed and useful to someone, even if it is not followed by a monetary reward. Volunteer work is just that kind of activity, work without compensation, but for the general benefit. One of the most famous, though by no means the only example, is Wikipedia. As already known, Wikipedia is a free open source encyclopedia, edited exclusively by amateurs and volunteers. Thousands of volunteers, editors worldwide, are not motivated by material gain. Their motivation is the inner satisfaction while working on a particular project and the awareness of the usefulness of that work for the wider community. In addition, participants in such and similar projects acquire new knowledge and skills, build their reputation, and with that comes a material reward. 2 It does not have to be expressed solely in the form of money. More and more people are also pleased to be able to socialize, go on excursions and trips, attend gatherings at which they can present their success and the like.
Wikipedia is "a free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit"
You probably read this sentence at least once a week while searching for content on the Internet. The first hit on Google search is likely to be a Wikipedia article, if such an article exists on a key term. Wikipedia is a 21st century phenomenon. An open, free encyclopaedia edited by volunteers. All of them are dedicated to one goal - the spread of free knowledge. One of the Wikipedia slogans around the world reads:
"Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing."
There are no restrictions on who can write and edit Wikipedia articles, but there are some requirements. One of the basic is that the information written in the article must be accurate and verifiable. That's why writing articles on Wikipedia involves exploring a given topic beforehand, either through electronic or written media. In addition, the transfer of knowledge always carries with it a moral responsibility, so editing articles, or placing information on such a widely available source, requires some seriousness in the approach.
Wikipedia, on the other hand, is a volunteer project, and volunteerism, that is, an individual's awareness of doing something voluntarily and without material compensation for the benefit of the wider community, brings with it inner satisfaction and a sense of purpose.
The Wiki Senior project is a blend of these three social phenomena. By engaging on Wikipedia, retirees can fulfil their free time and meet their intellectual needs very well, and Wikipedia receives new editors and new quality articles available to the entire community.
Seniors write articles on Wikipedia
The purpose of the Wiki Senior project is to include retirees, people who have completed their working lives but still want to pursue their profession, that is, to continue to actively contribute to the community, in the creation of Wikipedia, the world's largest encyclopaedia. Given the diverse interests of the project participants, the topic is not strictly assigned, but everyone writes articles according to their interests. As the Belgrade City Library is an institution that deals primarily with culture, the emphasis is on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Serbia, and it is this topic that set the project off.
The workshops are designed to be held once a week at a set time. This designated time is a form of commitment for our participants, which evokes a sense of usefulness and responsibility to the community. At the same time, these workshops also provide the opportunity to get to know each other and have a high quality socializing, and in order to complete this segment, the project envisages joint visits to Belgrade museums.
As volunteer work involves voluntary participation in the project according to the individual's capabilities, participants are not required to come regularly and all at the same time. Workshops are usually held with 5 participants, which is the optimum number for individual work with each of them. Two librarians - instructors - take part in the workshops with the participants.
The project was already under trial in late 2018. It started with a group of retirees who knew almost nothing about working on a computer. Namely, our library has been organizing a program of basic training for retirees for work on computers "65+" for several years. A group of participants in this program was offered the opportunity to participate in the Wiki Senior project. Most of them accepted this challenge. We should stress that in this group there were people who retired at least 10 years ago, so during their working life they had almost no contact with computers and modern technologies.
The official start of the project was in April 2019, when promotional material was also printed, available at all branches of the Belgrade City Library. There were significant reactions to this type of promotion, while occasional mentions in the media also contributed. Several participants also came upon the recommendation of those who had already tried their hand at writing articles. The project started with a group of 9 participants, and six months later, in early October, that number doubled.
The very process of creating Wikipedia articles requires mastering certain more advanced computer skills. During this process, it is necessary to find data, create an article according to Wikipedia rules, fill in various forms, all of which certainly leads to the improvement of motor skills, especially for those participants who have not had contact with computers before. Then you need to remember all these functions, which can be quite complex even for slightly advanced participants. This is certainly a form of mental exercise. Writing an article also arouses curiosity to learn something new about the topic, and according to psychotherapist Dr. Zoran Milivojević, curiosity connects elderly people to the modern world and helps them stay up to date. Milivojević also believes that working on a computer allows them to keep up with modern technologies. This helps them maintain contact with time and the world they live in. This can slow down mental aging and improve quality of life to a great extent.
According to the Federal Bureau of Statistics, according to the 2011 census, there were about 4.5% of computer-literate population over 65 in Belgrade at the time, while in the population aged 50-64 this percentage was about 34%. Since 8 years have passed since then, the number of computer literate people over the age of 65 has clearly increased, and this trend will inevitably continue. Considered in this light, the Wiki Senior project is a form of adult education that aims to improve the quality of life of the individual as well as the entire community. The library as an institution can play a large role in this process, as it has traditionally been recognized as a source of knowledge. In addition to computers and internet connection, as a prerequisite for this type of activity, it also offers an abundance of readily available literature as well as the knowledge and experience of librarians.
A similar project was launched in 2013 in the Czech Republic. Today, there are 49 courses taking place in 15 cities across the country, with more than 300 participants who have written or supplemented more than 6000 Wikipedia articles.
Results of the Wiki Senior project so far
• Period: December 15, 2018 - October 1, 2019
• Total number of participants - 18
• Articles written - 31
• The oldest participant - born in 1932
The “Wiki Senior” project on Wikipedia in Serbian language
1. Stojanović, J. "Starost" (Belgrade, Kalekom, 1995), 138-143
2. Pink, D.H. "Šta nas pokreće?" (Belgrade, Laguna, 2011), 27-35