This Saturday we’re holding an all day Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. In addition to all of PEM’s activities around this weekend’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival, we’ll be doing a bit of writing ourselves, busily creating and enriching Wikipedia articles that are relevant to our collections. To do this, we’re bringing together Wikipedia editors, museum staff and anyone interested in joining the ranks of Wikipedia’s global volunteer editor corps to share PEM’s unique resources with the world. We’ll be uploading images of objects from our permanent collections, while learning how to write and edit Wikipedia articles…and meeting new friends. For more details, and to sign up(!), check out our edit-a-thon page on Wikipedia.
To prepare, over the past few months, Cathy Sigmond, one of our indefatigable Integrated Media interns, and I have been working with other PEM staff, local Wikipedia users groups and other museums that have collaborated with Wikipedia to identify PEM resources that might benefit Wikipedia users. For this initial Edit-a-thon, we’re focusing on just two of PEM’s collections; Native American and Chinese. Karen Kramer, our Native American curator, and Daisy Wang, our Chinese curator, have been busy scouring Wikipedia for areas of improvement, PEM images we can offer and most importantly, making their curatorial expertise available for the event.
Museums and Wikipedia – working together
This kind of partnership is still a relatively new thing in the museum world, which is made up of guardians of cultural heritage who prize expertise, accuracy and attribution. Meanwhile, Wikipedia is an all-volunteer encyclopedia, where there is no gatekeeping in regards to who can become an editor. Seems as if we’re polar opposites. In its early days, most cultural heritage institutions kept their distance. But over the past four years, that attitude has been changing. Galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs as they’re known in Wiki-land) around the world have started working with Wikipedia. Why the change of heart? The answer, as the New York Times recently reported in “Warming Up to the Culture of Wikipedia”, is simple: scale.
“Wikipedia is where curious people online go for answers. In a typical month, nearly 500 million unique visitors come to its sites in more than 250 languages, and it is in everyone’s interest — Wikipedia editors and museum curators alike — that those answers are accurate and useful.”
By comparison, PEM’s entire website has had slightly more than three million visitors since 2005. For an institution with collections of interest to a global audience, Wikipedia is the place to be.
Reaching a Global Audience
Wikipedia has also reached out to museums. Their GLAM-Wiki initiative helps cultural institutions share their resources with the world through collaborative projects with experienced Wikipedia editors. The most visible outcome of this initiative has been the idea of the “Wikipedian in Residence.” First created in 2010 at the British Museum, there are currently about a dozen Wikipedians in Residence in galleries, libraries, archives and museums all over the planet. These experienced Wikipedia editors work over longer periods of time, usually several weeks or months, to provide training to the institution’s staff, write Wikipedia articles using their resources and identify assets, such as images, that can be donated to Wikipedia projects.
Opening up Museum Riches
Wikipedia may be the most well-known source of free and open content on the Web, but it’s only one of a growing number of organizations that advocate for opening up the world’s cultural and scientific content to the broadest possible audience. The European Union has launched an effort called Europeana, which collects and lets users search cultural heritage institutions across Europe. Here in the U.S., the Digital Public Library of America (headquartered in Boston!) aims to do the same thing with U.S. repositories. My first official act at PEM was to represent the museum at the first US OpenGLAM workshop at U.C. Berkeley last March.
More Resources to Explore
PEM’s May 3rd edit-a-thon page on Wikipedia.
“Warming Up to the Culture of Wikipedia” By Noam Cohen, The New York Times, March 19, 2014
Update 5/5/14: Thanks to those who participated in Saturday’s edit-a-thon. We’re feeling much better about our Wiki presence.