After three and a half months at the Metropolitan New York Library Council, I’m still figuring out what it means to be a consortium based Wikipedian-in-Residence (WiR). METRO is a member-resource organization for a large and diverse body of institutions, each with their own interests in Wikipedia. METRO’s members include 150 libraries and archives in the museum, cultural, public and medical sectors in New York City. Members range from the American Museum of Natural History Library, to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, to the Cornell Weil Medical College Library.
There have been only a few consortium WiRs so far, and most of them have been in the UK – perhaps because of its highly governmentally integrated and funded wiki programs. In the US, there has been Dominic McDevitt Parks at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.. The Smithsonian institutions use a shared administrative system, and share outreach and technology resources on the national mall. At the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums consortium in Northeast England, Robert Forsythe presided over 12 Museums and Galleries.
Wikimedia UK recently announced that it is hiring a 5-member consortium WiR position at York Museums Trust, a 4-member consortium at York Castle Museum, York St. Mary’s, Yorkshire Museum and York Art Gallery. Consortium WiRs are not unheard of, but are a more recent development than the single-institution model, which itself is only about three years old.
Since the function of consortiums is almost always to provide resources and technologies to help further their member’s institutional missions, Wikipedia makes for an ideal partner.
That said, consortium WiRs have a different set of tasks and responsibilities than the more familiar WiR model. In the traditional WiR role, the WiR generally presides over the editing activities of a particular institution and creates and edits content about the institution’s history, collections and related topics.
With stronger definitions for particular WiR positions, I think the GLAM community will be able to better connect WiRs that are working on similar projects so they can share ideas, training resources, handouts, help pages and so they can improve collaboration.
As I see it, the main types of WiR positions are:
- Single-Institution WiR – Focuses on training internal staff. Adds content and organizes the institution’s presence on Wikipedia. Plans events at the institution such as edit-a-thons and backstage passes. Works to establish a longstanding interest in Wikipedia at the institution so that Wikipedia engagement does not end when the WiR’s term is over. Sits on panels, gives presentations about Wikipedia in the context of the institution. Builds GLAM page or other project page for monitoring institutional activity.
- Consortium/Multi-Institution WiR– Introduces Wikipedia and GLAM Wiki to member institutions, and holds staff trainings. Works on a case-by-case basis to plan events at member institutions. Facilitates project-sharing and collaboration among member institutions. Organizes consortium-wide events. Provides resources for member institutions to learn more about how to incorporate Wikipedia into the workflow (without a WiR there to supervise). Encourages member interaction with the GLAM-Wiki community.
- Technology WiR– Focus on generating technology and innovation within wiki or data platforms to increase effectiveness of GLAM-Wiki projects. Creates and promotes tools, programs, bots and pages to increase Wikipedia user experience. Creates and promotes tools to generate metrics about Wikipedia usage.
There is of course, a lot of diversity within these categories. I work currently as a consortium WiR, and will offer my understanding of the unique challenges that WiRs in this category will face.
- The first obstacle that consortium WiRs will run into is the task of balancing your readiness to teach and initiate projects with the concerns of librarians and archivists that are unfamiliar with Wikipedia editing. The first couple of weeks will likely be full of consultations and meetings where you will ‘pitch’ Wikipedia. Institutions will demand to know how you can help them and you must be ready to respond. Generating metrics to help show traffic and doing a thorough investigation of the institution’s presence on Wikipedia will help you get through this period, as will showing some examples of local GLAM-Wiki projects that have been especially innovative and have garnered media attention. I have also found that doing small editing on articles related to the institution prior to visiting helps generate interest during a meeting, demonstration, or consultation.
- It is also likely, especially if you are talking to librarians or archivists, that you will get questions asking for formal editing procedures, and ‘standard’ practices for adding museum and library-specific content. There is, of course, no standard procedure or set of tasks for adding museum content (yet), so stray away from definite answers. But while there are no formal procedures, part of your role might indeed be helping an institution develop a formal plan for incorporating Wikipedia into the workflow. Whether it’s a checklist or spreadsheet, a GLAM page or a blog post, establishing a system or workflow for tracking Wikipedia editing and facilitating staff to communicate about Wikipedia will help ensure that their projects are successful.
- Another issue that comes up with Consortium WiRs is the dilemma of who to meet with, and how to present Wikipedia when the people attending the meeting are from a wide spectrum of fields ranging from archivists to social media curators. My advice is to target all of these people with individual suggestions about ways to improve articles. For the social media person, show them the external links search tool, so they can see how many URLs are on Wikipedia. For curatorial, discuss adding pages on exhibitions as they come out, or improving artist or history pages, and adding links to the website. For libraries and archives, discuss adding citations to books in the collection, or links to the catalog. Wikipedia can be improved by many departments within GLAMs, and all will help increase public knowledge while also increasing the search engine optimization of the institution.
- Consortium-based WiRs will find that repeated check-ins after meetings, as well as having some pre-identified benchmarks for staff to work towards, will help maintain institutional participation. One consultation might plant the seed of interest, but Wikipedia projects and events will need to be nurtured, especially if the institution is just getting started and has a lot of new editors. For this reason, when choosing initial institutions to collaborate with, think about how much time you can reasonably commit to working with them going forward. For an institution to be trained, set goals and develop projects, there must be a sense of partnership and communication on both sides.
I’m excited to see the WiR program and GLAM partnerships continue to grow. Here’s hoping that the WiR community continues to foster lines of communication and resource sharing.
Dorothy Howard (User: OR drohowa)
Wikipedian in Residence, Metropolitan New York Library Council