Wikipedians in Residence: Two Years of Open Culture

January 27, 2012 in Front Page, GLAM-Wiki

The following post is by Lori Byrd Phillips 2012 US Cultural Partnerships Coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation. She was the second person to become a Wikipedian in Residence, and has served in that role at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis for the past year and a half, where she is now also part time staff.

Wikipedians in Residence from left to right: Liam Wyatt, British Museum; Lori Phillips, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis; Benoît Evellin, Wikimédien en résidence au Château de Versailles; Sarah Stierch, The Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Andrew Lih (cc-by-sa 3.0).

It was just under two years ago when Liam Wyatt proposed a concept that seemed so bold, it required the British Museum to run a risk assessment before they’d agree to it. Liam suggested that he serve as the “Wikipedian in Residence,” a role that would allow him to put into practice the idea that cultural institutions should share their knowledge with Wikipedia. Thankfully, the British Museum agreed. That basic premise has turned into a global movement known as GLAM-WIKI (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums). Today, the GLAM-WIKI community is made up of Wikimedians from around the world who work to establish models and best practices that help cultural institutions share their resources with Wikimedia.

Prior to Liam’s residency in June 2010, cultural institutions had donated images to Wikimedia Commons, but there had not yet been an institution that committed to establishing a relationship with the Wikimedia community. The concept of building a mutually beneficial cooperation is at the heart of the Wikipedian in Residence scheme. The main role of a resident is to serve as a liaison between the museum and Wikipedia. Projects still include image donations, but now more often focus on staff workshops, outreach events (such as “Backstage Passes”) to connect with local Wikipedians, and on-site events (such as “Edit-a-Thons”) that help get cultural content out of the filing cabinets and into Wikipedia.

Following the British Museum, the Wikipedian in Residence trend began to spread. My residency at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis began in August 2010, followed in early 2011 with the Château de Versailles, Derby Museum and Art Gallery, and the Museu Picasso. By May 2011, two more major institutions joined in: the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art. In July 2011, Daniel Mietchen became the Wikimedian in Residence on Open Science. Working with the Open Knowledge Foundation, this was the first residency to adapt the GLAM model to open science — an exciting advancement of the Wikipedian in Residence concept! Even more residencies began in late 2011, including the Israel Museum, and many are in the works for 2012 and beyond.

I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution of the Wikipedian in Residence concept as it has been implemented in different institutions. Each residency has shown its own strength. At the Derby Museum, Roger Bamkin followed through on an idea to improve the multilingual capabilities of QR codes in exhibits. What resulted was QRpedia, a QR code-generating website that detects the language of the user’s phone and links to the Wikipedia article in that language. QRpedia has now been implemented in museums in the US and Europe and has been nominated for a Smart UK award.

Dominic McDevitt-Parks, the Wikipedian in Residence at the NARA, has broken new ground in facilitating the digitization and transcription of primary source materials through Wikisource and Wikimedia Commons. NARA’s cooperation with Wikipedia has been strongly incorporated into their broad strategy of increasing digital accessibility to their holdings and has proven to be a point of pride for the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero.

The concept of the Wikipedian in Residence has come a long way since the British Museum’s big gamble. Now, those who have served as Wikipedians in Residence travel the world presenting projects to increasingly enthusiastic cultural professionals. In April, four residents will come together from three countries to present at the American Association of Museums, the largest and most significant museum conference in the US. I can’t wait to see what incredible residencies and cooperations are around the next corner.

For additional information about Wikipedians in Residence, see the information page on GLAM Outreach or the GLAM Infographic.

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