Museums and Wikipedia

This is a copy of a blog post I wrote for the University of Southampton Digital Humanities blog: http://digitalhumanities.soton.ac.uk/blog/2755

Today, the Museums Association published the new issue of Museum Practice. This month the magazine focuses on Wikipedia, and I contributed an article providing practical advice for smaller museums. The journal is behind a paywall, but the Museums Association have kindly agreed to let me share a draft of the article here at the Digital Humanities blog.

The final article (and much neater version!) can be viewed at the Museums Practice website, alongside the rest of the issue, which is a fantastic resource for those interested in cultural heritage and the web: http://www.museumsassociation.org/museum-practice/wikipedia/

Wikipedia for Regional Museums

Nicole Beale
nicole.beale@soton.ac.uk
@nicoleebeale

From its humble beginnings in 2001, Wikipedia has grown exponentially, and to date (May 2013) the multi-language website boasts over 4 million articles, with 19 million named user accounts.  The site is one of the most visited on the web, coming 6th in Google’s ranked list of most popular websites (in 2011, Wikipedia achieved 410 million unique visitors), beaten only by Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, Live, and MSN. The key to Wikipedia is that anyone can create and edit content, but all content must be evidenced with sources, modelled on the original format of the paper-based encyclopaedia form. Participation numbers are high; currently there are 300,000 active Wikipedia users who have edited more than 10 times, and nearly 130,000 users who have edited something on the site within the last month.

The large museums, libraries and archives are engaging with the Wikipedia community on a piecemeal basis; setting up projects at an organisation level to reap the benefits of this great resource. But how can smaller organisations engage with Wikipedia? The larger institutions have specialised IT teams and dedicated marketing departments. What if you are part of a small team of staff and volunteers?

There are plenty of examples of projects and events that can be adapted to suit regional, and specialist museum needs, and the needs of the communities that they serve. This article brings those examples together in one place and lists four things that you can do right now, and four things that you can plan for the future, to better use Wikipedia to support the work that you do.

Four things you can do right now

Task 1. Become a Wikipedia Editor

Wikipedia’s greatest challenge is motivating readers of content to become editors of content. The site has a huge readership, but the percentage of users who are actively contributing to the site is very low. The sustainability of Wikipedia relies on contributions from people like us, who can improve and augment content, creating links and references to the objects, buildings, events and archives that we hold.

Wikipedia may have lots of information in it, but it has always been conceived of as a place that people pass through. It is a conduit, through which a user gets to further information and knowledge. Wikipedia cannot hold all of the knowledge in the world, but it could link to some of that knowledge. There is information that can never be in Wikipedia, but that is within our museums’ collections, or our archives, or our libraries’ shelves, and this is where you come in.

The biggest contribution that any one person can make to Wikipedia is to sign up for a user account and to edit an article. Wikimedia, the organisation behind Wikipedia, can provide training for members of your organisation to start to contribute to Wikipedia. The Wikimedia project to provide Wikipedians-in-Residence is the best place to begin to request training. These individuals are highly motivated, and skilled users and advocates of Wikipedia. Generally based in large galleries, museums, libraries and archives, they can be contacted through the Wikipedian in Residence website. I can’t recommend this option enough. I recently organised a visit to our university department by Andrew Gray, then British Library Wikipedian in Residence, along with representatives of the Southampton Wikipedia community. The workshop that they ran was inspiring, as well as being practically useful.

Task 2.  Use Wikipedia referencing structure

Wikipedia has a strict rule, all articles must be validated. This means that any content on Wikipedia must have recognised references to evidence the veracity of claims being made. These references can take many forms, and present a great opportunity for regional museums. To find out what kind of an influence Wikipedia has in your museum’s area of expertise, use this online tool to visualise page visit figures for Wikipedia articles: http://stats.grok.se/ Not only is this a great indicator of people’s browsing habits in your area of interest, giving you hints as to which articles to add useful references to, but this can also be used as a way to bring traffic to your own online resources.

Take for example a museum based in Southampton, Hampshire. When we use the stats tool to search for articles about two similar heritage buildings in the city, we find that the article “Medieval Merchant’s House” was viewed 4 times more often than a page about “Southampton Tudor House and Garden”. The lesser viewed page has less information on it than the Medieval Merchant’s House. The lack of information means that there is a lack of links out to other websites. Using this information, staff from the Southampton museum could perhaps contribute to improving the Tudor House page by providing more information about the history of the house, creating references to relevant Historic Environment Records, or related Tudor objects in the county’s online collections database.  These references are links, and will help people to find this Wikipedia page, or to find the linked websites through this Wikipedia article.

Task 3. Engage with your local Wikipedia community

Chances are that in your area there is a group of Wikipedia editors (Wikipedians) who meet regularly. Most cities and larger towns have Wikipedia chapters meeting and deciding on locally-focussed drives for editing. These groups generally welcome support from other organisations. Check the UK Wikimedia chapter website to find out whether there is a group meeting near to you.

You could offer to host a Wikipedia meet-up at your museum, or run a Wikipedia event. One of the most popular forms of Wikipedia events is an editathon. An intensive editing session where a group meets and focussing on a topic for improvement in Wikipedia and together adds and edits content. In May 2013, the University of Oxford, Bodleian Libraries ran an editathon for Wikipedia pages relating to Queen Victoria’s Journals. The day-long event incorporated an exhibition visit, with a talk and an editing session; Introducing participants to the Queen Victoria Journals online resource. Check out the Wikipedia Loves Libraries pages for more information on how to get involved in editathons.

Other types of events that you could support through your museum include competitions that result in improving records. Wiki Loves Monuments, was awarded the Guinness World Record of the world’s largest photographic competition, with entrants from all over the world taking part in international and national awards, but there is currently no UK based branch of the competition. Now that’s an opportunity!

Task 4. Get to know GLAMWIKI

The GLAMWIKI project aims to create relationships between Wikimedia and galleries, libraries, archives and museums. The group runs events, including an annual conference, and is a great support network, as well as source of inspiration for project ideas.

Four things you can do in the future

Task 1. Enable Wikipedia to use your museum website

If you work on your own museum website, and you have a collections database that is accessed online, you might want to consider adding to any objects the option to copy Wikipedia Citation Code. This is a short snippet of Wikipedia styled code that allows anyone writing a Wikipedia article to easily reference a particular piece of online content. The Powerhouse Museum is a great example of this. Read Seb Chan’s excellent blog post on how it works.

Task 2. Engage with Wikipedia in your own museum

Increasingly, museums are using Wikipedia inside their buildings. Ways to do this include using Wikipedia articles to supplement labelling for exhibitions. Tablets displaying related Wikipedia content can be set up next to display cases. Or locations of Wikipedia articles in the form of URLs can be displayed allowing visitors to use their own mobile devices to scan quick links.  QR tags, as used by Derby Museum and Art Gallery, are a quick way to do this, although they are not the most attractive option!

Task 3. Link with Wikipedia outside of your museum

The hugely successful MonmouthpediA project embarked on a large scale attempt to improve content relating to Monmouth on Wikipedia, and involved the use of signage throughout the town that linked to particular articles using QR tags. Since the project started, over 550 articles have been created, and there are over 1000 QR tags up within Monmouth.  You could try this approach on a smaller scale, providing heritage buildings of interest with QR tagged signage.

Task 4. Host a Wikipedian at your museum

The Wikipedian in Residence programme is ongoing. You could consider having a Wikipedian work with your museum for a few weeks to encourage Wikipedia use and improve coverage of particular topics of interest.

Finally…

Despite their global successes, the Wikimedia team is friendly and responsive to individual contact. There is often Wikimedia funding to set up projects, so if you have an idea, contact them.