Christmas gift to Commons from the State Library of Queensland
The State Library of Queensland and Wikimedia Australia collaborate
Queen Street, Brisbane
in 1889, with a horse-drawn trolley and several horse-drawn carriages. A telegraph pole is on the left.
In partnership with Wikimedia Australia
(WMAu), the State Library of Queensland
has made the fourth-largest ever donation of images
to Wikimedia Commons
: 50,000 digitised copyright-free photographs and accompanying metadata that document some of the history of the state from the mid-19th century until 1955. Queensland
occupies the north-east quarter of the continent, covering 1.85 million km2
(715,300 sq mi)—more than seven times the size of the UK. Indigenous people have probably lived in the area for more than 40,000 years. When Queensland became a self-governing crown colony
in 1859, its population was probably less than 30,000
, and when it became one of the six states in the Australian federation of 1901, Queenslanders numbered fewer than half a million. Its current population of 4.5 million—although geographically disperse by Australian standards—is still largely concentrated in the south-east corner of the state, and is extremely sparse away from the coastline. This is one of the challenges faced by the State Library, which needs to serve communities over a huge area—many of them small and isolated—and to capture information from many remote locations.
The 50,000 images from the State Library of Queensland are from its John Oxley Library, and are part of an ambitious scheme to digitise many of its two million images. These images are stored on paper and in the form of negatives, slides, and other photographic technologies. Since it opened in 1934, the John Oxley Library has been collecting, managing, and providing access to images that document Queensland's history, development, and cultural life; these images have in turn been donated by individuals and organisations, and in some cases purchased by the Library.
How the collaboration started
A water-cart and tank at Burketown
in 1904 (unknown author). Bore water has been vital to the settlement of many parts of Queensland. A woman to the right of the water tank, possibly of aboriginal descent, carries a bucket of water.
The collaboration was born of a conversation at GLAM-WIKI
in Canberra in August 2009 between WMAu's Craig Franklin
, and senior personnel from the SLQ. Following up on the Library's enthusiasm, Craig did all of the preliminary work in setting up the collaboration on WMAu's side. He says, "I'd previously worked on a wiki-collaboration
with the Queensland Museum
, but this collaboration was a lot more complex to set up, and has a much more ambitious scope".
WMAu President, John Vandenberg, was closely involved in subsequent negotiations using his professional knowledge of library tools and standards, but says "without Craig, it wouldn't have happened". Things started moving in early November with a formal meeting between the two organisations on the logistical, metadata, and technological issues. On 10 December, the donation was made simply by handing over a memory-stick that held the 50,000 images, from which several hundred images and accompanying metadata are being uploaded daily by bot. Significantly, the Library agreed to make the image metadata available under a slightly freer licence than it was using under its digitisation scheme.
The rocky face of Mount Mulligan
; the image was copied from a glass negative.
The Library's Executive Manager, Louise Denoon, who is responsible for the John Oxley Library, played a key role in the collaboration. She told The Signpost
that she is passionate about the history of Queensland and in exploring how cultural institutions can connect communities to collections:
- "Public generosity is central to the role of libraries. But just having a collection isn't good enough; the challenge is to take it to where the people are, to expose it to people who may not know it exists. The online environment really changes the way we interact with our community. Commons can not only expose a worldwide readership to our remarkable history, but can enable people to gain insights into global phenomena as photographed within Queensland".
Louise Denoon says that using images to document major themes over the past 150 years is a powerful way of linking the local and the global—themes such as the design of buildings and engineered infrastructure; industrialisation, urbanisation, and associated changes in the landscape; and the relations between indigenous peoples, the British colonists, and successive waves of other immigrants. The 50,000 images, she says, were selected on the basis of geographical spread, historical interest (including maritime, military, and family themes), and notability. The SLQ has high-resolution versions of the images available on a cost-recovery basis, with plans to bring them online as resources permit. This is significant given the historical and cultural information that is often recoverable from small visual details.
The ship Herzogin Cecilie
. This image is a call to experts in maritime history to add metadata to the description page and to categorise the image.
There has been lively international interest on Twitter
, and the Library's website has already been receiving delighted emails from Australians about the project, among them these three:
- "Thankyou! I am just writing to express my thanks, as a user and lover of wikipedia, for the collection of images that you gifted to them."
"Congratulations to Qld State Library for providing so many images to Wikimedia Australia. I have already started an article on the People's Palace using one of these images."
"I was amazed to go to Wikipedia today and find a large banner thanking the State Library of Queensland for a generous donation of images to Wikimedia Australia. I would like to add my thanks and am very happy and proud, as a Queenslander, to support these initiatives."
John Vandenberg says the scene was set for such collaborations by the work of Margaret Warren, SLQ Project Officer, who has written and spoken on the issue of public domain and the holdings of Australian libraries. "WMAu found kindred spirits at the library", he says, "and pulled out all stops to bring the collaboration to fruition quickly. WMAu's success will be seen in terms of whether Australian libraries and historical societies follow the lead set by the SLQ. These cultural institutions have similar electronic access systems with hundreds of thousands of images that can be readily imported into Commons, and we look forward to working with them."
Opportunities for Wikimedians and the public
John Vandenberg and Louise Denoon both recognise that the donation is only the start of what will be an extensive period during which Wikimedians will want to build on the metadata already provided by the Library and to use the collection for encyclopedic purposes. Even a brief viewing of the 2,000 images already uploaded
shows the opportunities for creating and expanding Wikipedia articles and for locating sources that will provide further supporting text.
Apart from adding the images to Wikipedia articles and other appropriate places in WMF projects, there is critical work to be done in mapping the collection onto a system of Commons categories, which John Vandenberg expects to become increasingly "deep". For this purpose, he has created a unique bot that is categorising the uploads. Editors are able to add category names to the subject headings so that future uploads are automatically sorted into relevant categories, based on increasingly detailed and useful information for users who will want to access the images in specific contexts.
There is also a need for Wikimedians to assist with the wording and completeness of the image descriptions and other metadata, and the addition of geocoordinates to the images. Louise Denoon says this process "will provide opportunities for increasing the Library's own knowledge base by tapping into a large source of volunteers". These volunteers are expected to include the general public in Australia and beyond, but particularly individuals in Queensland who can bring their local geographical, social, historical, and family knowledge to Wikimedia projects.