WikiProject Smithsonian Institution
Wikimedians at the June 26, 2010 Meeting with Smithsonian representatives
This week, we discovered a project with real-life coordination. WikiProject Smithsonian Institution is a collaboration between Wikipedians and the staff of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. The project was born out of the 10th DC Meetup held this past summer when several editors met with Smithsonian personnel to plan the project's goals and organization. The project covers all of the Smithsonian's museums, artifacts, animals, notable curators and personnel, and other programs affiliated with or sponsored by the Smithsonian. WikiProject Smithsonian Institution is one of Wikipedia's GLAM projects, an initiative to get galleries, libraries, archives, and museums involved in the creation of content on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia sites. The two other current GLAM projects cover the British Museum and the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.
This week, we interviewed five members of the project: Accotink2, a retired engineer in Alexandria, Virginia; Sadads, an undergraduate studying history and English at James Madison University; Victuallers, a teacher in Derby, England; Taoboy49, an instructional technologist working at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian after receiving a doctorate in Instructional Technology from the University of Texas in 2003; and Aude, a geographer and web developer in Washington DC with a special interest in the digital humanities.
How was this project formed? What happened at the DC Meetup earlier this year? Does the real-life connection between editors help your efforts?
- Sadads: User:Pharos contacted me at the beginning of the summer after meeting with one of the employees of the Smithsonian at a GLAM conference in Colorado early in the year. At the conference, she told him that the Smithsonian was beginning to explore more web activities, and the examples of GLAM participation which they had discussed at the conference, including the experience with the Federal Archives and the upcoming British Museum collaboration. Pharos and I had talked previously at a meetup in the DC area last winter, and he knew I was enthusiastic about building a stronger volunteer community in the DC area, to bring Wikimedia DC beyond a gather and get dinner and drinks kind of group. I began talking to the Smithsonian employee, and a meetup was scheduled at the end of June, so we got some of the more experienced editors in the area to meet with a our contact and a handful of other Smithsonian staff at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and floated ideas for participation. In order to facilitate their interest and to create a central place to discuss Smithsonian collaboration activities, we formed the GLAM/SI page and project.
- Victuallers: Taoboy49, who, when he started editing Wikipedia back in November 2009, enjoyed the idea of doing some more on Smithsonian topics. He is an active member of the British Museum Project who had been working with Smithsonian Institute Resources. He was already keen to join the nascent project in the US but could not attend the meeting. He cited the Smithsonian's great willingness to share pictures, saying that images released into Commons by public institutions have inspired new Wikipedia articles – many are from the Library of Congress and the SI. Instead, he attended the August 19 Wikipedia training session.
- Aude: I couldn't be at the June meetup :( but we made initial contact with the Smithsonian American Art Museum for the Wikipedia:Wikipedia Loves Art event in February 2009. It wasn't totally successful, not advertised well and had low participation in DC, but we learned some lessons and the Smithsonian is still interested in working with us. In the past year, I have become much more involved in the DC tech and social media community, and have run into Smithsonian people at various meetups and able to help stimulate interest in such collaboration and simply get the word out more about what Wikipedia volunteers are doing and that we have an active Wikipedia meetup group in DC. I have made it to some recent museum-tech meetups, getting a better sense of what the Smithsonian and others are interested... especially strong interest in mobile apps and location-based technology. As a geographer, OpenStreetMap contributor & web developer, in addition to Wikipedian, I envision ways that I can contribute in this space and establish a good working relationship with the DC area museum-tech and digital humanities communities. For the Wikipedia-Smithosnian collaboration, User:Sadads took the lead on moving things forward on the collaboration, and I'm happy to help move things forward in any way that's helpful.
What resources has the Smithsonian Institution provided to Wikipedia editors? Have there been any particularly interesting contributions of information or images?
- Victuallers: The resource that inspired me was a picture of Henry Morton Stanley that had gathered a lot of interest as it had a small black boy in the background. Someone suggested that this boy had a name and he was called "Kalulu". I spent several days researching this boy and I was able to find that he died still a teenager. But in his short life he travelled the world, had his model in Madame Tussaud's and attended David Livingstone's funeral as well as having a relationship of some intimacy with Stanley. The article got 10,000 hits on Did You Know and has been recreated in three other languages.
- Taoboy49: One of the proposed articles for the National Museum of the American Indian was one on Ernest Spybuck, a Shawnee. The suggestion struck me because a few years back I got to see the originals with a group of Absentee Shawnee students who were doing a multimedia project on their culture utilizing our collection. The paintings were striking, especially with Shawnee culture bearers sharing their insight about what Spybuck was illustrating. Having easy access to Smithsonian Libraries with help from our NMAI librarian helped a great deal. Our photo archivist and photo services staff were able to share hi resolution images of Spybuck and a couple of his paintings to illustrate the article. NMAI has its own Collections Online project we were able to link to that had images and catalog information for most of the Spybuck items in our collections.
- Aude: Focusing on what the Smithsonian can give us is not the right approach. Rather, what can Wikipedians offer, in terms of workshops, mentorship, etc. to help Smithsonian curators and other employee help improve content in relevant areas that they have expertise in? Down the road, I think there is opportunity to work with Smithsonian archivists on incorporating historical images in Wikimedia projects. I do anticipate challenges, especially in dealing with images of artwork (see commons:Derived works), trying to determine who has copyright, etc. Photographs of animals at the National Zoo and such might be more suitable, until we have greater capacity to deal with complex issues of copyright, and simply focusing on writing articles is great.
What are the toughest hurdles for museum staff who are beginning to use Wikipedia? What efforts have been made to introduce the Wiki software and lessen the learning curve?
- Accotink2: The COI rules, they tend to be academics used to research citations
- Sadads: Explaining notability and contributing without Spamming provided a very interesting set of discussions at our first Workshop. Also, we are working to figure out exactly what audience within the Smithsonian can best interact with us: curators, web staff, interns or volunteers. We need to get a few more case studies together to show the Smithsonian community how beneficial the interaction is, no matter who participates.
- Taoboy49: Personally, I didn't find the COI policy hard to understand or adhere to, so it wasn't a hurdle to me at all. I have an unbiased interest in just about everything. The hardest thing for me was figuring out what digital resources I could share without violating SI policy on rights, which remains unclear to me. I'm hoping our working group can come up with some clearer guidelines to help SI editors make good decisions about what we can use, what we can't use, and how to quickly resolve the trickier decisions. For instance, some Spybuck paintings illustrate some "sensitive" religious ceremonies, and sharing those could alienate some of the museum's Native American constituents. Deciding not to use those images falls outside of mere copyright considerations.
- And yes, the software and culture of using it is positively Byzantine, but I learned quickly that there is some real intelligence lurking behind it all in the guise of watchful, experienced Wikipedians. Thanks, everybody (you know who your are).
- Aude: The COI policy is basic common sense and I think not a big deal for Smithsonian staff. Their mission to "increase & diffusion of knowledge"  fits nicely with the Wikimedia's vision "Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge".  What will be trickier is if/when we get to the point where the Smithsonian wants to contribute images of artworks and other materials, where we need to evaluate copyright issues. Having been around Wikipedia for a while now, it's still complex to understand some of the intricities of copyright law.
Has the project developed close ties with any other WikiProjects? Are there any plans to collaborate with other projects on articles?
- Sadads: We have several projects which have volunteered ambassadors to work with us, if their topic area wants to be worked on by someone from the Smithsonian Institution side.
- Victuallers: I am a member of the DYK, Derbyshire and British Museum project. So I guess I am collaborating, but I have had no contact with any other SI project members although I have been thanked by an SI staff member I think. (I neec to look back and check).
- Aude: I haven't worked on any WikiProject collaborations yet for the Smithsonian project. There might be opportunity to collaborate with Wikipedia:WikiProject Visual arts or the various WikiProjects for zoology topics.
What are your impressions of the other GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) projects that have been started in the past year. Did you participate in the British Museum or Children's Museum of Indianapolis projects? Is it likely that more of these collaborations between Wikipedians and museums will occur in the future?
- Sadads: I really would like to mimic the standard and approach of Liam at the British Museum, where his interaction with them was more about accessing their resources comprehensively instead of focusing on just recieving media for the commons. However, our lack of someone inside the Smithsonian, has made this harder.
- I really like what we are doing with the Children's Museum, it seems having someone inside who is an employee creates a little more sense of urgency on the participation. This last summer I interned with the United States Army Center of Military History, and found that the historical and scholarly community there isn't really thinking about Web media, instead focusing on their research and traditional scholarly publication. It was only through my more forward thinking supervisor that I could begin working with Wikipedia content related to the Center's scope of history. However, even he was more concerned with a concrete connection to our webpage's traffic, not necessarily the improvement of another webpages's content accuracy. In order to prove the benefit to the Center, I had to intersperse edits that had to do with content with ones that made more consistent the presentation of references related to the Center's public domain content. I think the more urgent thing for Wikipedians, and anyone who thinks about bringing free culture in the GLAM community, is rather getting that GLAM community thinking about the web as interactive collaborative reciprocal tool for knowledge distribution, not an extension of their Public Relations Face. I don't think everyone is quite there yet. But, the presence of an employee or full time volunteer actively working within the organization seems to be much more effective in reinforcing the urgency of the GLAM communities's participation in the collaborative web.
- Victuallers: I have attended two meetings at the British Museum collaborated on an FA and a two dozen or other articles have been created. I have only done one with reference to the SI but the only feedback so far has been an invitation to do this interview. It has to be noted that Liam's role was pivotal at the start but the BM project still has quite a few active members and the BM curators are helpful when approached.
- Aude: I'm well aware of what User:Witty lama has been doing and it's good inspiration for us. :) Our capacity as the DC area Wikipedia meetup group is a bit limited right now, so we can't take on too many projects and then do them poorly because of lack of capacity. If/when we move towards forming a chapter in DC or expanding Wikimedia NYC to incorporate us and larger areas of the Northeast or US East Coast, then I think that will help. Wikimedia Germany and France, for example, get some steady income through the annual fundraiser, can apply for grants, etc. I think some resources would be helpful for us to hire an intern or provide a stipend for a "Wikipedian in Residence" at a museum. As a side note, I am exploring possible collaboration opportunities with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) through Carl Malamud's FedFlix project, and looking at ways Wikipedians can be helpful in that effort. Due to limit local capacity of Wikipedians, I can't promise much right now for other possible collaborations, don't want to take away resources from the Smithsonian project, etc.
Anything else you'd like to add?
- Victuallers: Pleased to see the people who are putting together these interviews read the project page. It is the evidence of whats happening.
- Sadads: We encourage everyone to help us develop content related to the Smithsonian and post it on our project page. Every little bit helps!
- Accotink2: Sadads drove, I rode along.
- Taoboy49: I have started working on another article, and I'm looking forward to doing more in the future. I don't know if I will become a prolific Wikipedian, but I find the culture and the technology fascinating, and I'm happy to be a small part of it.
- Aude: I very much look forward to seeing how this project progresses! User:Sadads has been awesome, as have key folks at the Smithsonian to have vision to try new things like working with Wikipedians! Oh, and we have a meetup coming up on October 23, held in conjunction with MediaWiki Hack-A-Ton DC. If you are in DC or need an excuse to visit DC, please join us and we can discuss more about the Smithsonian collaboration, anything else Wikipedians and folks want to chat about, and "geek out" with some good food & beverages. :)
Next week, we'll be searching our pockets for spare change. Until then, admittance to the WikiProject Report Archive is free.
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