As part of a collaboration with Wikimédia France, the Palace of Versailles announced last week that they will host a "Wikimedian in Residence" for six months, to be "the interface between the scientific staff of the Palace and the editor communities".
The Palace, a royal château near Paris, was the residence of the Kings of France from 1682 until October 1789 - from when Louis XIV moved from Paris until the start of the French Revolution. The Palace and its park are viewed as an architectural masterpiece and a historical symbol strongly associated with the monarchy. It is listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. As an institution, the Palace makes use of new technologies and mediums, with the creation of mobile applications, the organisation of a photo contest on the social photo-sharing site, Flickr, and its recent involvement with the Google Art Project.
How the collaboration started
Following the partnership established by Wikimédia France with the City of Toulouse, Adrienne Alix, chair of the French chapter, was contacted by Laurent Gaveau, Deputy Director of Information and Communication of the Palace of Versailles. Gaveau was interested in building links with the Wikimedia projects. He attended the Rencontres Wikimédia in December 2010, where he met Benoît Evellin (User:Trizek) and discussed the idea of bringing together Versailles and Wikimedia. After the example of Liam Wyatt's past residence at the British Museum last year (cf. Signpost coverage), the project settled on the idea of a Wikimedian in Residence.
Content and possible outcomes
Royal arms of France on the central golden gate of Versailles
According to Laurent Gaveau, the institution realized that Wikipedia – the second most widely used source of information about the Palace after the official website – could not be ignored. He says his institution finds the articles numerous and of good quality. "Thus, this is not about correcting them strictly speaking, but going into the subject in greater depth, and in particular providing first-hand material to Versailles enthusiasts who edit Wikipedia". He mentions, as possible activities, taking photographs to illustrate articles, consulting archives, and gaining feedback from curators. Jean-Jacques Aillagon, former Minister of Culture and Communication and the current President of the Château de Versailles, mentioned that several curators already contribute to Wikipedia at their own initiative.
Benoît Evellin, who recently celebrated his 1000th day as a Wikipedian, is an administrator on the French-language Wikipedia and a member of the chapter. Active in helping newcomers learn about Wikipedia (as part of the Service de Parrainage Actif, equivalent of the English Wikipedia's Adopt-a-user program), he is also one of the leaders of a WikiProject dedicated to cultural heritage buildings. The Versailles domain contains many such protected monuments. He will be undertaking this residence as part of his studies, since it will be his "final training period for [his] master degree in cultural mediation". As such, "the Palace of Versailles gives me the legal compensation for a training period". The situation is similar to that of the second Wikipedian in Residence, Lori Phillips (HstryQT), at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis (cf. Signpost coverage), who spent a paid student internship there, while Wyatt was at the British Museum as an unpaid volunteer.
Early feedback from the French-speaking community has been very positive. Just a few hours after the announcement on the Village Pump, a WikiProject dedicated to the Palace was established, and a Château de Versailles Portal quickly followed. The editor who created both pages stated that "if it is announced everywhere (and it is!) that a partnership between Wikipedia and the Palace of Versailles is going to happen, then we have to prove now our capacity to set up a discussion space for coordinating such a project". Benoît Evellin also has a presence on Wikimedia Commons, and on the English-language Wikipedia.
Artinfo.com reported that "the fact that experts at the institution will edit the articles generated by the project may raise some eyebrows, and French art site Artclair has already been wondering if contributors will still have the ability to modify the articles that are officially sanctioned by the château." Responding to community concerns about original research, worrying that the Wikimedian in Residence or Versailles experts might be tempted to add true but unverifiable facts, Benoît said "I do not plan to go evangelizing people around by shouting "Edit, edit!". I am here to teach people how to edit Wikipedia well, the same way I strive to teach newbies while patrolling. Among other things, I am working to explain that every piece of information must have one verifiable source. The Five Pillars were presented, and they will be [presented] again".
Asked about the first week, Benoît Evellin tells the Signpost his time there has been busy:
"Interviews, press reporting, presentations of the partnership on WPfr, WPen and Commons. I have not visited the palace yet!"