McKinley Avenue, Ball State University, leading to the bell tower. The Bracken Library, a key location for the University's archival assets, is on the right.
This interview is with Michael Szajewski, archivist for digital development and university records at Ball State University since 2011. In this position, he develops and promotes digital collections, manages digitization projects, and oversees the University's records collection area. He has a Master of Library Science from Indiana University (2010) with a focus on archives and records management; and a BA in history and communication studies from Northwestern University (2009).
What is Ball State University's current engagement with Wikipedia? Are there new projects you've started since you first began adding in links?
At present, Ball State University Libraries has added over 300 links, citations to a wide range of relevant Wikipedia articles referencing digital archival assets held in the Ball State University Digital Media Repository. We've edited Wikipedia articles to include references to entire collections as well as to individual items including rare books, 19th and early 20th century sheet music, architectural records, oral history interviews with military veterans, and works of Steinbeck scholarship. At present, we're investigating additional opportunities to make further edits that maximize the value added to Wikipedia content and increase the visibility of our digital archival assets.
Bracken Library, BSU
Our Digital Media Repository continues to grow as the result of an ongoing institutional commitment to digital project development. Since 2011, we've added, on average, over 26 collections and over 23,000 records to the Repository per year. Many of these new assets have been well-suited for linking in Wikipedia. The collection of historic sheet music highlighted in the D-Lib article is continuing to grow as the Libraries digitize and describe additional content from our sizeable archival holdings in this format. As a result, in the previous year, we've been able to make additional Wikipedia edits to incorporated the newly added sheet music.
Who are the main participants of GLAM-Wiki activities in the institution? What has been the response at the institutional level?
At Ball State University Libraries, Archives & Special Collections has served as the central participant in GLAM-Wiki activities. As archivists and digital library curators, we have a strong knowledge of the content of our collections and an understanding of their context in the broader scope of information and available resources. Thus, we found ourselves well-positioned to edit Wikipedia articles to incorporate information from, and links to, our resources.
We've received strong support for the project, especially given the remarkable impact that integration of digital archival assets into Wikipedia articles has had on traffic to the Repository. In the past year we've received on average over 1,200 visitors per month to our site from Wikipedia.
How have you been documenting your GLAM-Wiki work and progress?
I created an Excel spreadsheet that documented edits to Wikipedia articles that included links to Repository items and collections. For each edit, I documented the name and URL of the Wikipedia article, the name and URL of the digital archival resource, the collection from which it came, the type of edit made, and the date of the edit. This spreadsheet allowed me to track the progress of the project.
Beneficence (1937), by Daniel Chester French. Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana
In addition, Google Analytics proved to be immensely useful in the development of this initiative. This web analytics tool provided access to statistics regarding the traffic generated by links to our site from Wikipedia articles. Beyond providing access to the number of visitors from each individual Wikipedia article edited, Google Analytics presented data about the average length and depth of these visits, allowing us to measure the degree of engagement from users who discovered our resources via Wikipedia. Additionally, we were able to visualize changes in this data over time.
Access to this data allowed us to identify the resources that were especially of interest to Wikipedia readers and informed future editing. Statistics on usage allowed us to make a strong case for the value of GLAM-Wiki collaboration.
What are your goals as a Wikipedia editor at Ball State University Libraries?
Goals for this activity have been twofold. First, we hope to enrich the value of Wikipedia as a tool for students, researchers, and general web-browsers to discover relevant, current, and valuable information and primary resource material regarding a nearly all-encompassing set of subjects. Second, we seek to raise the visibility of Ball State University Libraries assets, connecting web users with relevant materials they otherwise may not have discovered.
What would you tell a professor that was nervous to allow their students to use Wikipedia as a resource?
I'd suggest that Wikipedia would be a very valuable resource to introduce students to a particular topic.
Working as an assistant at the reference desk at Indiana University Libraries while completing my MLS degree, I would often field questions from students asking for published, peer-reviewed sources on particular topics—topics, in many cases, with which I had little familiarity. Wikipedia was very useful for me in these instances. I would often consult Wikipedia as a first stop in this situation, to gain a basic understanding of the topic a student was asking about and to understand how the topic was situated in a broader informational context. The Wikipedia article could also provide me with an understanding of the prominent individuals, events, and scholarly works associated with the topic. With that information in mind, I'd then search through our online catalog and our databases of published scholarship with a much clearer understanding of the subject.
If this approach worked for me in these situations, I'm confident it would work for the students themselves. Wikipedia can also serve as a valuable resource for students interested in researching current events. It documents and contextualizes news events much more quickly than traditional reference sources, and Wikipedia articles about current events often include hundreds of citations to relevant news articles.