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Wikimedia UK: Supporting free and open knowledge

2016 Strategy Consultation

May 9th, 2016 by John Lubbock

Volunteer strategy gathering, Brimingham, 2014 – CC BY 3.0 Brian McNeil

Over the past year we’ve gone through a number of changes in the way we work and are organised. We want this process to be as open as possible to input from our members and volunteers. Following a board meeting to plan the strategy and business model for the charity over the next three years, we would appreciate any input from our community on whether the direction the board is proposing is acceptable to you.

Please take a look at the page for the 2016 Strategy Consultation and the linked documents laying out the draft plan and accompanying notes from the board. If you have any suggestions, criticisms, advice or any feedback at all, please respond to the suggested questions on the talk page or by emailing our Chief Executive on the email provided.

I’ve lived in the UK for 9 years but the government wants to deport me

April 19th, 2016 by John Lubbock

Ally Crockford at Wikipedia UK board meeting, 2013 (Image by Katie Chan via Wikimedia Commons)

By Ally Crockford, former Wikipedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland

I have lived in the UK for what will be 9 years in September. I studied for 5 of those years and worked for four. I completed a PhD, organised international conferences, published papers, spoke across the UK and internationally, and taught for about 7 years. I was also the first Wikimedian in Residence in Scotland, and must have done a reasonably good job at it as my contract was extended several times and I was invited to speak about the work I was doing around Scotland and in Europe.

But this year the UK government brings into law a salary threshold test which means that non-EU workers must earn over £35,000 a year after 5 years of working in the UK or be deported. Read the rest of this entry »

The Shiver: communion with the past in a digital age

April 11th, 2016 by John Lubbock

Bodleian Library School of Divinity (Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)

This post is adapted from a text originally published in the CILIP November 2015 update.


Bodleian Wikimedian Martin Poulter says that although the digital world finds it hard to capture the intimacy of being in the presence of historical objects and texts, it can play an important role in adding value to the collections of museums, libraries and galleries which do provide that experience.


While working at the Bodleian, I’ve experienced what I call ‘the shiver’ many times. I had it when I realised I was reading Charles Darwin’s handwriting, or when shown a book that had been studied by Henry VIII. I saw it happening at the Marks of Genius exhibition when people encounter a Gutenberg Bible or a First Folio of Shakespeare.

The shiver is a realisation of a tangible connection to the past. It comes from authenticity, physicality and uniqueness. As such, it may seem irrelevant to digital information, which is endlessly reproducible and independent of physical location. However, when we think of how libraries can involve more people in that authentic experience, that digital world turns out to be crucial. Read the rest of this entry »

Awaken the Dragon breathes fire into the sails of Wikipedia in Wales

April 7th, 2016 by John Lubbock

CADW / Visit Wales

WikiProject Wales has been running a competition aimed at targeting core articles for Wales and getting them up to Good Article status. At the same time it is aiming to dramatically reduce the number of stub articles on wikipedia and encourage quality new content creation. You can see the scoreboard here, where User:Cwmhiraeth is currently leading the competition.

Awaken the Dragon follows on from the successful 20-20 Vision of Wales competition back in 2014. There is a £100 Amazon voucher prize for the overall winner, £50 for the runner up and another £100 divided between weekly winners and other special prizes. The prizes themselves are further intended to encourage positive creation and improvement on Wikipedia by encouraging people to buy their own books for future articles. Read the rest of this entry »

Hello from John, WMUK’s new comms person!

April 5th, 2016 by Stuart Prior

Photo by Adam Novak

My name is John Lubbock and I’m the new communications coordinator at Wikimedia UK. I’m really pleased to be working with the team, some of whom I already know from volunteering at the 2014 Wikimania London conference (that’s me in the middle in red and purple), and I hope that I’ll be able to help raise awareness of the work WMUK does to support open knowledge in the UK.

Why Wikimedia?

For an organisation that runs one of the biggest websites in the world, Wikimedia maintains an ethical commitment to education and free access to knowledge that is truly admirable. The goal of giving every human being access to the sum of the world’s knowledge in their own language is a noble and ambitious human endeavour which shows what the incredible invention we call the internet can do at its best. Read the rest of this entry »

#WhereIsBassel – A global protest against unfair detention and disappearance of Bassel Khartabil

March 16th, 2016 by Richard Nevell

Bassel Khartabil has been imprisoned in Syria since 15 March 2012.

The Jimmy Wales Foundation invites you to join the global protest for the #WhereIsBassel campaign on the 19th March in London (Marble Arch at 2pm), Paris, Berlin, Boston, San Francisco and more.

Bassel Khartabil has been imprisoned in Syria since 15 March 2012. A passionate advocate of free-knowledge, he worked as the lead of Creative Commons Syria, and a major contributor to Mozilla. He was also an editor of the Arabic Wikipedia.
His latest open-knowledge project has been an effort to preserve the cultural heritage of Syria, in the city of Palmyra. Currently under threat of groups like ISIS, who have been destroying ancient structures despite reassurances that they would be spared, #NEWPALMYRA hopes to use 3D modelling, and free media to recreate what is being destroyed.
Following Bassel’s arrest in Damascus in 2012, he was charged by the government of Syria with “harming state security”. Bassel was put on trial without legal representation and was subjected to torture. In October 2015, reports emerged that Bassel disappeared from his prison cell. Rumours suggested that Bassel had been sentenced to death.
As volunteers for Wikimedia UK it can be easy to forget that we are afforded certain luxuries. GLAM institutions welcome editors and Wikipedian’s in Residence. We enjoy balanced coverage of our endeavours. And though we may not always be happy with the results, public officials can & will still engage freely with Wikimedia at large.
There are also the twin foundations of Creative Commons and open software, both of which Bassel has contributed so much to, and without which none of our work could be possible.
So we are asking you to please join us when we stand at Marble Arch this weekend to ask #WhereisBassel? We will all wear face masks with Bassel’s image on them and demand justice for a wronged free knowledge advocate.
To help with #NEWPALMYRA see:

The BBC and A Game of Saints

February 29th, 2016 by Robin Owain

St David, patron saint of Wales, in a 1930s stained-glass window.

In December 1996 I published on the web around 150 of my poems under the title ‘Rebel ar y We’ (‘Rebel on the Web’); subsequently changed in 2005 to ‘Rhedeg ar Wydr’ (Running on a Glass (roof)). They were published on the open web, with no charge to access them. Little did I think at the time that it would take 20 years for the cultural sector in Wales to follow suit. Some establishments such as the National Library of Wales and Coleg Cymraeg (Federal University) opened their doors, others, such as the BBC, carefully and gradually unlocked their doors, and others such as Cadw (the counterpart of English Heritage) kept their doors tight shut, with a ‘Crown Copyright’ notice clamped on every one of their two million images and text.

In the Welsh newspaper Y Cymro on the 12th February 1997 I said, “Many people have asked me to publish an old-fashioned-type-paper-book of poems, but I prefer publishing on the latest technology – sharing my poems freely to every person on this planet. The same week, Golwg mentioned that “Robin warned that publishers must move on with the age, or face the fact that the Welsh language will be left to die, on the shelf of an old and dusty library. The volume of poems (for what they’re worth!) can still be accessed on the Web Archive.

On the one hand we have moved on in the last 20 years: more than a thousand ebooks have been published in Welsh since that first one in December 1996, and the National Library are currently uploading text and 120,000 images under a free and open licence onto Wikimedia Commons. On the other hand, we can NOT upload one image from Cadw onto Commons, unless a sum of £40 per image is paid to them! ‘Ownership’, selfishly, is still a cornerstone of most people’s live – not only establishments such as Cadw – but also to many individual authors who believe that stamping a copyright notice on their work will possibly, one day make them a fortune! Yet, if a Welsh language book sells 2,000 copies – it’s a bestseller! The idea of sharing information and literature freely disappeared from the Welsh psyche in the 1980s. But it’s coming back, and coming fast.

In the spring of 2015 BBC Wales released many articles to Wicipedia Cymraeg and their text has been used on cy-wiki. This was a large and brave step, and surprisingly: the world did not end. Today, BBC Wales have used Wikipedia to create a game in celebration of tomorrow’s St David’s Day. Geolocations on the List of Welsh Saints were used to create fictitious saint names on the BBC website, which includes links to both Welsh and English Wikipedia articles. Another brave step, and the solid, metal door opens another inch.

We look forward to seeing more content being shared openly by the BBC; for at the end of the day, it’s all about sharing and widening access to information that we as licence fee payers and taxpayers have paid for. And sharing on the world platform is better than storing content in metal filing cabinets in cold archives of dusty, archaic establishments.

Try the game for yourself.

OER16: Open Culture

February 16th, 2016 by Richard Nevell

By Lorna M. Campbell

In April 2016 the University of Edinburgh will host the international Open Educational Resources Conference, OER16, which is coming to Scotland for the first time in its seven-year history. OER16 is being co-chaired by Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Webservices at the University of Edinburgh, and Lorna M. Campbell, Digital Education Manager at EDINA and OER Liaison at LTW. The conference is being supported and organised by The Association for Learning Technology (ALT).

The University of Edinburgh has a long tradition of openness and civic engagement,a world class reputation for encouraging innovation in open education and a forward looking vision for sharing OER.

The theme of the OER16 is Open Culture and the conference will focus on the value proposition of embedding open culture in the context of institutional strategies for learning, teaching and research. Conference themes include:

  • The strategic advantage of open and creating a culture of openness.
  • Converging and competing cultures of open knowledge, open source, open content, open practice, open data and open access.
  • Hacking, making and sharing.
  • The reputational challenges of open washing.
  • Openness and public engagement.
  • Innovative approaches to opening up cultural heritage collections for education.

One aim of the conference is to start to break down some of the barriers between different open communities; open education, open knowledge, open data, open GLAM, and with this in mind, a diverse range of keynotes and invited speakers has been lined up.

Catherine Cronin, of the National University of Ireland, Galway, will be asking “If ‘open’ is the answer, what is the question?”, and exploring how we can broaden access to education in ways that do not reinforce existing inequalities.

Jim Groom, of Reclaim Hosting, ds106 and edupunk fame, will be asking what would happen if we could imagine technical infrastructure as an open educational resource? How would our conception of OERs expand if we could easily and efficiently create and share applications across institutions?

Melissa Highton, Director of LTW, University of Edinburgh, will discuss the challenges for leadership in open educational resources, the role of universities in open knowledge communities and reflect upon the returns and costs associated with institutional investment.

John Scally, Chief Executive and National Librarian at the National Library of Scotland, will focus on Library’s new strategy; “The way forward: 2015-2020”, which lays out the path to turn the NLS into a digital destination making it’s 24 million items accessible online over the next 10 years. John will outline the range of approaches NLS is taking to opening up access to cultural resources and discuss the challenges for leadership in this area at a national level.

Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, University of Oxford, will reflect on her many years producing OER in her own discipline area, through initiatives such as Great Writers Inspire, and the opportunities it has brought for her colleagues, students and her own research.

The conference will also feature a number of presentations from active Wikimedians.

For further information and to register for OER16 Conference visit the OER16 website and follow the conference tag on twitter #oer16. Early bird registration rates are available until the 6th of March.

A year as Wikipedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales

February 8th, 2016 by Richard Nevell

This post was written by Jason Evans, Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales and first published on their website.

Hundreds of new articles created, thousands of images shared and millions of hits on Wikipedia

It’s been a year now since I began my journey into the world of Wikipedia. My brief was simple enough – get people editing, engage the community and embed an open access ethos at the National Library of Wales.

With 18 billion page views a month it seems that Wikipedia is most peoples’ one stop shop for information of any kind, and across the world top cultural institutions have been teaming up with the giant encyclopaedia in order to share their knowledge and their growing digital collections. The Nations Library’s goal is to provide knowledge for all, and Wikipedia is just one avenue being used to share that knowledge.


Making Wikipedia better

Wikipedia has not been without its critics, and its policy of inviting anyone and everyone to contribute means that some articles have certain shortcomings. To help remedy this and to better represent Wales on Wikipedia, a number of community events, or ‘Edit-a-thons’, have been organised to train new Wikipedia editors on a number of subjects from Medieval Law to the Rugby World Cup.

Over 100 people have volunteered to have a go at editing during organised events, and Wikipedia’s introduction of the new ‘Visual Editor’ has made contributing even easier.

A volunteer improving Wikipedia articles relating to WWI at a Public Edit-a-thon event

A volunteer improving Wikipedia articles relating to WWI at a Public Edit-a-thon event

Staff and members of the Library’s enthusiastic volunteer team have also been busy working on Wikipedia related projects, and with 6.5 million printed books in the Library vaults there is no shortage of information to be added.

Through the course of the year it has also become apparent that Edit-a-thons act as a gateway for community engagement. They help engage the public with the library, its collections and with Welsh heritage in a flexible, inspiring and subtle way.



The Library began digitising its collections nearly 20 years ago and has now amassed hundreds of thousands of digital items representing all aspects of Wales cultural heritage. More recently a major shift in policy meant that they no longer lay claim to copyright of digital images, if copyright in the original works has expired.

This open access policy has led the library to start sharing parts of its digital collections on Flickr and social media. During the residency the library have taken the next step towards openness by sharing nearly 8000 images with Wikipedia’s sister project Wikimedia Commons, where they are freely available to all without any restrictions.

Already, National Library of Wales images have been added to over a thousand Wikipedia articles in more the 70 languages and since those images were added, these articles have been viewed nearly 33 million times, highlighting the incredible exposure Wikipedia can facilitate.

Statistics highlighting the impact of sharing images via Wikimedia Commons

Statistics highlighting the impact of sharing images via Wikimedia Commons


Improving content and sharing collections are both crucial aspects of the residency but it is equally important that the benefits of activities are clearly recorded and shared with others.

Demonstrating impact certainly made it easier for the Library to extend the residency, and one of the library’s major partners, People’s Collection Wales have taken big steps toward open access and a sustainable relationship with Wikipedia.

One of the first things I did as a Wikipedian was to delve into the world of Twitter as a way of networking and sharing news about the residency, and this has led to great exposure both for the Library and for Wikipedia in Wales. Community events and digital content shared with Wikimedia Commons has caught the eye of news agencies, magazines and bloggers alike.

Infographic highlighting advocacy work during the first year of the residency

Infographic highlighting advocacy work during the first year of the residency


What next?

Together the Library and Wikimedia UK were able to extend the residency beyond the initial 12 months and the post is now funded until August 30th 2016.

Work on improving Wikipedia content will continue in English and in Welsh and thousand more images will be made available via Wiki Commons.

Images from the National Library of Wales in Wikimedia Commons. (left to right) Powis Castle 1794, 'Boy destroying Piano by Philip Jones Griffiths, The siege of Jerusalem from the medeival 'Vaux Passional' manuscript.

Images from the National Library of Wales on Wikimedia Commons. (left to right) Powis Castle 1794, ‘Boy destroying Piano’ by Philip Jones Griffiths, The siege of Jerusalem (70AD) from the medieval ‘Vaux Passional’ manuscript.

Existing partnerships will be built upon, but I also want to reach out to other Welsh cultural institutions and encourage them to get involved in any way they can.

One of the biggest challenges between now and August will be finding ways to get Wikipedia into  the education sector – to encourage young people and their teachers not to ignore the enormous globe shaped elephant in the room, but to engage with it responsibly.

Finally, all credit to the National Library who have embraced Wikipedia. With their open access, knowledge for all ethos my residency has been supported at every turn. Steps are now being taken to ensure that the legacy of the residency will be long and fruitful, helping ensure that Wales, its people and culture are well represented on the world’s biggest ever encyclopaedia.

Wikipedia and Open Access: making research as useful as it can be

February 1st, 2016 by Martin Poulter

This post was written by Martin Poulter, Wikimedian in Residence at Bodleian Libraries, and was first published on Open Access Oxford.

The Budapest Open Access Declaration is one of the defining documents of the Open Access movement. It says that free, unrestricted access to peer-reviewed scholarly literature will “accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”

To bring about this optimistic vision, there needs to be some way to deliver this knowledge directly to everyone on the planet. Rather than broadcasting to passive recipients, this needs to encourage repurposing and remixing of research outputs, so people can adapt them into educational materials, translate them into other languages, extract data from them, and find other uses.

Fifteen years after its creation in January 2001, Wikipedia is emerging as that creative space. Wikipedia is not a competitor to normal scholarly publication, but a bridge connecting it to the world of informal learning and discussion. Wikipedia is only meant to be a starting point: its credibility does not come from its contributors, who are often anonymous, but from checkable citations to reputable sources.

Being “the free encyclopedia” reflects not just that Wikipedia is available without charge, but that it is free for use by anyone for any purpose, subject to the requirements of the most liberal Creative Commons licences. These freedoms are a part of its success: on the article about your favourite topic, click “View history”, then “Page view statistics”: it is not uncommon to see a scientific article getting thousands of hits per day.

When a team in 2015 announced the discovery of a new hominid, Homo Naledi, the extensive diagrams, fossil photos and other supplements they produced exceeded the size limit set by their first choice of journal, Nature. So they went to the open-access journal eLIFE. As well as publishing the peer reviews along with the paper, eLIFE uses a very liberal licence, so figures from the paper made it possible to create a comprehensive Wikipedia article for Homo Naledi, and to improve related articles.

There are many more cases where a research paper is adapted into a Wikipedia article which acts as a lay summary. For example, the article on Major Urinary Proteins was written by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute based on, and using figures from, papers they had published in PLOS open-access journals.

Editing Wikipedia used to involve learning a form of markup called “wiki code”. Thanks to some software development, this is no longer necessary. When you register an account, each article presents two tabs “Edit” and “Edit source”. “Edit source” gives you the old wiki code interface; but “Edit” gives a much more straightforward wordprocessor-like interface. Especially handy is the “Cite” button, which can convert a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) into a full citation.

Still much about Wikipedia is poorly-designed and dependent on insider knowledge. Luckily there are insiders who are keen to share, and training is available. The Royal Society of Chemistry, Cancer Research UK and the Royal Society are amongst the scientific bodies which have employed Wikipedians In Residence. As WIR at the Bodleian Libraries, I have run events to improve articles on Women In Science and am celebrating Wikipedia’s 15th birthday working with researchers and students from the Oxford Internet Institute to improve articles about the “social internet”.

Wikimedia encompasses more than just Wikipedia: it is an ecosystem of different projects handling and repurposing text, data and digital media. There are many sites that you can use without charge to share or build materials, but Wikimedia is distinctive in being a charitable project existing purely to share knowledge, with no adverts or other commercial influences.

Wikimedia Commons is the media archive, hosting photographs, diagrams, video clips and other digital media, along with author and source credits and other metadata. It currently offers just under 30 million files, of which tens of thousands are extracted from figures or supplementary materials from Open Access papers. It’s a massively multilingual site, where each file can have descriptions in many languages, and one of the repurposing activities going on is creating alternative language versions of labelled diagrams.

Wikidata describes itself as “a free linked database that can be read and edited by both humans and machines”. It holds secondary data: not raw measurements, but key facts and figures concluded from them. Looking up Platinum, for example, gives the element’s periodic table placement, various official identifiers and physical properties. Wikidata holds knowledge about fifteen million entities, including species, molecules, astronomical bodies and diseases although the number is still rapidly growing.

What’s exciting about Wikidata is the uses it can be put to. Making data about many millions of things freely available enables a new generation of applications for education and reference. Reasonator gives a visually pleasing overview of what Wikidata knows about an entity. Histropedia (histropedia.com) is a tool for building timelines (try “Discovers of chemical elements”, then zoom in).

There are eleven Wikimedia projects in total each with its own strengths and flaws. My personal favourites include Wikisource – a library of open access and out-of-copyright text, including for example Michael Faraday’s Royal Institution lectures – and Wikibooks which aims to create textbooks for every level and topic from ABCs to genome sequencing.

As open access becomes more mainstream, technical and legal barriers around research outputs will diminish, so more research will become as “useful as it can be” through the Wikimedia projects. That benefits the research in terms of impact and public awareness, but it also benefits the end users who, in a connected world, are everybody.

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