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Wikimedia UK: Supporting free and open knowledge

Somerville, science and wikipedia

November 13th, 2015 by Martin Poulter

By William Skelton (engraver); Charles Reuben Ryley (artist) (The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford) [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

From Martin Poulter, Bodleian Libraries Wikimedian in Residence. Also published on the Bodleian Libraries blog.

In the early 19th century, Mary Somerville was a celebrity scientist. One of her works was the best-selling science book of the time, until overtaken by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. She published on astronomy, biology, atomic theory, and physical geography, at a time when scientific publications by women were rare. She tutored the computing pioneer Ada Lovelace, and introduced Lovelace to Charles Babbage.

Somerville’s name lives on, not least in the Oxford college named in her honour, yet not many people today know of her achievements. One reason is that it is hard to find her works. Her publications have been digitised, but the digitisation process only created images – rather than text, which is easy to find, search within and quote.

On 12 October, a group brought together by University of Oxford IT Services and the Bodleian Libraries started to change that. Working together on Wikisource, a sister-project of Wikipedia, we published a definitive transcription of a Mary Somerville paper from 1826. Being totally open access, the paper incidentally now meets modern funders’ requirements for scientific research outputs.

We also began that day a transcription of Somerville’s Preliminary Dissertation on the Mechanisms of the Heavens; a book described by the astronomer John Herschel as ‘by far the best condensed view of the Newtonian philosophy which has yet appeared’. The transcription was finished this month, and it and other texts are available through Somerville’s Wikisource profile.

This event was just one of a larger programme celebrating the bicentenary of Ada Lovelace. They involved Oxford staff, interested public and experienced Wikipedians, a couple of whom participated remotely. We were lucky to have two excellent guest speakers in Prof Ursula Martin and Prof Sylvia McLain. Each event improved a different aspect of open knowledge about women’s achievements in science and related fields.

In the edit-a-thon and improve-a-thon, we created 8 Wikipedia articles about notable women scientists — some living, some historic — and improved a further 16 existing articles. Creating an article from scratch can be a time-consuming process, but fixing clumsy wording or adding a cited fact is relatively quick.

Wikipedia’s new visual editor works like a word processor, so new users can write or improve articles without having to learn wiki code. We found that this makes Wikipedia editing much quicker to learn, quicker to do, and hence more enjoyable.

Our goal was not just to write biographies but to improve the web of knowledge to fairly represent women’s achievements. Amongst the non-biography articles we improved were those on Mary Somerville’s bestseller On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences and on the Finkbeiner test — important reading for anyone who writes about women scientists!

The 4th workshop was an image-a-thon, looking at Wikipedia’s sister project, Wikimedia Commons, and at some images of women scientists not yet used in Wikipedia. We also uploaded images from copyright-free sources, improving a total of 20 Wikipedia articles.

A call for material for the image-a-thon drew responses from private collections and cultural institutions. Among the contributions from The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera is the accompanying illustration from a museum ticket, which now illustrates the Women in science article.

The records of what we did, including the articles edited, images uploaded and feedback are all openly available. More importantly, the process is ongoing. There are more articles that need expanding, re-wording, illustrating, or creating and anyone can join in: see the project pages for more details.

We will keep in touch with the participants and hope they continue as Wikipedians. The feedback from participants includes, ‘I found the session really useful and fun’ and ‘found it a very rewarding and useful experience and would like to continue contributing’ among similar comments, indicating that for some, we have started a habit.

My Week in Happy: Why I interviewed Helen Arney

November 2nd, 2015 by Richard Nevell

This post was originally written by Zoe E Breen for Cheeruplove.com. It is available here

Well, “Why wouldn’t you want to interview Helen Arney?”, you might ask?

Helen Arney (Photo: Vera de Kok)

Of course she is super-smart, funny and chic, that’s undeniable. Which is why, when I was booking my tickets for Festival of the Spoken Nerd at The Lowry, I was struck by the fact that she did not have a Wikipedia page dedicated to her.

Almost a year before the gig, I’d been to a Wiki Edit workshop run for Manchester Girl Geeks by Wikimedia UK.

From this experience I learned two things:

  1. Editing Wikipedia is really pretty easy
  2. More than 80% of Wikipedia editors are male (according to some research)

What did I do with this knowledge? Pretty much nothing until I noticed that Helen Arney didn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Then I remembered something.

Fellow Manchester Girl Geek Karen Pudner (@kpudner) had created a Wikipedia page for code-breaker Joan Clarke, who worked alongside Alan Turing on the Enigma Project at Bletchley Park.

Karen started the Wikipedia page in 2013 having attended a previous Manchester Girl Geeks Wiki Edit Day.

This was the year before Joan’s contribution to the team at Bletchley Park was recognised in The Imitation Game. Since then the page has been added to and edited by dozens of other users.

If another girl geek could write a woman into Wikipedia then maybe I could give it a shot?

I was so excited by the prospect that it was with some abandon that I launched into writing my first lines of words on Wikipedia.

So I’ve made a start on Helen Arney’s page, which is currently a described as a ‘Singer stub’. If you would like to add an edit of your own I’d be extremely happy.

So, why did you interview Helen Arney?

As well as her obvious fabness (see above), I thought it would be lovely to have something that I had written to be linked to from the Wikipedia page. And reciprocal linked (of course!).

You can read what Helen had to say on physics, funnyness and frocks right here.

The future of opening up GLAMs

October 14th, 2015 by Stuart Prior

Danmarks Radio Concert Hall

Sharing is Caring
So, I took myself to Copenhagen the other weekend for (among other things) Sharing is Caring; an annual seminar focusing on collaboration and sharing in the cultural heritage sector held at the DR Koncerthuset. You can see the talks here

It exceeded all expectations in terms of detail and expertise. The programme naturally covered copyright on creative works, with lively debate from panels of artists, representatives of rightsholders organisations for visual arts in Denmark, and lawyers promoting open licensing.

Curate not Create
One of the key lessons from the seminar was the idea that in order to make the most of open licensing, GLAMs need to curate, not create. To elaborate, GLAMs are currently “creating” work, in that they respond to demand by creating new programs, exhibitions and learning experiences.

So what is meant by GLAMs curating more? Do they not curate already? Well, yes, but with digital platforms they need to guide users around their collections with better searchability and categorisation of work, grading works for the appropriate audiences (from schoolchild to post-grad), and synthesise works by joining the dots between them.
This becomes especially important if they are releasing content on an open license. How can people use and remix content if they don’t know what’s available or can’t find what they are looking for? If people are given tools and support to navigate collections, and GLAMs work with the people that might want to use their collections, such as teachers, academics and creatives, these works go beyond just being available to being used to their full potential. In essence, we need a plan beyond the “Release, digitalise and dump” phase of opening up the GLAM sector.

Licensing Changes
The other aspect of the seminar was the change we can make to outdated or poor government policies on copyright if we push the right buttons. Melissa Terras, Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, gave a great talk about how the UK government licenses orphan works for use (at great cost to the applicant, and with a limited understanding of what “commercial use” can mean), and how she inadvertently made them amend their licensing policy to work better for individuals by writing an angry blog post about these restrictions.
Since then, attendees of the conference representing GLAMs, universities and the Open Knowledge community have started collaborating on and discussing what we can do to pressure our governments and the EU to be more progressive with copyright law. I hope we can collaborate in future to bring laws up to date with the digital age.

Nancy Bell joins Wikimedia UK board

October 1st, 2015 by Richard Nevell

Wikimedia UK is pleased to announce the co-option of Nancy Bell to the board for a two-year term.  Nancy has been appointed for her extensive skills, experience and contacts, particularly in the national and international cultural heritage sectors.

Nancy is currently Head of Collection Care at The National Archives, in which role she is responsible for the preservation of one of the largest and most significant sources of information in the world ranging from Domesday Book to digital records. She has established an internationally recognised heritage science research programme in collaboration with the higher education sector and industry, and has established a programme to work closely with students and researchers to disseminate their work further as wiki editors.

Nancy said “There are huge opportunities to extend the reach of volunteers in new communities to create an even more vibrant Wikimedia UK. I am committed to open and accessible information as a guiding principle and very much welcome the opportunity to promote this mission widely.”

Please join us in welcoming Nancy to the board.

Celebrate women in science with Wikipedia

September 28th, 2015 by Martin Poulter

This post was written by Martin Poulter, Wikimedian in Residence at the Bodleian Libraries, and was originally published on the library’s blog.

Whilst time is unveiling, Science is exploring Nature, by William Skelton (engraver); Charles Reuben Ryley (artist) (The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford) [CC BY 4.0],

This October will mark the bicentenary of Ada Augusta Byron, otherwise known as Ada Lovelace, often called the first computer programmer. Among the many events happening in Oxford this autumn, the Bodleian Libraries and IT Services are hosting a series of half-day workshops which hope to make a record-breaking impact on Wikipedia’s infamous gender imbalance.

As in previous years, there will be an edit-a-thon to create articles related to women in science and to wish happy birthday to Ada Lovelace with celebratory cake. This will happen on Tuesday 13 October. It will include an introduction to wiki editing, so is suitable for new and experienced wiki editors.

This year we are also running three related events. All four events are open to members of Oxford University. We are also seeking experienced Wikipedians to help with the training. Even if you are not connected with Oxford, you can take part on-wiki; welcoming the new users and helping make their experience a pleasant one.

Monday 12 October will be the first ever transcribe-a-thon. We will look at Wikisource, the free library, where out-of-copyright books are transcribed using Optical Character Recognition and manual correction. During the event we will create an electronic edition of a book that can be used as a source for Wikipedia articles. This is an opportunity to learn basic wiki editing without having to worry about the many policies and guidelines affecting original text on Wikipedia.

Wednesday 14 October will be an improve-a-thon: we will look at Wikipedia’s quality scale and system of open review, and improve existing articles by adding facts or citations or by accessibly rewording. This will be suited to people who have edited Wikipedia before.

Thursday 15 October’s event is an image-a-thon: we will look at how Wikipedia articles are illustrated, using images from cultural institutions, from out-of-copyright books or personal collections. We will look at Wikimedia’s database of 27 million digital media files. With newly-uploaded images, we will illustrate articles on the week’s theme. No photography is required and this event is suitable for people who have never edited wikis.

The image-a-thon is an opportunity that Oxford’s libraries can support. College libraries may have photographs of alumnae, staff, or perhaps relevant art or manuscripts. We hope that some of these images can be made available under a Wikipedia-compatible licence for use in articles, with attribution. We will be uploading images of Lovelace herself which have not existed in digital form before.

We are interpreting the ‘women in science’ theme broadly, not just writing and improving biographies of women — living or dead — in professions related to science. There are also articles about books, or about scientific innovations and theories, where women’s contributions could be better represented. We will provide suggestions for target articles, as well as online and offline resources to help improve them.

Each of these four events looks at open knowledge from a different angle. If you can only make one, sign up for one, but if you want a broad hands-on experience of improving open knowledge, come to all four.

Dr Martin Poulter, the Wikimedian In Residence at the Bodleian Libraries, will lead the training but welcomes experienced wiki editors who can make things easy for newcomers. If you fit that description, please get in touch at martin.poulter@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

Farewell to Wikimedia UK board from Simon Knight

September 18th, 2015 by Simon Knight

This post was written by Simon Knight. It was originally published here.

wikimedia_uk_rockAs I’ll be leaving for University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in October, the time has come (formally, Friday) for me to step down from the board of Wikimedia UK. I’ve now been on the board for just under 2 years (having served half an elected term), and it has been my huge privilege to work with such a dedicated group of volunteers (including the board) and staff.

I first encountered Wikimedia UK while working at Cambridge University on an OER project. In that role, I attended the 1st EduWiki in 2012 – a conference about the relationship between Wikimedia and education – and enjoyed speaking to people from the Wikimedia side and those like me from a education institutions with interest in how Wikimedia might relate to our work. That work got me editing Wikipedia, and talking to folks around Wikimedia UK about the relationship between the movement and education.

So, when I was co-opted, I had hoped to bring some of my education and analytics expertise to the board. I’ve done this a bit, but actually for the most part, my work has only indirectly drawn on that experience, focussing more on general strategy (and day-to-day governance matters). And I’m very proud of the work we’ve done here, setting out our strategic plan, impact measures, and developing an organisational structure that best supports our mission, and the crucial role of volunteers in that. I’ve been reflecting a bit recently regarding what I’ve contributed to the charity, and what I’ve gained from the experience myself. I wrote some thoughts on what trustees do earlier, but they were more general than my own experience.

Only 2.1% (in 2013) of trustees were under 30 (also see gov report), although I’m on the upper end of that (and compared to, e.g. youth stakeholder trustees I’m (a) ancient and (b) weighed down with qualifications). So it’s been a great experience for me to get to understand and get involved in the legal and organisational context of charity governance, ensuring we have funding and spend our funds appropriately, dealing with governance issues and ensuring our relationships with the public and others are good, developing strategy and so on. My work has particularly focussed on strategy development, working to understand what we – as a charity – exist for and how those goals can be expressed, targeted, and progress on them measured.

I hope that, moving forwards, some of the particular interests and project ideas existing and prospective volunteers have can be developed (and I hope I can still offer some advice from my areas of expertise). Back in 2013 when I originally asked what being a board member might involve, I sent the enquiry not because I was desperate to serve on a board, but because I was trying to work out ways to get involved specifically with WMUK. I hope that, moving forwards, the many ways individuals with diverse arrays of expertise can join and extend our efforts are more obvious and more open. The volunteer strategy work we’ve been developing recently is certainly aimed at that!

I’ll certainly be keeping my eye on things from the other side (where I’d be happy to offer any advice!), and I’m sincerely grateful for the opportunity to have worked so closely with some of the global Wikimedia Community. In particular the board (and especially Michael, our chair) have been extraordinarily generous with their time in support of the charity; it has been a huge pleasure to support the board closely on a number of projects, and a fantastic learning experience in my role as vice chair. I look forward to seeing the charity continue to develop!

Welcoming Karla Marte to our team

August 24th, 2015 by Daria Cybulska
The image is a photograph of Karla Marte in the Wikimedia UK office

Karla Marte at the Wikimedia UK office

This post was written by Daria Cybulska, Head of Programmes and Evaluation

We are excited to introduce to everyone a new addition to the team, Karla Marte, who is joining us as our Administration and Programme Assistant.

Having recently undergone a process of refocusing of our activities, we are now entering an exciting new phase where we want to build on large scale partnerships with external organisations. Strong reporting and administration will be a key element of that.

Karla will be providing both core administration and financial support for Wikimedia UK activities, with focus on its programmes and reporting. The role spans across the organisation though, providing administrative help wherever needed, which will make her much appreciated! She will also be the first port of contact for the organisation, so you will definitely come across her soon.

Karla has a very interesting background, coming to us from the Dominican Republic. Here she’s introducing herself:

“I recently relocated to the UK from the Dominican Republic. I have worked for an international development donor agency in the Caribbean region for the last ten years providing a range of administrative, financial and programmatic support to its education, health, youth, democracy and governance, and environmental programmes. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and a masters degree in Management and Productivity.

“In my spare time I enjoy reading, baking, watching films, exploring museums and historic places and am a big follower of Formula 1.

“I am really looking forward to using what I have learnt from my previous work experience to further Wikimedia UK’s objectives.”

Please join us in welcoming Karla to the team!


August 18th, 2015 by Rebecca O'Neill

This post was written by Rebecca O’Neill


Just a few of the books Rebecca used during 100wikidays

It is hard to believe that I completed the #100wikidays challenge on the 9th August, as the time absolutely flew by. The challenge, as many people know, is to write an article a day for 100 days straight and draws on the idea of the 100 days of happiness. Within a few days of the challenge being mentioned to me by Asaf from the foundation, I had fallen down the rabbit hole and created a To Do list in my user space. Unlike the project’s originator, Vassia, I could not place my faith in finding a subject on each day or letting the article subject find you, I needed a plan of attack. As I’m involved in Wikimedia Community Ireland, I had become familiar with the list of Irish National Monuments through our running of Wiki Loves Monuments, and knew that many did not have articles. That was my jumping off point. From there I went to my own areas of interest, Irish naturalists from around the turn of twentieth century, and Irish museums. I choose these areas as I worked for a number of years in the Natural History Museum in Dublin and had become intrigued by the social history and people behind the specimens. My excuse on the museums is a childhood spent in local museums dotted across the county as my parents attempted to entertain children and visitors over the years. Soon enough I had a list of almost 100 potential articles right there.

Although I was not entirely new to creating new articles, I certainly had not created many, so had a lot of the new(ish) editor fears of deletion or criticism. Particularly as I am a woman, you sometimes come primed to expect a little push back, and as I began to focus on women more and more I wondered would I ever have the notability of my articles contested. I was pleasantly surprised. All of my articles are surviving as of right now, and I’m delighted to say that some have been improved upon since I created them. There was no greater pleasure for me than to see an article on an Irish botanical artist or collector edited by someone else adding to the story. It meant that I’m not the only one on Wikipedia who cares!

Soon the Irish naturalists and botanists I was writing about led me to the list of Irish botanical illustrators, which had its fair share of red links. It was finding this that led me to searching the Dictionary of Irish Biography for female entries that mentioned the word “artist”. Suddenly the flood gates opened. Having been an art student in a previous life I have some interest and limited knowledge of art history, and even I was shocked to find the obvious omissions from Wikipedia of Irish female artists. I had found a niche that felt more like a lacuna. If I had fallen down a rabbit hole with 100wikidays, I was through the looking glass now, with a seemingly endless list of artists to write about! Every one artist seem to alert me to at least one or two more red links. As it turns out, 100 days was never going to be enough. It looks as if a second challenge may be on the horizon for me, and rather than just having a general Irish theme it may be 100 Irish women, as there seems to be no end in sight.

Many of the red links languishing in my To Do list are still National Monuments and museums. Non-promotional, non-tourist driven, and comprehensive sources were hard to come by. My hope is to find homes for some of these smaller, or more obscure monuments and institutions, within other articles on their localities etc. Some people I have listed are perhaps not suited to Wikipedia and may be retired from the list, though I hold out hope for some of those early geologists and botanists yet! Doing the challenge has definitely made me a more confident Wikipedian, it has made me feel more like a “real” Wikipedian too, rather than just an enthusiast. I have met some wonderful people both on Wiki and in real life through it, and it has made editing more of a daily habit for me. Saying that I have taken a short break in editing to get PhD and other work done, but it is only a matter of time before another 100 days begins. Having written about everything from the stump of a windmill, to a butter museum, to an almost literal flying nun, I feel like this might only be the beginning.

Science and Wikipedia: a round-up

August 4th, 2015 by Martin Poulter

Entrance to the Wellcome Trust building, host of this year’s Wikipedia Science Conference

This post was written by Dr Martin Poulter, Wikimedia UK volunteer and convener of the Wikipedia Science Conference

The past year has been eventful and exciting for anyone interested in how Wikipedia can support the process and understanding of science. Here are a few stories that have caught my attention, plus a next step that anyone can take.

We knew that the free encyclopedia is one of the top ten most-visited web sites, but thanks to the charity CrossRef we now know that it is in the top ten sites via which people reach scholarly papers.

However, not all links are equal. A paper published on Arxiv and summarised in the MIT Technology Review finds that open-access papers are 47% more likely to be cited on English Wikipedia than closed-access papers. The authors concludeopen access policies have a tremendous impact on the diffusion of science to the broader general public through an intermediary like Wikipedia.”

Closed access versus open access can be a matter of life and death, as shown by a New York Times article about the African Ebola outbreak, which noted that some crucial research was practically unavailable because “downloading one of the papers would cost a physician [in Liberia] $45, about half a week’s salary.”

The single most-used source on Ebola in affected countries at the peak of the African outbreak was Wikipedia, as we now know thanks to a Journal of Medical Internet Research paper about Wikipedia’s medical content. The paper, summarised on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog, found that Wikipedia is now “the single most used website for health information globally”. The authors surveyed Wikipedia’s top contributors to medical content (those with more than 250 edits). Of 117 respondents, more than half were professionals in, or students of, healthcare.

If so many people are consulting Wikipedia for health information, the issue of quality becomes crucial. There is an active field of research comparing Wikipedia to other reference works. As even its logo makes clear, Wikipedia is a work in progress, and there are acknowledged weaknesses, but some scientific areas have reached an impressive standard. A paper published last year in PLoS One compares pharmacology in German and English Wikipedias against scholarly textbooks, concluding “Wikipedia is an accurate and comprehensive source of drug-related information for undergraduate medical education.”

It’s not just public understanding of science that is being shaped by Wikipedia, but even the publication process. A topic round-up on “Inferring Horizontal Gene Transfer” is the latest in a series of review papers published in both Plos Computational Biology and Wikipedia, providing both a fixed, citable reference and an evolving summary of current knowledge.

How to keep up with these rapid developments? There is no better way than attending the Wikipedia Science Conference this September 2-3 at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre in London. Registration is just £29 for two days, including lunches. Geoffrey Bilder from CrossRef is amongst those talking about Wikipedia’s links to the scholarly literature. Speakers from University College London and Cancer Research UK will talk about improving and assessing Wikipedia articles about cancers. Daniel Mietchen will talk about new models of scholarly publication involving Wikipedia and Wikidata, and there is much more in a packed two days.

In an interview at Oxford University (video), well-known author Ben Goldacre argues that the current publication model for medical research “needs a kick up the bum” in the direction of openness. New research appears at a torrential rate that overwhelms any human reader, so we need results in a form that computers can easily query, gathering evidence from many studies at once. This requires the scientific community to tear down barriers to access, and that is what all the conference speakers are working on, in different capacities. Wikipedia, Wikidata and related projects are increasingly showing us what that transformed world of open science will look like.


Wikimedia UK’s members elect new trustees

July 27th, 2015 by MichaelMaggs
The photo shows a panel of people at the front of a room, facing a crowd

Hustings at Saturday’s AGM

This post was written by Michael Maggs, Chair, Wikimedia UK

I am very pleased to announce that at our annual general meeting on Saturday 25 July the members of Wikimedia UK elected three new trustees to the board from a very strong slate of candidates.

Please join me in offering a very warm welcome to Doug Taylor, Nick Poole and Josie Fraser.

Doug Taylor will be well known to many readers as a long-standing active Wikimedia volunteer and Lead Trainer for WMUK. He previously served on the board during 2012-13. Doug is a retired teacher and IT professional.

Nick Poole is the Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. His previous roles include serving as CEO of the Collections Trust and Chair of the Europeana Network. He brings extensive knowledge of and influence in the international GLAM community, and has strong connections to policymakers and funders in the UK and Europe.

Josie Fraser has for the past five years worked in local government as the strategic technology lead of one of the country’s largest and most accelerated school building programmes. She is an expert in the relationship between education and technology and a vocal advocate for free and open knowledge.

Existing trustees Greyham Dawes (treasurer) and myself (chair) were re-elected.

Three trustees have stepped down from the board: Alastair McCapra, Saad Choudri and Joseph Seddon. We thank them for their exceptional expertise, commitment and diligence, and we wish them well for the future.

With these changes, the new board is as follows:

Michael Maggs (board chair, and chair of governance committee)
Simon Knight (vice chair)
Greyham Dawes (treasurer, governance committee, audit and risk committee)
Chris Keating (audit and risk committee)
Carol Campbell (chair of audit and risk committee)
Kate West (governance committee, audit and risk committee)
Gill Hamilton
Doug Taylor
Nick Poole
Josie Fraser

The new board will formally meet for the first time on Saturday 12 September at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, where officer roles will be reviewed.

Please join me in welcoming the new board.

Michael Maggs

Chair, Wikimedia UK

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