This post was written by Ally Crockford, Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland
In early June a slightly different kind of GLAM:Wiki workshop was held in Edinburgh. No new content was uploaded, no new user accounts were created, and no articles were edited throughout the entirety of a four hour event. Part symposium, part open forum, this event was focused instead on introducing GLAMs to the ins and outs of collaborating with Wikimedia in a more direct and dialogic approach. It is a type of event that I would encourage other Wikimedians in Residence, or Ambassadors, or Wikimedians in any capacity, to replicate. This is especially true if you happen to be located in an ‘outpost’ community within your local chapter, where awareness is not nearly as high. This was certainly the case in Scotland until relatively recently.
Having now been in position as Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland for a year, I have come to expect that a significant part of the job involves reaching out to other GLAM organisations, particularly in Scotland where outreach has been much less expansive, and introducing them to the prospect of a collaboration with Wikimedia, and what that might look like. It’s a conversation that I’ve had so frequently, I have been able to identify certain trends that emerge: general enthusiasm, certain anxiety, and ultimately, the almost unpredictable result of action or inaction on the part of the GLAM. Encouraging collaboration is one thing; making it happen is another, and unfortunately enthusiasm only translates into tangible collaboration a fraction of the time.
This workshop, then, aimed to capitalise on the enthusiasm to build towards more GLAM:Wiki collaborations in Scotland. The workshop was announced through mailing lists, social media, and established GLAM contacts, and generated a good deal of interest. Though most ScotWiki events tend to be on the smaller side, for this workshop the 11 participants (representing 9 different organisations, mostly from around Glasgow and Edinburgh) demonstrated a solid interest, and many more contacts expressed regret that they could not attend.
After the usual introduction to GLAM:Wiki collaborations – what it is, what it has achieved, what the various benefits have been and can be – the workshop spent some time outlining the existing GLAM:Wiki event arsenal. Attendees were introduced to what exactly an Edit-a-thon was, how it differed from a Backstage Pass or a Photographic Expedition, and what was involved in putting together each type of event. What was most important about this workshop, though, is that this was not at all the focus of the day.
Far more important were the open discussions and breakout groups that were held throughout the rest of the afternoon. Fuelled by tea, coffee, and (of course) ample biscuits, participants were challenged to answer questions as well: what was motivating them, not only with regards to their interest in Wikimedia but in their jobs, more generally? What were they trying to achieve, and where might Wikimedia fit within that goal? Knowing more about the type of events typically run in collaboration with Wikimedia, what potential concerns or barriers did they see arising from an attempt to run such an event? The discussion provoked by these questions centred largely on workload and concerns about support, both from Wikimedia UK and from within the organisation, but the dominant point of view seemed overwhelmingly to be that it was an avenue worth pursuing, and that getting the information to the right people was a shared central goal on both parts. But definitely the most valuable aspect of the workshop, from my perspective as the organiser, were the breakout groups and the discussion that followed them.
In smaller groups, the participants were asked to brainstorm ways that their organisation could collaborate with Wikimedia – not only through the usual methods, but in any way they could think of – to sketch out best- and worst-case scenarios, and to outline a plan to make sure that collaboration happened. In addition to incorporating Wikimedia events into existing exhibition plans or scheduled events, one participant proposed collaborating with Wikidata as part of an initiative to improve collections metadata internally. Another wondered whether it would be possible to use Wikimedia Commons as a place to record multimedia responses to exhibitions or events, capturing the cultural moment in a much more vivid and intimate medium than is usually offered by programmes, reviews, or exhibition catalogues.
This discussion only further underlined the importance of conceptualising GLAM:Wiki collaborations as a mutual partnership. In a job that often focuses on numbers and metrics – how many images uploaded, how many new users, how many articles improved, what was the measurable benefit for the organisation and what was the measurable benefit for Wikimedia – it can be easy to overlook the importance of developing relationships with GLAM organisations that go beyond an exchange of content for increased web traffic. Wikimedia opens up a whole new prospect for GLAMs not only in terms of dissemination of their content, but in its generation and its conservation. It can provide a whole new cultural context not previously available. Likewise, GLAMs can offer Wikimedia new insight into the types of information that it can (and should?) make available, part of a continuous re-imagining of what we mean when we talk about ‘the sum of all human knowledge’.