“The institutions that are loved survive”: Pat Hadley and the York Museums Trust

This post was written by Joe Sutherland

Pat Hadley was part way through a PhD in archaeology at the University of York in the summer of last year when he decided to leave to explore new areas in which to apply his skillset. A natural scientist with a digital background, he is interested in the “ways in which the public engages with the past”. For him, Wikipedia is an ideal platform to investigate this.

Since late 2013, he has worked as Wikimedian in Residence at York Museums Trust, helping them to share their collections through Wikipedia and its sister projects. An archaeologist of ten years, and a contributor to Wikipedia since 2011, Pat had been keen to find a museum in York interested in opening up access to their content.

In September 2013, Wikimedia UK supported the York Museums Trust, and two other institutions, in their search for a Wikimedian in Residence. The YMT is a charitable body which manages three museums, a contemporary art space, and a public gardens in the city.

“[The YMT] is a brilliant test case for the GLAM-Wiki project, because it’s almost the most typical set of museums you could possibly imagine, all in one space,” Pat explains.

Despite his background in academia, he was surprised to land the role. “I heard that the new scheme was going along, but I had no idea it would be me,” he says. Through a series of “happy accidents” he found himself looking for a project at the same time that applications were open and ended up with the job.

In his time at the YMT, Pat has run many major projects. They have ranged from training sessions for the institutions’ volunteers and staff, donations of content held by the museum to Wikimedia Commons, and a public editathon.

One of his first projects revolved around Tempest Anderson, a doctor, amateur photographer and volcanologist from 19th-century York, whose images have been retained on glass lantern slides. “The museum was planning to do a high-resolution digitisation of those anyway,” Pat explains, “and they’re public domain, so they were one of the key early collections for the project to target.”

As one of the first projects to take place during his tenure, he did face challenges during the work. “Unfortunately we only managed to get 56 images released by the end of the residency, but we got five of those used on the English, German and French Wikipedias. So we’re already beginning to make ripples across Wikipedia. Hopefully in the next few months the museum will be releasing the rest of the images.”

The work on Anderson was built upon in March 2014, in an event focused on the luminaries of historical York. “It was a nightmare to think of a theme that could bring all the collections together,” Pat says.

Pat Hadley outside the Yorkshire Museum
Pat Hadley at the Yorkshire Museum
Photo: User:Rock drum, CC-BY-SA 4.0

As such, the day allowed the improvement of a wide variety of topics on Wikipedia, ranging from natural history to fine art to archaeology. Several YMT curators presented their areas of expertise to a determined collection of sixteen participants, most of whom had never edited before.

The topics covered in the editathon included York-based artists such as Mary Ellen Best. “She was a Victorian artist who painted domestic interiors mostly in watercolour,” Pat says. “She wasn’t painting the kinds of things that were popular among Victorian artists.

“She wasn’t getting much recognition at the time, but there were a significant number of her paintings in the collections here. As a result we were able to release some of those and have some volunteers and experienced Wikipedians work together to get her a very reasonable biography, and even got a ‘Did You Know’ on the front page of Wikipedia. That was fantastic.”

Andrew Woods, curator of numismatics at YMT, had an active role during the day. He focused on the Middleham Hoard, a collection of Civil War-era coinage that was discovered in the eponymous market town in North Yorkshire. “Since we acquired it, it had lain dormant. Despite the fact it is this astonishing, very important hoard, we hadn’t done anything with it,” Andrew explains.

“It doesn’t really fit with our gallery spaces,” he adds, “so what we were really keen to do is to put it on display digitally. We had the coins imaged by a volunteer and we put those images onto Wikimedia. From there they’ve really taken off–a whole page has been written about the hoard, and they’ve been used in a number of different ways thereafter. So it’s taken a hoard that nobody really knew anything about and made it visible to so many more people.”

Overall, the partnership has led to “YMT becoming more open”, says Pat, and he argues that Wikimedia should be a key part of the missions of GLAM institutions moving forward. “They need to be connected. Somebody once said it is the institutions that are loved by everyone that survive.”

“If there are central funding cuts,” he adds, “the museums that share their collections and generate love by giving their knowledge and gardening it out… they are the ones that are going to survive through crises. They’re going to get more people supporting them in all sorts of ways.”

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