“A significant step towards a sustainable partnership”: Ally Crockford and the National Library of Scotland

This post was written by Joe Sutherland.

Ally Crockford has spent a great deal of time researching in the National Library of Scotland – eight years, in fact – so when the opportunity to open its content for a wider audience came along she jumped at it. “What drew me to working here is the love that I have for the library,” she explains. “I’ve worked here for the last eight years as a researcher and I think it’s an amazing organisation.”

“When I saw the call for a Wikimedian I thought it was an amazing opportunity, because I know how much material is here in the library and how few people get to access that material regularly. To be able to provide access to the collections was wonderful.”

A room full of books has essentially become her habitat by this point. Though originally from Canada, Ally received her PhD in English literature from Edinburgh University, and throughout the programme was heavily involved with the library. Since July 2013, Ally has served as Wikimedian in Residence there.

During her tenure, Ally has worked on several projects aiming to extend the reach of the library’s content to a wider, global audience. One of the projects of which she is most proud was the Anybody But Burns editathon, a quest to fill Wikipedia with information about Scottish poets who don’t have the recognition that Robert Burns enjoys.

“I was really, really pleased with how that came together. It was probably the first event where we saw Wikimedians from the community working alongside contributors who had never used Wikimedia before, but were very interested in Scottish poetry,” she says. “We were working with the Scottish Poetry Library, and we held it in the National Library’s reading rooms, which really was a very special opportunity.”

In fact, the Telegraph named the event as one of “the best places in the UK to celebrate Burns Night”, a title of which she admits to being particularly proud.

Her role has also allowed her to address other issues with Wikipedia, through events organised with the library and with other organisations in Edinburgh. In December 2013, the library worked with the Medical Research Council, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK to host an editathon on women in science. Not only was the goal to improve coverage of female scientists on Wikipedia, a topic area quite under-represented on the site, but also to increase female participation.

“We had more than twenty people who came along,” she says, “and we had fifteen new articles created and five more improved, a lot of them about women in science who had connections to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. We had speakers as well, women who currently have a significant position in the scientific community.”

Sally Macintyre, for example, was one of the speakers. It was really quite fascinating because we had a participant who created an article about her in the evening and then later on she was there speaking. That was a fantastic connection to make – to be able to say, ‘you now have a place on Wikipedia’, and to show her her place on Wikipedia.”

Working with Wikimedia UK has helped the library develop a new metadata and digital content licensing policy, which Ally thinks will allow the NLS to open up its resources and release them under less restrictive licenses.

“[It] would put all of our low-resolution content that is in the public domain back into the public domain,” she explains, “which means we can upload it to Wikimedia Commons. At the moment we’ve only uploaded about 250 images, but I’m quite happy with the images we’ve uploaded and I’m really impressed with the way that the library has changed its attitude towards its material.

“They’re still a little bit hesitant, but they are increasingly becoming more open, and they’ve already identified a couple of thousand images to release over the coming months which I’m very excited to see happen.”

“It also means that going forward, as the library digitises more material,” she adds, “that material will also be able to go up. So I think it’s a significant step towards developing a sustainable partnership with Wikimedia UK on the library’s behalf.”