This post was written by Sara Thomas, Wikimedian in Residence at Museum Galleries Scotland
As Museums Galleries Scotland’s Wikimedian in Residence, I’m often asked what a museum or other GLAM organisation can do with regard to their Wikipedia page. And the answer is often not as simple as you’d think.
Wikipedia has strict policies concerning conflict of interest – meaning basically that you shouldn’t edit an article that’s been written about your friends, family, clients, employer or place of work – so I always advise that an organisation stay well away from directly editing their own page.
Why can’t we edit the page? Surely we’re best placed to talk about our own museum?
One of the central values of Wikipedia is maintaining neutrality. If you’re connected to the organisation, you’re unlikely to be able to maintain that neutral point of view. Crucially, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a marketing tool.
What if there’s a factual error on the page, such as the details of a collection we hold, or our opening hours?
For these kinds of non-controversial edits, I’d suggest that you do the following:
- Create an account (for yourself, not your organisation) and declare your conflict of interest clearly on your user page. For example, “I’m Sara and I’m a Wikimedian in Residence at Museums Galleries Scotland.”
- Go to the talk page of the article in question, and create a new section – “Factual errors”, or something similar.
- In this section, declare your conflict of interest: “Hi there, I work at Museums Galleries Scotland so won’t be editing this article directly, but there are a couple of factual errors in the article, perhaps someone could edit?”
- Detail the errors, and provide sources to back up what you’re saying. This last part is particularly important!
I’d rather that people didn’t talk about a particular controversy in our history… can’t I delete that section?
Sorry, no. This would compromise the factual, neutral point of view. Editing an article to make it seem more (or indeed less) favourable can often end in bad publicity for the organisation. See here, for example.
Our organisation doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. I think we should have one!
Firstly, we have to make sure that your organisation is notable enough for an article. Notability is usually defined in Wikipedia terms as having been the subject of significant coverage in reliable secondary sources – newspapers, journals, books. This will normally need to be more extensive than just local sources – so regional, national or international. There’s more information about notability here.
Once you’ve done this, you should make a list of sources, and request that the article be created. Remember to disclose your conflict of interest! There’s a detailed guide on how to do this here. (It may help to know what a museums page should look like – and there are more details about that here.)
You might also want to link up with a relevant Wikiproject, a group of Wikipedia editors who are interested in editing around a particular subject. For museums, that’s probably Wikiproject Museums.
This all sounds a bit complicated. We’re not really sure how to work Wikipedia…
Wikipedia needs cultural institutions! There are many different ways in which you can contribute to the encyclopedia, and which will be of more benefit to you than editing your museum’s page. Partnerships with Wikipedia (and other wiki projects) can help you reach new audiences, help people engage more deeply with your collections, and increase your reach. If you’re in Scotland and would like me to come and provide free training for you and your colleagues, please drop me a line: email@example.com