Virtual volunteering with the National Galleries of Scotland

Thian Portrait of the artist Miss Harriet Carr

Over the course of lockdown in Scotland, we’ve seen a variety of responses to the conditions of the pandemic reflected in our partnership work.  At the National Library of Scotland, staff worked to upload and transcribe the Scottish Chapbook collection to Wikisource.  Student internships adapted and moved online/remote, and Wikimedia UK rolled out online training for online trainers, so that we could better respond to requests for online training.  And over the winter/spring period, we worked with the National Galleries of Scotland to roll out a Virtual Volunteering Programme.  

Volunteer A: The chance to ‘Wiki edit’ has been a revelation to me! Although, (like everyone I know), I have used Wikipedia extensively I never thought it possible to actually contribute. The tuition sessions were really informative and I would recommend it to anyone to give it a try.

Following a conversation with a colleague in curatorial, Rebecca Pierce from the National Galleries of Scotland got in contact with me towards the end of 2020 to ask about running a mini editathon with some of their volunteers, to focus on female artists and sitters of works held in the Scottish Collection.  We ran that event in December 2020, followed by another on 17th February 2021, and then 29th March 2021.  The first two focussed on an introduction to editing Wikipedia, with the third looking in more depth at how to build a good biography, and integrate biographical information into the encyclopedia.  

Volunteer B: Thank you also to Dr Sara for being so cheery and helpful and patient!  I came away with a big smile, feeling very proud of myself and genuinely upskilled in something that I didn’t know a lot about before.

Rebecca was looking for ways to keep volunteers engaged over lockdown, when access to the Galleries, and thus the usual volunteering tasks, wasn’t possible.  And indeed, it’s proven to be very popular amongst the volunteer pool, who so far, have contributed over 50 hours to the project. 

Rebecca Pierce, NGS: Virtual volunteering is quite far removed from the usual way that the National Galleries of Scotland’s Volunteer Programme operates; so, adapting to create meaningful volunteer opportunities presented quite the challenge. Running new Wiki-editing initiatives has allowed us to create collaborative, supported, and flexible opportunities that can meet the interests of numerous volunteers. It has quickly become one of the most popular aspects of our online programme. Better yet, Wikipedia editing has allowed volunteers to further engage with the Collection and to raise the profiles of lesser known and underrepresented artists. During March, we hosted a month-long edit in celebration of International Women’s Day and volunteers contributed a phenomenal 50 hours towards creating and editing the pages of female Scottish artists. A truly fantastic result that could not have been achieved without the support of Dr Thomas and Wikimedia. 

This is the kind of work that doesn’t have to stop when lockdown eases, and we’re already planning on how to continue with the Galleries.  This type of volunteering can be done remotely, in-person, or in a hybrid fashion.  Volunteers can carry out research at home and at their leisure, at hours that suit them, or could (once restrictions allow), go on-site to carry out research at one of the Gallery sites.  Editing can be done in group settings or at the volunteer’s leisure, again in-person or remotely. This opens up digital volunteering opportunities to those for whom in-person events would present a challenge due to access requirements.

Volunteer C: I’m afraid that I got rather hooked and have spent a bit of time on some of my chosen subjects. Part of the fun is to find proper sources to back up the article or edit. This can take you on wonderful tangents and nooks and crannies of the internet and books and articles!

Even after the sessions had finished [Sara] was available and was able to help by email. I am now weeks into my research and keep finding more information…but I have to stop soon and publish!

A most enjoyable experience and a pleasure to be a Wikipedia editor and part of a worldwide family.

The availability of this activity during lockdown provided an interesting and worthwhile activity in which volunteers could engage, teaching them new skills and allowing a global audience for their work. For Wikimedia UK, it allows us to expand our pool of volunteer editors, the Scottish Wiki community, and to help contribute quality information on underrepresented content on the encyclopedia.  

Volunteer D: The Wikipedia editing programme at the National Galleries of Scotland with Dr Sara Thomas has been a brilliant initiative to start being part of a collaborative worldwide team of editors! Thanks to these encouraging sessions of collective learning I began to learn the instruments and policies for sharing knowledge on Wikipedia and so to contribute to make it free, reliable, accurate and accessible to everyone.

Articles created or improved so far with the Virtual Volunteering group include Harriet Carr, Elizabeth Price, and Flora Macdonald Reid.

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