Monday, August 10, 2009

Feeling glum ...

Angelina Russo wrote why she feels glum after the GLAM-wiki conference. There are many points she raises and they deserve a response. The questions raise essential issues and this is my take on them.

Original research
When the GLAM collaborate with Wikipedia, they will not and should not take everything they have and move it over to Commons or Wikipedia. In a GLAM you may expect original research, you should expect cultural interpretation being partial, constructed, contestable when this is the very thing that the ‘new museology’ is built on.

In Wikipedia original research is not wanted and, this is understandable because Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia and GLAMs offer Wikipedia sources. When a museum expresses a particular interpretation, the result is that Wikipedia can pick this up. This is not an issue, as GLAM follows the tenets of modern museology, it will research and it does opine and it may be used as a source.

When people write in Wikipedia, it is very clear what has been contributed. It can be found through the user contributions and it can be found as part of the history of an article. A specific version of an article can even be found through a "permalink" demonstrating what the version looked like when the editing was more or less done.

Again, writing a Wikipedia article is not scholarly research. While it is absolutely clear who contributed what and, who was how important to an article this is not science. This is writing to tell the world about a subject and explicitly writing it with a neutral point of view in mind. The question what impetus there is to contribute to Wikipedia? This is where the public is informed about your subject, writing in Wikipedia is informing the world not just a few peers.

What GLAM have to offer the Wikimedia movement
A good Wikipedia article is sprinkled with sources. Typically references are made to publications but there is an equal need to show the provenance of illustrations. As long as people are able to go to libraries and read the publications, as long as people can go to the archives and museums to see an original, Wikipedia can be trusted to inform with a neutral point of view in mind.

Why the Wikimedia movement is of interest to GLAM

Many people consider GLAM as ivory towers. This is where much historic material is stored and, where only a fraction is available to the public. Wikipedia exists in over 250 languages and they all need illustrations, they are all looking for sources in that language. The ivory towers are maintained largely by public funding and the use of the material in projects like Wikipedia gives the GLAM relevance. Relevance because their material is used, relevance because the GLAM is referred to as part of the provenance.

In conclusion:

  • GLAMs and the Wikimedia movement are natural partners
  • GLAM have their own unique role to play
    • they preserve our cultural heritage
    • they research the collections they are entrusted with
    • their social relevance needs to be appreciated in order for them to get the funding they require
    • a GLAM can gain a global audience through the Internet
  • The Wikipedia has its own role to play
    • there are over 250 Wikipedias in as many languages
    • new content is created by volunteers so coverage can be spotty
    • Wikipedia illustrations needs provenance and a reference to a GLAM is imho a minimal requirement. The complete annotation would be preferred.
As the collaborative approach with GLAM is new, time will tell what will work and how we can make things succeed. The Tropenmuseum is for me a trail blazer. They are going to upload 100.000 images about Indonesia with Dutch annotations, the Indonesian chapter has found translators who will open up this part of their cultural heritage by translating this in Bahasa Indonesia. They ask the Wikipedia community to colaborate on an exhibition that will be opened in November about the Maroon of Suriname. These are just examples of what can be done.
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