Do you remember my remarks about the Museums & the Web conference? Well, we’ve just had an informal mini Wikimedia session here in Barcelona. This was prompted by the happy coincidence of three factors: the arrival of Liam Wyatt, who has just concluded his stint as Wikipedian-in-Residence at the British Museum, the growing interest of local museums in what is a real outreach phenomenon, and the dynamism of the Wikipedia community of Catalonia (Vikipèdia).
During the session at the Museu Picasso
All of these energies resulted in a session that marks an important step towards opening up new lines of collaboration. Until quite recently, the world of Wikipedia and the world of museums ran along parallel paths. Our different starting points and a manifest lack of communication led us to forget that we have a common bond stronger than all these differences: serving our users. Wikipedia’s goal is to make contents and knowledge available as many people as possible, which is exactly the same objective as that of the museums! If we focus on that, on the user’s interest, then it is clear that active collaboration is the best formula for offering such contents with the highest quality and the greatest accessibility possible.
Wikipedia has come a long way in a very few years, with a significant improvement in the quality of its contents and with very precise editorial criteria. There’s still a lot to be done and a lot to improve? Of course! From entries that have still to be written and errors to the uneven depth and quality of the contents in certain languages, and so on. This is precisely the reason for collaborating with, and not disparaging, a free encyclopedia that already receives more hits than Google, that comes up first on many search engines, and exists in 250 languages (Catalan is the third oldest, after English and German, and 14th in the number of articles!).
Difficulties along the way?! Of course there are obstacles to be overcome: the academicism of some versus the ‘populism’ of others, freely usable and reusable material versus copyright-protected text and images, paid work versus volunteerism, the vulnerability that comes from anyone being able to edit and modify entries without even having to register, the removal of the occasionally self-promotional content submitted by bodies and institutions without explanation because it was in breach of editorial criteria, etc.
Now, if we are all willing to make each a serious, sustained and combined effort, there are a lot of cooperative actions within the capabilities of any museum: let me mention just some of those outlined by Viquipèdia Catalunya (thanks, Alex Hinojo and Joan Gomà) and one or two others added by me:
· To provide a museum contact for any Wikipedist who has doubts about content which relates to the institution or its collection.
· To provide a list of the most significant pieces in the museum for inclusion in the relevant article.
· To give a little advance warning to the local Wikipedist contact of any words or individuals on Wikipedia with whom we are thinking of making a link, giving them time to revise or expand the content.
· To set concrete goals for improvement and temporary thematic projects.
· To monitor Wikipedia contents from the museum and point out areas where these could be improved.
· To establish prizes (as the British Museum has done) for better quality articles on pieces in the museum
· To contribute to the discussion pages on each article before the introduction of changes, identifying ourselves and making our proposal rather than simply removing content or including a lot of links to our website: doing this without due notification exposes the entry to immediate removal.
· To use Wikipedia as a camp for working on the museum’s educational activities, encouraging students to write entries which will then be subject to review.
In general, the articles dedicated to our museums are very limited. It is to the benefit of all of us — museums, encyclopaedists and users — to help rectify that! The interest of the museums that attended was so great that we have decided to organize a second meeting in the autumn, open to all of the museums of Barcelona and Catalonia and to the Catalan Wikipedia community, where we can all discuss all of these questions in depth. The get-together will be held in the Museu Picasso and will have a mixed museums/Wikipedists programme committee. You are all invited: more details after the summer… Meanwhile, would you like to propose a topic for discussion? Do you have any experience of editing Wikipedia you’d like to share? Have you monitored the entry relating to your institution?