Museums and Wikipedia: towards a necessary cooperation

“It is not logical for the museums and Wikipedia to look at each other with mistrust as if they were enemies, because in reality they do a very similar job and are aimed at the same people, it’s just that they work in different ways.  The best thing for both communities is to work together so as to construct a proactive relationship that generates mutual benefits without detracting from their principles”. These words of Liam Wyatt reflect very well the spirit of the first meeting between the Catalan museums and Wikipedia representatives. The overall balance of the day was very positive: more than 100 professionals from museums and documentation centres from all over Catalonia actively participated in the different talks and discussions that were held throughout the day.  There was a feeling of great interest to know how this popular digital encyclopedia works and to explore ways that could help to spread the task being carried out by museums and cultural institutions.

The conference hall of the Picasso Museum full to the brim with professionals of museums from all over Catalonia

The intense day began with the welcome by the director of the museum, Pepe Serra, who commented that “Wikipedia carries 2.0 in its DNA, before the arrival of 2.0”. These words were followed by the intervention of Liam Wyatt, currently responsible for cultural relations of the Wikimedia Foundation and one of the people who best knows the potential, the benefits, and the difficulties of the collaboration between the museums and Wikipedia. Wyatt had already been invited by the Picasso Museum last July to participate in a small format meeting, when the idea was exploited of holding a GLAM WIKI in Barcelona. In this second visit he mainly spoke about his experience as a Wikipedian-in-residence in the British Museum. During the month in which this pioneering initiative lasted, the museum opened its doors for a ‘heart to heart’ with English Wikipedians and put them in contact with curators, establishing bridges of dialogue and very productive cooperation.  The various activities and initiatives organized allowed the notable increase in the number, quality and diffusion of articles about the museum in Wikipedia.  Liam included a touch of humour when he spoke about the “cultural promiscuity of Wikipedians”, open to writing articles about the most varied topics proposed to them.

Conxa Rodà, from the Picasso team, highlighted the fact that the cultural professionals and the Wikipedians share the same aim: “To make as much knowledge as possible available to the widest possible public with maximum quality”. For this reason she encouraged the Catalan museums to start being committed to collaborating with Wikipedia. It is evident that not everything is easy and that difficulties occur, but this doesn’t justify adopting closed positions by the museums – ‘we possess the knowledge and we have to preserve it from becoming banal’ because in the current digital context it doesn’t make sense anymore. The merging between knowledge and expertise of the museums and the reach and work of Wikipedia can only  lead to a better service for the users.  In this sense, Àlex Hinojo,  Wikipedian, gave some examples of best practices of collaboration: the marathon of editions organised by the British Library, the contribution of curators of the Derbyshire Museums as editors of Wikipedia, the Wikipedian-in-residence that the Palace of Versailles has incorporated, access to biographies of artists within Wikipedia that the Brooklyn Museum facilitated through iPad during an exhibition, and the collaboration of postgraduate students with the Indianapolis Museum of Art for writing entries about their works.  At a Catalan level, it is worth highlighting the collaboration of the Art Museum of Girona in the writing of the article about the work El gran dia de Girona, by Ramon Martí Alsina, and the actions carried out from patrimoni.gencat. On the PowerPoint you can see more details and also a list actions easy to apply.

Joan Gomà, president of Friends of Wikipedia, explained the principles on which Wikipedia is founded and compared the characteristics of this new model of digital encyclopaedia with those of the classical edition.   The rigid unidirectional relation established between the authors and the readers of the traditional encyclopaedias is totally broken down with Wikipedia, because the readers themselves can at the same time be editors and readers. The transparency and the ease of participation that the  wiki system offers has more advantages than disadvantages, because the intentionally bad interventions only signify 3% of the editions and are easily identifiable.  Gomà recognised that the final quality of the articles overall is less standard and more irregular than a traditional encyclopaedia, but studies have been carried out that demonstrate that the texts do not have many more mistakes than those that can be found in a work published in  paper format.  The call by Joan Gomà for the participation of museums and institutions could be heard loud and clear: “First, get stuck in!  Second, return.  Third, discuss”.

The morning sessions closed with a roundtable focused exclusively on the problem of intellectual and reproduction rights, one of the main difficulties to be faced by the institutions when posting contents on the net.   Sònia López, of the Macba, explained the Project of the Xavier Miserachs Collection on Flickr: in exchange for depositing the photographic archive in the centre so that it is curated, studied and digitised, the photographer’s family gave their consent so that the collection could be spread on Internet via Flickr at an average resolution, while at the same time preserving the author rights and the commercial exploitation.  In just ten days there had been more than 80,000 visits, very impressive figures which suggest that we might be more daring when spreading other collections through Internet.

Ignasi Labastida presented the project  Creative Commons, as well as the different types of licenses of author rights applied in the net and their limitations for the use and manipulation of the contents. Labastida encouraged the cultural institutions to open up as much as possible the legal restrictions, especially if the collections are public, and made clear that the fact of opting for Creative Commons licenses doesn’t mean giving everything away; the institution continues to be the titleholder of the author rights of the work and simply gives permission for its free diffusion. “We have to lose the fear of taking away the copyright!!”, he stated.

Albert Sierra, promoter and soul of patrimoni.gencat, made it clear that faced with the potential conflicts of author rights, there are two possible attitudes: either to totally restrict the reuse of the contents due to the fear of breaking the law or to try and stretch as far as possible the margin of action that each license allows.  This second option might lead us to some more legal headaches, but it is the only way of ensuring one of the fundamental aims of any cultural institution: to achieve the maximum diffusion.  For this reason, Sierra believes that “any non commercial use should by defect be the option of any cultural institution”. Facilitating access to cultural collections not only opens them to public consultation, but also fosters participation.

In the afternoon, a group of volunteer Wikipedians led a tutorial in the Macba for learning how to edit on Wikipedia.

Martí Casas

Internship at the Museu Picasso as part of the Masters degree in Cultural heritage from the University of Barcelona

  • Àlex Hinojo
    March 26, 2011

    En nom de tots els viquipedistes catalans, volem agrair-vos l’interès, la bona acollida i la predisposició al diàleg. La relació entre els museus catalans i la Viquipèdia ha tingut un molt bon punt de partida al Museu Picasso.

  • Carme Alba
    March 28, 2011

    Moltes gràcies per l’oportunitat de compartir l’experiència de GLAMwiqui. Felicitats per la iniciativa.
    La posta en escena dels diferents parad(en)igmes que cohabiten en aquest nou espai que estem construint entre els professionals del GLAM i wiquipedistes van evidenciar dos aspectes fonamentals d’aquest espai col·laboratiu: la configuració dels models d’acció, i la funcionalitat o manera d’aproximar-se a les realitats que conformen l’univers GLAM.
    Dos models d’actuació: un orgànic, més propi dels sistemes complexos, capaços de proposar realitats, o conceptes de natura diferent a la dels components generadors, i un altre més mecanicista, referència de models més jeràrquics, propis d’estructures fetes per autoprojectar-se. I 2 models d’aproximació a les realitats, un amb ànim experimental, de descoberta, de síntesi i un altre enfocat a conservar, a fixar, a l’anàlisi. Òbviament, aquestes afirmacions requereixen ser matisades…
    Crec que un dels reptes fonamentals per afavorir les dinàmiques fructíferes dels espais col·laboratius és reconèixer els prejudicis que poden sorgir com a conseqüència de la interrelació de paradigmes, i establir un espai simbiòtic.
    La trobada va ser com un fantàstic correlat del moment actual en àmbits com l’educació o la cultura. Una realitat multinivell a la que ens aproximem amb paradigmes propis de concepcions tendents a la polarització. Crec que el repte és anar construint, des de la generositat i l’ànim experimentador, espais d’interrelació que foragiten la incertesa i els seus efectes.
    Si el matí va ser l’espai de les idees, on tot pot arribar a ser possible, a la tarda, l’espai de la praxis va fer evident la necessitat d’adquirir noves competències, de posicionament i instrumentals. Hem de recordar que el que es presentava era un model, no una caixa d’eines.
    La intervenció de Liam Wyatt va ser la “representació” del canvi de paradigma, d’una manera d’actuar davant de la realitat multinivell. El fer versus la queixa, l’acció com antídot al desconcert. Fer per evitar que el descoratjament s’instal·li només perquè queda molt per fer, per aprendre –i desaprendre-, per compartir. L’Alex Hinojo és un digne company d’aquest viatge… sense més transcendència que l’estrictament necessària i amb molt d’humor… tan senzill i semblava inabastable fa uns dies.
    Felicitats per aquesta iniciativa que desitjo múltiple i duradora.

  • Manuel
    July 6, 2013

    I’m grateful to have grown up being a relugar visitor to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Diego Rivera’s magnificent mural, the mummy exhibit and having lunch under the palms all left a lasting impression.

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