Archive for August, 2009

Feeling glum after GLAM-WIKI

GLAM-WIKI conference, Canberra 6-7 August

Two days in Canberra with some of the most thoughtful and proactive professionals in the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector should have left me on a high. Yet somehow, this conference, organised by Wikimedia to explore potential relationships between them and the cultural sector presented more questions than provided answers.

The crux of the conference seemed to be this:
Wikimedia has global reach for its extensive resources. It also has a veritable army of volunteers who give freely of their time.
GLAM has extensive collections, many of which remain under-documented; hundreds of over-worked professionals and is considered the custodian of institutional cultural knowledge.

The obvious question seemed to be: how could these two sectors come together to their mutual benefit.

On the face of it, it sounds like an ideal relationship:the opportunity to broaden reach, tap into networks of volunteers and an opportunity for wikimedia to not only be the largest source of online information in the world, but with GLAM within the ranks, the most trusted and reputable.

So why so glum?

Andew Lih’s “The Wikipedia Revolution. How a bunch of nobodies created the world’s greatest encyclopedia” provided me with some insight. In it he discusses the central tenants of Wikipedia: good writing, neutrality, reliable sources, verifiability.It is the second, ‘neutrality’ that seems to go to the heart of problems with an otherwise perfect relationship.

Bernice Murphy, Director of Museums Australia suggested that there were bound to be interesting tensions if wikimedia wants neutrality given that GLAM has been working for the past 40 years to deconstruct neutrality. I’d go so far as to to say that the
notion of uncoupling the voice of neutrality in order to voice cultural interpretation as partial, constructed, contestable is infact the very thing that the ‘new museology’ is built on!

So how do we get around that one?

Another point, made by Paul Flemons from the Australian Museum was that the attibution issue has to be front and centre and content uneditable if GLAM is to contribute to Wikipedia. (snomelf [+] Fri 07 Aug 11:23 via Tweetie) As an academic, I know where Paul is coming from. Our measures of success include refereed publications, grant research activity and research higher degree completions. Writing for anything other than a refereed journal/conference is simply not recognised.

While many of us in the sector do maintain blogs and nings, we can claim a certain amount of impact in the sector as our contributions are attributed. Additionally, as I can attest from the museum 3.0 experience, we become known in the sector for our contributions and engagement. In the non-attribution world of wikimedia, what impetus is there to contribute given that we are already contributing scholarly research for which we are credited?

I was invited to speak in the education section of the conference and it was here that the questions really flowed! Following over an hour of discussion I remain convinced that what the sector terms educational programs and resources is different to what
wikimedia might consider these to be. Additionally, while wikimedia has access to thousands of volunteers willing to create content, GLAM has hundreds of employed education, public program and outreach professionals who specialise in interpreting
collection specific information and creating engaging cultural experiences. It was suggested that this craft approach to educational programs was unsustainable and this is where I think the tension lies.

I suspect that it does remain sustainable to create institution specific educational programs as GLAM is funded to achieve this; whereas it isn’t funded to create broader, cross-institutional educational resources. (except in circumstances such as The Learning Federation where extra funding is available to achieve this objective)

Perhaps this is where GLAM and Wikimedia could collaborate – in the development of resources rather than programs. If so, then there ar a number of questions that this raises:
What is the impetus for GLAM to connect with wikimedia?
What does free culture mean to GLAM?
What makes GLAM-WIKI outcomes unique?
How does this partnership translate to KPI?
Who owns Wikimedia content created in partnership with GLAM?
Who funds new content development?
Who and how is it branded?
What links are established to connect to original content?
Is wikimedia content supplementing, enhancing, subsuming GLAM?

The broader questions around the development of a value network which draws wikimedia and GLAM together would include:
Who participates in the network?
What is the role of content in that network?
How is value generated?
How do communities collaborate with institutions in the construction of knowledge?
How are these networks maintained in the process of assessing, acquiring, collecting and distributing content over time?

Sp perhaps glum is too harsh an assessment.

We are faced with a unique opportunity to consider new partnerships which on the face of it seem to the mutual benefit of all. Yet I can’t help feeling that unlike the more general social media arguement (ie: social media is about networked communication
therefore a valuable tool for creating, reaching and respondinng to new voices in a three-way communication model) the GLAM_WIKI relationship may need more careful thought (and possibly an airtight pre-nup) if we are to go down this road.

I’d like this partnership to work and would be really interested in discussions and feedback!!!
Thoughts here or twitter (artech05) would be most appreciated!!

About us

This blog examines social media, cultural institutions and digital participation. It's based on the research projects Engaging with Social Media in Museums and New Literacy, New Audiences. Regular contributors are Angelina Russo, Lynda Kelly and Seb Chan


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Lynda and Angelina at the Conference

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