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!!

33 Responses to “Feeling glum after GLAM-WIKI”

  1. 1 GerardM August 10, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    On my blog I have written quite a long response. If I feel glum about the conference, it is because I was not there..

    PS I hope you enjoyed the video about the Tropenmuseum
    PS I hope you learned about the Tropenmuseum project about the Maroon
    PS what is kpi ?


  2. 2 seb chan August 10, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    There is a middle ground – one where existing GLAM content is rendered (re)usable by Wikipedia. This is what we’ve done at PHM – and really everyone could do if they really wanted to. This is at the very least a first step towards a different kind of relationship.

  3. 3 Angelina Russo August 11, 2009 at 10:52 am

    I agree with you Seb. Rendering content (re)usable by Wikipedia is an excellent first step and one which can open the door to further discussions. I suppose my greater concern was around the development of educational programs – something which I was asked to reflect upon. I’m still unconvinced as to how a partnership would work in this instance – and I’d be very happy to explore this with wikimedia!

    The issue of neutrality is still one of the greatest concerns though, particularly as it does go to the heart of modern museology. I think there are more discussions ahead and I look forward to them!

  4. 4 mia August 11, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Is there room for a version of ‘neutrality’ created through making the various types, motivations and historical contexts for interpretation visible? Or is it just annoying to say “there is no real neutrality, but you can view a range of responses to topic x here”?

    • 5 Angelina Russo August 12, 2009 at 10:31 am

      Hi Mia
      Probably. I like your idea of viewing a range of responses to topic. Neutrality through communication and visibility sounds like a more democratic proposition than one where interpretation is owned and guarded. So there are some real benefits from crowdsourcing and wikipedia is an excellent example of knowledge sharing. This is all very good and I look forward to more of it.

      My concern is that the partnership model, still in it’s infancy, doesn’t seem to have a clear objective.

      I’m all for new partnerships. I think that Flickr Commons is a brilliant example of the power of crowdsourcing in adding to the records of collections. It is also a very powerful tool for organisations to test the waters of collaboration in ways which are of mutual benefit. Flickr is about photo sharing and sharing the knowledge that can be gathered around that so the partnership is natural and we know it’s worked tremendously well.

      What is the partnership model for Wikipedia though? What is the crux? Sharing information? That’s great but we get to the heart of the problem again very quickly. Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia and so it has to be neutral. It refers to scholarly sources and so that’s a great place for cultural organiations to be cited. So far so good. Museums aren’t neutral though so interpretation on their part benefits from multifarious voices – any wikipedia has many. Also very good. But what is the final product?
      Is it information that becomes part of the record?
      Is it a secondary public resource?

      And more importantly, how do you make a case for the value back to GLAM? The broader question of how and why GLAM and WIKI would collaborate on the development of educational programs is possibly too far into the future.

      Thanks for your thoughts. Much to consider!

      • 6 mia August 12, 2009 at 11:08 pm

        I think you’ve already found the answer in your post above. While providing gallery, museum, library and archive content for re-use in Wikipedia could work really well for all parties, perhaps it just doesn’t work for educational programs as currently defined. It seems like there’s a fundamental mismatch of goals and ethos between Wikipedia and academic researchers, so “the development of resources rather than programs” might be the best place to start.

        The scholars I know (outside the technology field) work on cohesive pieces of research and writing – they’re not currently geared to write series of small edits to ‘neutral’ content. While they may sometimes work collaboratively, it tends to mean individually authored sections of a larger shared work.

        It’d be interesting to see whether the Digital Humanities movement has found solutions to some of the issues around attribution, authorship, collaborative or crowd-sourced works and the necessity for academics to publish for career advancement.

        It’s interesting that you mention Flickr Commons, because I think the sense of mutual benefit is stronger there. For example, partner institutions get direct access to stats and content created by the public. It’s also probably true that the level of control and consent about which photos are released in Flickr Commons makes it more attractive to institutions.

  5. 7 Cath August 12, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Hi Angelina,
    Why be downhearted just because we can’t know in advance what fruit the relationship will bear?

    I can see how Wikipedia’s imperative for ‘neutrality’ can sound old-school, modernist, naive. But in the sense that it seeks that goal through collective action, not hierarchical structures, it is a radically different scenario to an institution (or scholar) claiming neutrality or objectivity.

    ps Sorry for the double track-back there – I didn’t realise a slight post-publication title change would ripple out like that.

    • 8 Angelina Russo August 18, 2009 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks Cath
      I guess it comes back to how you communicate the intent. We can’t know what the fruit of the relationship will bear but with so many constraints on resources I can’t help feeling that we might have a go at establishing the parameters.

      The collection action vs hierarchical structures comment is an interesting one and deserves the attention it commands. Let me think about this one. Somewhere in the back of my mind is some historical knowledge about the formation of the modern museum, collective memory and social responsibility that I want to refer to. Thanks for the challenge!!

      No probs about the track-back! I’d be interested in your thoughts on the recommendations http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/GLAM-WIKI_Recommendations

  6. 9 Angelina Russo August 18, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Thanks Mia. Great comments. I’ll have a look at what Digital Humanities are doing in this area. I review for their conference but haven’t spent enough time looking at the rest of their program. Recommendations from the conference have just been released. You can read them at http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/GLAM-WIKI_Recommendations I’d be interested in your thoughts!

  7. 10 simonfj August 24, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Oh, Don’t be GLUM. You, Seb and others made a lot of people happy.

    Me especially, cause I found another gem on this blog.
    You know how it is. When you have such a good time, you’re bound to get a little down.
    Thanks so much to all.

    • 11 Angelina Russo August 31, 2009 at 10:05 am

      Hi Simon and thanks for the comment! Glad to hear that you came away happy! The event was important and has generated alot of discussion!
      I agree with you about scientific communication. This is one of the areas that we will be exploring in our next research project. It is such a vital part of the communication/GLAM debate.
      Great blog site. Felt quite priveledged to have struck such a chord! Cheers

  8. 12 Roderic Page August 27, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    I’ve been increasingly attracted to Wikipedia as a venue for basic information about biodiversity and taxonomy (e.g., http://iphylo.blogspot.com/2009/06/eol-wikipedia-tdwg-linkeddata-and.html). Much of this research is done in natural history museums by taxonomists, and who are part of the GLAM community.

    You write 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!”

    I don’t see this as conflicting with Wikipedia notions of neutrality. I don’t think the argument is that there is necessarily a single, neutral point of view. The policy states (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NPOV) that content should

    “…represent[ing] fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.”

    I think the key things are not promoting one particular view above others where there is controversy, and citing sources. Wikipedia manages to cover some very controversial topics (indeed, there is a minor research industry on quantifying these, e.g. http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~baquy/papers/wsdm08.pdf).

    Lastly, the issue of credit always comes up. Within taxonomy the relative low impact factor of taxonomic journals has lead to much bleating about how the discipline is undervalued by these measures. It is striking that such journals have much higher citation rates within Wikipedia (see http://iphylo.blogspot.com/2009/08/scientific-citations-in-wikipedia.html). If being cited is a measure of one’s worth, then I think the GLAM community should be looking very hard at Wikipedia as a way to make the case that there are other ways to measure value over and above citations in scientific publications alone.

  9. 13 Sue Gardner August 30, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Gerard, “KPI” means key performance indicators.


  10. 14 Angelina Russo September 9, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Hi Roderic and thanks for your thoughtful response. I find it very interesting that the biodiversity and taxonomy discipines have found wikipedia to be an effective tool for broadening dissemination of scientific information. I wonder whether open source scientific journals are considered as prestigious as the more established ones? Unfortunately I can’t access your blog posting but do hope that you stay with us and provide more thoughts!

  11. 15 BrendanS September 24, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Wow – thanks to all contributers and comments here…like GerardM, I am glum at having missed this event and the debate that surrounded it…without being able to add much to the extended conversation above, it strikes me that new opportunities always offer that level of excitement and frustration – excitement at what might be achieved and the amazing potential; frustration at the impediments and the possibility of recognised opportunities lost or unrealised…while I am an extreme novie in Wiki-world and other digital domains, I share both the excitement and the frustration…looking forward to future debates and developments…

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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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