Archives of American Art Case Study, Wikipedia and Libraries: What’s the Connection? CNI2012Fall


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Archives of American Art and Wikipedia: A Case Study, from Wikipedia and Libraries: What’s the Connection? Presented at the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), Fall 2012 Project Briefing

Sara Snyder
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

It used to be that if you wanted information or answers to questions, you went to a library. In an era of increased reliance on major network hubs, information seekers increasingly turn to the web for answers. Therefore it is vital that libraries and archives ensure that their collections, or information about their collections, are easily discoverable on the open web. As the 6th most accessed website globally, Wikipedia is a natural place for cultural heritage institutions to expose their collections.

Wikipedia articles receive a lot of web love: they are highly ranked by search engines; snippets from pages are incorporated into Google’s Knowledge Graph, and are pulled in by services like Facebook, filling in missing content. How can libraries and archives mesh with Wikipedia? This session will detail how OCLC Research, Smithsonian Institution, and others are connecting researchers to unique materials through Wikipedia, put a spotlight on the special role library data can play in Wikipedia, examine how Wikipedia data may be useful to libraries and scholarly institutions, introduce Wikipedia’s GLAM-Wiki initiative, and talk about ways that information professionals can work collaboratively with the World’s Largest Free Encyclopedia.

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  • I work in the Archives of American Art, which is one tiny corner of the Smithsonian Institution, the world's largest museum and research complex. The Smithsonian includes 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoo, as well as 9 separate Research Centers, of which the Archives of American Art is one. Though the Smithsonian is probably best known for its museums, it is worth noting that it is home to over a dozen archival repositories, and a system of 20 branch libraries.
  • Much of my interest in getting involved with Wikipedia can be explained by this chart. The light blue bars represent monthly visitors to The dark blue bars represent monthly visitors to all of the Smithsonian’s websites combined. As an information professional, I am dedicated to helping people find the resources that they need. Working on Wikipedia helps me reach as many information seekers as possible.
  • When I joined the Smithsonian in 2007, staff had already been experimenting with editing Wikipedia over the years, with mixed results. Since many of us didn’t really understand the norms of the community, we often had editors get blocked for conflict of interest, and we were even accused of spamming Wikipedia with links to our websites. In 2010, some volunteers from the DC Wikimedia chapter made contact with some Smithsonian staff members, and together they organized the beginnings of the Smithsonian Institution WikiProject. It kicked off with an in person training session for 30 Smithsonian staff, where we were introduced to the norms and best practices of the Wikipedia community. This event was the first time I grasped the passion and the commitment of the community behind the online encyclopedia. I met a number of Wikipedia editors that day; one of them, Katie Filbert, paid a follow-up visit to the Archives of American Art to speak with me and my supervisor about ways that we could work together.
  • In the Spring of 2011, Katie introduced me to another Wikipedian named Sarah Stierch, who was a grad student in museum studies at that time. I encouraged Sarah to come and intern at the Archives of American Art in order to help us get more involved with the GLAM-Wiki project. And that is how we found ourselves with a Wikipedian in Residence.
  • Our goals for our Wikipedia in Residence were pretty modest. We wanted some training/mentoring, we wanted to see more of our stuff on Wikipedia, and we wanted to get to know the community. We were not really sure what to expect, but were open to new ideas, and luckily Sarah had many.
  • I credit our Wikipedian in Residence with helping to turn me into a much more savvy Wikipedia editor and advocate, and with helping our staff understand how institutional contributions fit with the Wikipedia platform and community. She also connected us with technical experts who were able to automate both data analysis and image contributions by doing some custom scripting. Backstage Pass and Edit-a-thon events—they are incredibly fun and inspiring. If you ever have the chance to attend an edit-a-thon, you should do it. You don’t have to be an expert--it is a great place to learn. Ours have been attended by very smart people from a range of ages and backgrounds. The volunteers get a behind-the-scenes peek at the collections, have Q&A time with staff, and come away inspired to edit articles related to your collections. There is always a great spirit of learning and curiosity. And even though she has now moved on to other projects, our organization now has a number of ongoing relationships with a core group of volunteer editors who we continue to work with.
  • After she finished working with the Archives of American Art, Sarah Stierch went on to serve as Wikipedian in Residence at the Smithsonian Institution Archives for additional semester. By the time she left in 2012, an internal Wikipedian community of staff librarians, archivists, and museum folk had emerged. Since that time, there have been two subsequent edit-a-thons at the Institution, at the American Art Museum last August, and a “Wikipedia Loves Libraries” event at the Smithsonian Libraries in October. “Wikipedia Loves Libraries” was our largest and best attended event yet, with around 40 people in attendance, and took place in the main library of the National Museum of Natural History. We even got a small grant from the DC Wikimedia chapter to provide everybody who attended with a free lunch. The attendees were equally impressed by our collection of rare books and of rare echinoderms.
  • One of our greatest successes in my mind, besides connecting with the community, is our foray into putting our public domain images on the Wikimedia Commons. All Archives of American Art-contributed images include a custom template with our approved metadata and multiple links pointing back to our website. After we uploaded our first batch of images, we didn’t do anything else to work on these images, but I am happy to say that the Wikimedia volunteer community set right to work on their own. Hundreds of our images are now being used to illustrate numerous articles on Wikipedia sites in 25 different languages, from biography pages to articles on life drawing and art education, to history articles. Let me share one example:
  • Here is our record for one of the images we contributed, a WPA photograph of the Harlem renaissance sculptress Augusta Savage. Over a 90 day period, according to Google Analytics, this page on our website had 29 pageviews. (could be better)
  • But the Wikipedia article on Augusta Savage was viewed 2,706 times in the same 90 day period. And what does this article feature front and center?
  • The photograph of her that we contributed to Wikimedia Commons, with our repository’s citation, metadata, and multiple collection links close at hand.
  • At this point, the Archives of American Art is getting a sizable amount of web traffic from the Wikimedia family of sites. For the past few years, Wikipedia has been our single biggest referring URL, and is responsible for about 5% of our overall site traffic. By comparison, Twitter brings us about 2% of our traffic, and Facebook 1%. Given the relatively small amount of maintenance energy we put into Wikipedia, compared to the upkeep required on our social media accounts, Wikipedia gives a very nice return on our investment. But even if we didn’t get the visitor traffic back to our primary website, it seems to me that diffusing our digital assets to a greater audience on sites like Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Commons is the right thing to do. Isn’t this why we digitize our collections after all: so that we can share them with the broadest possible audience?
  • Archives of American Art Case Study, Wikipedia and Libraries: What’s the Connection? CNI2012Fall

    1. 1. Archives of American Art and Wikipedia: A Case Study presented as part ofWikipedia and Libraries: What’s the Connection? Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) Fall 2012 Project Briefing
    2. 2. Monthly Visitors to SmithsonianWebsites vs.
    3. 3.
    4. 4. The Archives’ Goals for OurWikipedian in Residence1. To get training and mentoring for our staff in Wikipedia norms and culture2. To increase access to our digital collections by including information, images, and links in Wikipedia articles3. To develop a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with the Wikimedia community
    5. 5. Activities of theWikipedian in ResidenceTraining – One-on-one mentoring and training – Brown bag info sessions for all staffTools – Script to analyze our creator/subject names against the Wikipedia article database – Wikimedia Commons template & bulk uploadOutreach – Editor recruitment – Backstage Pass & Edit-a-thon event
    6. 6. Wikimedia Commons Contribution:Hi-res Public Domain Photographs
    7. 7. Inbound traffic: Wiki & Social Media 2012 Visits: Wikipedia v. Facebook v. Twitter