5 Reasons Archives are an Untapped Goldmine for Wikipedians and Wikimedians


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See video of the original presentation at http://youtu.be/PptQZmf4FKs

Archival repositories are places which hold the original records created by people and organizations--paper, audiovisual, and electronic--preserving and providing access the primary sources that form the backbone of historical research. They are also a treasure trove of unique, reliable sources and free media for Wikipedia editors. Moreover, professional archivists often share the same driving passion that motivates so many volunteer editors: the desire to organize valuable information and make it accessible to all.

This presentation will introduce you to the basics of archival records and research (often a somewhat mysterious process to the uninitiated) and lay out the top 5 reasons why partnerships with archival repositories are of mutual benefit to Wikimedians and archivists alike.

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  • The Smithsonian is the world's largest museum and research complex—includes 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoo, as well as 9 separate Research Centers, and includes over a dozen archives and 20 branch libraries. It is “quasi-federal” entity, meaning that around 70% of our funding comes from the U.S. Federal government, while 30% comes from fundraising efforts like donations, grants, and other revenue streams. It has about 6,000 employees who work all over the world, and is in many ways a very decentralized organization. http://si.edu/ResearchCenters/Archives-American-Art
  • The Archives of American Art an archival repository which is not administratively connected to any specific Smithsonian museum. We were founded in Detroit in 1954 as research center, and joined the Smithsonian Institution in 1970. Our mission is collecting, preserving, and providing access to materials that document the history of the visual arts in America. http://www.aaa.si.edu/
  • To give you an example: just as an artist’s paintings or sculptures may go into the collections of a museum, that artists’ letters, photos, diaries, sketchbooks, postcards, files whatever documentation they kept, comes to the Archives of American Art. In addition to artists we also collect materials from arts organizations or businesses, such as commercial galleries or art dealers.
  • In addition, the Archives of American Art has a very active oral history program, with thousands of interviews, which are a very rich and interesting source of information.
  • When I joined the Archives of American Art staff in 2007 there was some experimental Wikipedia editing going on. This mostly consisted of adding a links on an artist’s page to the record for his or her archival collection on our website. We thought we were sharing really helpful and authoritative resources, but not every other editor saw it that way. This slide shows a 2008 exchange is from a staff member’s talk page; she is accused of being a spammer and has her edits reverted. However, you can see that another editor jumped in, and says “Your hard work has been restored. Hang in there!” Still, I would say our editors on staff felt tentative, experimental, and frankly a little bit unwelcome. Once you are accused of being a spammer, it sort of dents your confidence.
  • Things really began to improve in 2010 when Wikipedia editors from what would become the DC local chapter made contact with some Smithsonian staff members and organized the Smithsonian Institution WikiProject. These editors held an official training session for around 30 Smithsonian staff members, who were instructed on how to set up an account and a user page. Though I had actually had an account and been editing on and off for years, this was the first time I realized that there was a real life community and culture behind the online encyclopedia, and that maybe they were open to institutional participation after all. That day was also the first time I met the wonderful Katie Filbert, who has been such a powerful and important force in the DC chapter & in GLAM. She later came to the archives and met with my supervisor and me. I can’t tell you how powerful a face to face meeting can be in helping to legitimize and make concrete the idea of Wiki collaboration, and I give Katie a lot of credit for being so willing to reach out to us.
  • In April of 2011 Katie Filbert and Sarah Stierch gave a five minute lightning talk at an event called “Ignite Smithsonian” really pitching this GLAM-wiki project. (see http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beglamorous_Sarah_Stierch.pdf) After the event I talked with Sarah, who was a grad student in museum studies, about coming to intern that summer to help us get more involved. And that is how we suddenly found ourselves with a Wikipedian in Residence.
  • This data has Smithsonian network traffic filtered out, so staff or intern work editing Wikipedia is not included.
  • How Archives are Different: I’d like to quickly clarify what archives are, and what they do. Archives are found everywhere - universities ("Special Collections"), historical societies, government, nonprofits and private companies Mission to both preserve--save the old stuff--and provide access to researchers Materials in achives accumulated in the course of everyday business—not something created for posterity to study, but are just the evidence of everyday activies performed by a person or organization Described on the aggregate (by box and folder) Collections and the information about them can be really complicated, so it is often a good idea to contact reference staff
  • Every archive is unique, and within each archive every collection is unique. You can find things in an archives that you won’t see anywhere else, that frequently don’t exist anywhere else. You can learn about a persons biography, but you also might find intimate family photographs, the person’s handwriting, their signature. You can read their diary. You may be able to read the transcript of an oral history interview with them, or see video or hear a recording of their voice as they talk about their lives. This is the raw stuff of history, and it can be transportingly powerful. I would absolutely encourage you to come and visit in person, but increasingly you might not have to. Most repositories have a pretty good web presence, with descriptions of their collections freely available online, and often have already digitized their “greatest hits” documents like rare or special letters or photographs. At the Archives of American Art we are scanning entire collections, totaling hundreds of linear feet. These boxes of material are described down to the folder level. We haven’t applied item level metadata because if we did that, we’d still be working on getting the very first digitized collection online. Instead, we now have 112 collections online in their entirety.
  • Much of the contents of archives are OLD, so copyright has expired. Government records are usually in the public domain. Amazing content for Wikimedia commons or WikiSource Word of warning: archives probably do not have a lawyer on staff to give you free legal advice on t he copyright status of every piece of paper. Remember that we typically describe our collections on the aggregate level, and haven’t spent the time or energy researching copyright for every last letter. So you, as the Wikimedian, will probably be responsible for verifying copyright status for yourself, not a service provided by most archives. BUT, the good new is that you can focus on low hanging fruite, such as older stuff and government records!
  • Sometimes you might be the first person to open a box in long time, which is incredibly exciting. You get to dabble in awesomely retro technologies (hello microfilm!) and smell the old paper. Policies vary, but in many cases anyone with a research project can see original materials. They will probably ask you to register or make an appointment; they may ask you about your project; some repositories prefer you have an academic affiliation.
  • Archival collection descriptions can be truly great sources of information about a notable person or organization. We call them descriptions, guides, finding aids, inventories, but regardless of the name, you are going to see some pretty good and reliable information coming from archives publications and websites. The archivist has looked throught the collection of original documents and created the finding aid, which the repository then publishes online. This is a great secondary source, and often contains information that may not be found anywhere else.
  • Unlike people who come from curatorial training and background, archivists tend to be less interested in interpretation or shaping an education experience. They are similar to librarians, in the sense that they see their role to be sharing information and facilitating—but not necessarily shaping—the research of others. Archivists frequently have academic training in history and/or library and information science. So we are talking about an educated group of people who tend to be very thoughtful about the issues related to information sharing, culture, and literacy. They really care about sharing information and helping people, like the Wikipedian volunteer community does; believe me: you don’t toil away by yourself with boxes of old paper for months on end because you are in it for the money or the glory! You often find some tech-savvy folk, with database, XML, or programming experience. They are great liaisons to brainstorm with on open data projects. You will definitely find copyright expertise on staff You may find a secret Wikipedian already embedded on staff
  • In a month from now I will be on a panel discussion at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting. We will be promoting Wikimedia collaboration to the largest gathering of professional archivists and records managers in the country. I am going to be singing your praises, and encouraging these folks to use the GLAM consortium, telling them to hook up with local chapters, try to establish residencies. The opportunities to work with GLAM professionals are just going to continue to grow!
  • 5 Reasons Archives are an Untapped Goldmine for Wikipedians and Wikimedians

    1. 1. Top 5 Reasons Archivesare an Untapped Goldmine for W ikipedians & W ikimedians Wikimania 2012 conference Washington, DC Sara Snyder
    2. 2. 1. About the Archives of American Art2. GLAM/SI &Wikipedian in Residence3. Top 5 Reasons why archives make fabulous GLAM partners
    3. 3. Archives of American Art,Smithsonian Institution• www.aaa.si.edu (screenshot)
    4. 4. Experimental editing 2007-10
    5. 5. The Archives’ Goals• To run a pilot/experimental project and see what happens• To get training and mentoring for our staff in Wiki norms and culture
    6. 6. W ikipedian in ResidenceActivities• One on one mentoring and training of staff as well as other interns• Analysis of names our collections and corresponding articles in need of creation or improvement• Smithsonian Staff brown bag info sessions• Backstage Pass & Edit-a-thon
    7. 7. Outcomes• 36 new English articles were created utilizing Archives resources • 14 English articles translated into Spanish • 2 articles translated into French • 2 articles translated into Catalan• 12 English articles were expanded• 2 articles was expanded in Spanish• 5 articles were "Do You Knows...?”
    8. 8. Outcomes (con’t)• 1 article was awarded Good Article status• 256 high resolution PD photographs were donated by the Archives to Wikimedia Commons• 4 documents were transcribed for WikiSource• 39 E-Volunteers participated in the project• 3 staff members and 1 intern participated as Wikipedians in the project
    9. 9. Benefits to the Archives• Press coverage• New relationships with other GLAMs• List of articles we continue to work from• Co nfid e nc e in o ur e x p e rtis e a nd the fa c t tha t we a re ind e e d we lc o m e !
    10. 10. Referrals from Wikimedia sites 2009 - 4.72% of site visits 2010 - 5.95% of site visits 2011- 6.57% of site visits Since January of 2010, Wikimedia sites have driven 2x the pageviews to the Archives’ website when compared to all other social media sites combined.
    11. 11. Archives: Who, Where, Whathttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archive
    12. 12. Top 5 Reasons Archives are an Untapped Goldmine forWikipedians & Wikimedians
    13. 13. REASON #5 Archives contain unique and amazing historical sources, increasing amounts of which have been digitized
    14. 14. REASON #4Lots of material found in archivesis out of copyright or publicdomain
    15. 15. REASON #3Doing archival research may makeyou feel like you are starring in anepisode of “History Detectives”
    16. 16. REASON #2Archival collection descriptionsare published, secondary sourcesthat are already written to be: • authoritative • well-researched • have a neutral point of view
    17. 17. REASON #1 Archivists!!! "I thought the curators had all the answers and knew the secrets. Then I hung out with the archivists at the Archives of American Art.“ -Sarah Stierch, “Why Wikipedia Needs Archivists”
    18. 18. Wikipedia:GLAM/SIWikipedia:GLAM/AAAUser:SarasaysSnyderS@si.edu@sosarasays@ArchivesAmerArt