Sunday, 14 April 2013

GLAM-Wiki 2013

GLAM-Wiki 2013

Do you react to the cover of this document?

Now imagine yourself in the Ephesus of AD45 (the exact parallel needs to slip just a bit later). A new religion has been  just 12 years in the making and you receive an invite to one of its early councils. Wikipedia's first article was published in 2001. In its 12 year growth in this the digital age, its explosion into being a place of world influencing makes the growth of Early Christianity rather slow. Yet there are intense parallels. 

I was fortunate last Saturday to be at the GLAM-Wiki 2013 conference at the British Library. It is where I sensed this parallel. The topic had drawn influential, articulate and energised contributors from ISRAEL to Iceland, onto North America and through Europe in Greece, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands (not comprehensive).

The essence of a new religion is a universal solution. Wikipedia is not claiming to save your soul but its founder's claim is a large one "free access to the sum of all human knowledge". And like a religion, does it claim an aspiration too far, one that may be both impractical and undesirable? Had Wales said "the sum of all public knowledge" there would be a big tick from me. Still something of  a task but an unambiguously desirable one.  However the theology in me baulks at "all human knowledge". Privacy of information for both the private person and the corporate entity is an essential part of functioning. A mysterious God may know the sum of my brain and perhaps I shall need to rely on his mercy at some point. But do I wish the world to know the inner workings of my brain? Do you wish to share yours? Wikileaks (it is not part of the Wiki Foundation) has taken this philosophy into some extreme territory. Has someone pondered on the links between Wikimedia and 1984? An Oyster card could be in the same zone.

Wikipedia (the prime part of Wikimedia) comes with caveats and there are others. Despite which it is here to stay, it will be the measure of on line knowledge for the foreseeable future and the GLAM Sector (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) MUST master their engagement with it. The obvious challenges added are that the user has to work in  a computer code, no sole authorship exists, articles evolve in negotiation and for a busy public sector worker, this enthusiasm could be frustrating. It is a touchy feely place with a hint of anarchy (but surely not Nihilism). It thrives on openness, a version of outing. It aims to see GLAM's large and small releasing their controls and uploading masses of digitised material irrevocably and free of restraint. There have been spectacularly large examples of this. In fact a variety of licences on the "Commons" do exist, material can with some effort be retracted (if despite all your efforts, another and unhappy copyright holder appears).

I cannot think that a GLAM's engagement with Wikimedia to be successful will be a quick fix. A pump priming residency can get things moving but it is a cultural shift among staff that is needed for the long haul. Staff need to become comfortable with a range of flexible on line tools on top of Wikimedia for the whole package to work. The challenge of not being "promotional" in content or user name may exercise a new editor. There are solutions, finding them and quoting them helps. The new editor will likely discover themselves in a very discursive element often with anonymous people.

This should not be a read as a downer, just some notes of realism, because the rewards for working at it are immense. The multiplication factor of engagement has been shown to be exponential. If it were not so, key institutions like the Brooklin Museum, the British Library, the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum would not in this. For the purposes of where I am working for a while with Wikimedia UK and Tyne & Wear Museums & Archives, there are now plenty of middle sized institutions engaged which offer parallels like Derby Museums #glamderby. For us in North East England it was suggested to me that our area is Wiki light and that therefore there is a yet more open door........................

Houses of Parliament

We are not regulars at Westminster. Fiona and 12 year old Clare had never been there. I went on a Parliamentry lobby back in 1985. Fellow blogger and our MP Guy Opperman stresses how welcome his constituents are to request a "members visit". Essentially this is a privately booked 75 minute free tour of the building. The "members tour" is an industry in itself and only in the summer recess does it morpth into a publicly advertised tour.  Our daughter Clare is 12 so we booked her her first London treat for two nights last week (recommends Harlingford Hotel). Did we pack it in? Both myself and Fiona each had a separate day's work (Wiki and CILIP). We left Prudhoe on the 0630 Thurs and I was back 2137 Sat. In the gap were compressed the RAF Museum at Hendon, Les Miserables at The Queen's (turn up, join the "Returns" queue and pay £67.50 each for a mesmerising experience, all the more for being unplanned), photographing loads of buses, trains and buildings, and the Sylvanian shop in Finsbury Park. London takes time, the Underground was not behaving either day. Clare was exhausted by the time she got back on a train north. She was though electrified with the core visits.

Funny how Les Miserables and the Commons came together! In an age when church institutions struggle largely through their own failings to convince, the 28 year old musical selling out night after night presents the gospel of redeeming love and the nature of freedom. This is the Christian message being proclaimed night after night in the centre of London. Some might not realise this. I knew little enough about the show or the book beforehand. We only went because a friend had taken Clare to see the film and she has not stopped talking about it since.

It was a good warm up act to the Houses of Parliament. For the latter are the triumphant expression of the power of British parliamentary democracy. It would be easy to say the architecture is Victorian Gothic and imperalist. However through all the overwhelming trappings of glory, a human story of struggle shines out, one you realise has been centuries in the making. The tour turned the so familiar building into a human tale. Now maybe perhaps my next move would be to attend a debate, I am already thanks to Guy, in Hansard. Forget any narrow political differences and rejoice to live in a free democracy won only at the cost of a lot of blood, blood which was indeed well on show as we were shown around.

The photo shows Westminster Hall, this is the only place inside where the public may use cameras. It was built in 1097. You can imagine how impressive it was, even though the roof is newer.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Retail woes

A walk around Hexham yesterday and a read of the Courant today revealed how bads things are getting retail wise. I see two enormous factors in play. The on going recession and the accompanying reluctance of people to have a day out from Newcastle. The closure of the bike shop and of Thornton's were new to me. When Tynedale Park was Robbs that acted as a real draw to bring people to the town. Who will drive to Tesco in Hexham to become ensared in a long traffic jam. Silly ole me. The message for Prudhoe is that the developement as currently planned will have exactly the same effect. It will kill the Front Street and ennsare the town in a traffic jam. Only a top class development with innovation on the hillside would really bring prosperity. As the candidates come acalling don't be afraid to raise this. I will not consider voting for anyone as a Prudhoe politician unless they accept the necessity of reviewing the Duke's plan.  I am only aware of one candidate saying this just now.