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........................

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