My take on the GLAM-wiki recommendations

Following on from my last post wondering about the lack of public comment to date, here’s my take on the recommendations. Obviously, as well as being really long, this post is selective and partial – many items seem to me to be straightforward and correct, so I have not commented; others are better discussed by experts in that area. Some of my comments might indicate my ignorance on some issues; I’m happy to be corrected. We all have our ignorances – as I think is evident in some of the requests themselves. So it’s good to have the conversation, and to keep the momentum going.

A key point in the recommendations – and my response to them – is that the cultural sector needs to be educated in the ways of Wikimedia. This venture is just beginning!

1.1 Law requests to GLAM

The idea of proactively publishing the copyright status on each collection item’s description page makes perfect sense, but it is unlikely to be simple to implement. It might (or might not!) be straightforward to adjust the collection database to accommodate a new publicly-visible field, but populating that field for every item would take a lot of human resources, and in the case of government archives, often a single item (a paper file) might require various copyright statuses.

Of course people should be free to use public domain work! Do some cultural institutions really have an actual policy that requires users to ask permission to use public domain content? And do others really place ‘copyright-like restrictions’ on public domain content? Is that even legal? I can understand the Wikimedian view that it might be better to have no online access to public domain content if a donor agreement has prohibited third-party use – it is cause for frustration and potential conflict to have it there.

I’m all for using creative commons licensing where the work is wholly owned and controlled by the institution and/or free for educational use. As someone who has been responsible for responding to requests to reuse published material, I can attest that it is often very time-consuming to craft a response to a request that could be handled by an up-front license with a clear attribution statement. But I also know that this would be a significant change for cultural institutions and that without a ministerial directive, it won’t happen across the sector any time soon.

1.2 Law requests to Wikimedia

On the request to publish donor information as part of the attribution statement, isn’t it up to the license-creator to specify how the attribution should be made?

GLAM sector workers’ access to resources about Wikimedia and the free culture movement seems critical to the success of the collaborative venture. (Note, this request seems to belong more in the Education area?) Some elements that could usefully be incorporated into a toolkit, training package or FAQ are:

  • customised training in adding content to Wikimedia and creating and editing Wikipedia pages
  • a list of benefits of creative commons licensing over other forms of copyright control
  • an explanation of how non-commercial licensing is fraught, and the benefits – including business-wise – of allowing unrestricted use
  • strategy and tactics for negotiating with donors to achieve the best outcome for public access
  • demonstration of successful partnership projects eg German Federal Archives

2.1 Technology requests to GLAM

On the request to publish stable and clean URLs for collection items:

  • this is a really important request – anyone who uses collection material needs to be able to cite and link back to the original sources
  • the fact that this is a request by Wikimedians to the GLAM sector suggests to me that the GLAM sector didn’t really need to request that Wikimedians ‘take proactive care of the moral rights of content creators’
  • this is another recommendation that, for some cultural institutions, could be tricky to implement in the short term – which is not to diminish its status as a high priority request. One workaround for collection databases that don’t generate usable URLs (let alone pURLs) is to create a Zotero translator and publicise that as a way to generate links back to the item. And it may be that the solution to this problem emerges from an agreed standard for cultural collections, which in turn enables a more semantic identification of collections and items within them.

The idea of providing the general public with read-write access to a metadata repository is sensible. It would generate great community engagement, and it would enable bulk development of rich metadata, which could dramatically improve findability of the material and also enhance its meaning – I wrote a paper about that. But such a prospect would also be fairly freaky for many cultural workers, who tend to be concerned that it would jeopardise the integrity or authority of the collection. Such concerns are not difficult to overcome, and indeed successful models are now proliferating (think Powerhouse collection, Australian Newspapers project).

2.2 Technology requests to Wikimedia

Rather than (or as well as) creating ‘easy and extensible templates for citing institutional sources and data’, perhaps Wikimedia could help institutions to make their own template?

3.1 Education requests to GLAM

How good is the Wikimedian offer to do volunteer work on commission from cultural institutions? Are cultural workers thinking about this, even in a back-of-mind way? They should be!

Personally, I think it’s a good idea for on-staff experts to set up an account on Wikimedia so they can be consulted on specific topic areas. If I was an on-staff expert on a particular topic, I would do so. But I wonder how well-received this idea will be – would ‘Expert advisor to Wikimedia’ look good on your CV? Unless you are a high-level academic, in which case it would make you groovy, I suspect not.

3.2 Education requests to Wikimedia

To me, the idea that Wikimedians should highlight the importance of real-world interaction with cultural heritage is weird. Of course a digital copy of something will always lack something that the original, physical item has. But why should it be Wikimedians’ role to remind people of that? Should gallery hosts inform people of the advantages of an online digital copy? (Eg, access from anywhere, any time, sometimes in greater detail and with better light than you can see the real thing; access to items that are otherwise in storage and/or inaccessible in the real world.) This seems a prescriptive, condescending recommendation. Surely each cultural interface can speak for itself. The only way in which this requests makes good sense to me is if it is tied to the request to Wikimedia to improve consistency and comprehensive use of metadata (including physical location of the item). Provenance and context are absolutely critical to understanding cultural heritage. Note that Liam made a similar point in his Wikimania presentation in August.

‘Affirm the compatibility of interpretive debate within encyclopedic neutrality’ – cultural workers who feel this request is a necessary inclusion should read the Wikipedia policy on neutral point of view. My feeling is that the request is already well-met, and seems to work in practice. For example, the long and well-referenced page on evolution includes a paragraph about creationism, which in turn links to a page on creationism that includes sections on Christian and scientific critiques.

Don’t the requests to enable ‘expert contributions’ and external peer review clash with the spirit and process of Wikipedia?

Another request that seems unnecessary is to improve the visibility of the quality assessments of content. Here is a sample page that cites no sources:

Part of a Wikipedia page that cites no sources

To my mind, the orange bar and position at the beginning of the body content makes the message very prominent and clear.

4.1 Business requests to GLAM

These requests all seem reasonable and important and in the case of the request to make images of damaged items available for Wikimedians to digitally restore, generous.

4.2 Business requests to Wikimedia

These requests also seem reasonable, although many of the requests for information about business models could simply constitute items for the training package.

The final request, to generate positive media attention around collaboration projects, would seem to apply equally – or more – to the GLAM sector, which has more resources and a higher, more authoritative media profile than the wiki community.

2 thoughts on “My take on the GLAM-wiki recommendations

  1. Hi Cath,

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. As a Wikimedian, it’s encouraging and positive to see that to a very large degree, GLAM institutions are more or less thinking the same things we are! I’m particularly interested in your suggestions on how we can meet your (as in, the GLAM sector’s) recommendations on Law – my experience has been that there are good answers to these points that we can provide when in person, but we probably need to get better at stimulating discussion and thought in GLAM institutions about this. This is definitely something that WMAU and Wikimedians generally should take on board.

    – Craig

  2. Pingback: Part 1: Making Wikipedia “GLAM-friendly” | Witty’s Blog

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