One of the things I often ask of GLAMs is “do you have a volunteer program?” (and everyone generally puts their hand up) and then “do you have an e-volunteer program” (at which point everyone puts their hand back down).
At this point I then state that:
Wikipedia already is every culture sector’s e-volunteer program. It’s not the be-all-and-end-all of what such a program could achieve but it’s a very good start.
Real-world museum volunteer programs offer the volunteer a variety of incentives and support in exchange for their time – free exhibition tickets, special lounge areas, newsletters, private events… So, if museums are increasingly trying to reach out to digital audiences (local and more distant) and trying to value digital “visitors” in their own right, then it stands to reason that there should be a way that people should be able to formally affiliate with the organisation in order to volunteer and receive some benefit/recognition for it.
[I'm currently in Austin (for the MCN conference): Live Music Capital of the World... On Halloween night. So far I've seen three people dressed as bananas, four people dressed as trapped Chilean miners (complete with rescue-pod) but only one Na'vi.]
It is therefore with great interest that I note that today the Indianapolis Museum of Art announced they will be expanding their existing volunteering options to include an e-volunteer program based in Wikipedia. As seen on their website:
Of course, this program does not stop existing Wikipedians from working on IMA-related subjects in the way they would already. What it does do, is offer a easy and supported way to start for new editors who mightn’t have otherwise have thought about engaging in Wikipedia. As you can see here they’ve put together lots of resources for helping people start. Currently there is not much by way of benefit for the volunteer themselves but I’m sure this will be developed over time as the pilot project progresses. All the IMA is asking is for the volunteer to register the amount of hours they’ve dedicated to working on IMA-related content on Wikipedia. This can then be reported to the management to prove how much work is going on – and why management should take notice.
I wish them luck!
[World's largest barnstar! Outside the Texas state historical museum, Austin.]
On a related note – a question was raised at the MCN conference today asking about museum e-memberships. If museums all have membership programs that are based around inviting members to come on-site to the physical building, where are the membership programs for people who cannot physically come to the museum? For example, I would love to be an “e-member” of the British Museum but only if it offers me benefits that are relevant to me as someone who’s not based in London.