This blog post is actually my thoughts I’m pulling together for my presentation to be given on the third day at Wikimania in Buenos Aires next week which will be entitled: “Wikimedia and museums – why we need each other what we can do about it“.
The key thing to come from the recent “GLAM-WIKI: Finding the common ground” event in Canberra was the list of recommendations from both the cultural sector (the galleries, libraries, archives and museums – GLAM) and the Wikimedia community to each other and to government – and were divided into the four themes of the conference: law, tech, education and business.
These are available to be read online (or PDF) here at MetaWiki.
[me giving the welcome speech, with WikipediaVision playing onscreen]
The purpose of these recommendations was to allow both communities to give ideas to each other about what would make GLAM-Wiki collaboration easier and more productive.
Here are a couple of interesting things that were pointed out which aren’t recommendation (and therefore don’t appear on the list) but are interesting nevertheless:
1) In the last few years in Australia there has been a 720% increase in licensing fees paid by the education department (i.e. government funded) to the museum sector (i.e. government funded) because of the increased amount of digital educational material being used in classrooms. This is based on a crazy interpretation of the copyright law that says that schools have to pay fees to use the website of taxpayer funded organisations – the same websites that you or I would view for free anywhere in the world (e.g. the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ABC) and the Copyright Agency Limited (the collection agency) takes a nice cut off the top of this in administration fees.
2) What’s the point of the government investing a ton of cash in a fast “National Broadband Network” (NBN) if there’s no local content to put on it. It’s rather like buying Cable TV if all you get is 57 more channels showing repeats of American sit-coms from the 80’s…
3) If Wikimedia and the cultural sector don’t make public content *public* then any private organisation that creates an information monopoly <cough>google</cough> would have every incentive to lock it up and allow access only to the chosen few – those who can pay for it.
And so, here are some of the points raised in the recommendations list that I’d like to go into greater depth with. I’ll focus on recommendations “to Wikimedia”, rather than the ones that we Wikimedians made “to GLAM” (a.k.a. the cultural sector).
“Education section: Highlight the importance of real-world interaction with cultural heritage, not just online.”
This idea, or variations on it, was raised regularly – the fact that nothing beats the real thing. This seems to stem from a fear/perception that the Wikimedia community and project, because they are web-based, undermine or do not value the importance of “the original object”. It’s one thing to see an image online or in a book, but it’s quite another to actually see something in real life. Reproductions are just that, reproductions. Furthermore, anyone who has watched an archaeology documentary will know that a huge proportion of the information about an object will be learnt from its specific location and that learning about culture in-situ is of fundamental importance. This is the principal concern of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) whose job it is to highlight the importance of “place” in the GLAM sector. Archivists and librarians are equally concerned that, with all this focus on digitising, that we forget that books and documents are *real things* not just texts.
Now, I doubt anyone in the Wikimedia community is actively against real-world interaction with cultural heritage, but let’s face it, we don’t exactly promote it either… For example, when the Featured Article about Théodore Géricault’s magnificent painting “The Raft of the Medusa” went onto the front page of the English Wikipedia on April 10 this year, neither the article nor the metatadata in Wikimedia Commons included a link back to the catalogue record of the painting in the Musée du Louvre, Paris – where the painting is hung.
The best argument I could muster at the time in defence of Wikimedia projects’ promoting “place” was to point to our geo-coding efforts – which are indeed fantastic. This will be doubly so when we have the Open Street Map integration and I hold great hopes for some cool augmented reality applications on smartphones to increase the link between Wikipedia and “place”. E.g. Wikitude:
Nevertheless I think it bears keeping in mind how much our emhasis on web-based interaction with cultural heritage is not the norm for most people (especially those in countries with less technological infrastructure) even if we can’t do much about it right away.
“Law section: If content which was once published under a Creative Commons license is revoked by the publisher, delete it on Wikimedia too.” and “Tech section: Investigate hotlinking content from GLAM institution websites directly into Wikimedia projects to avoid duplicating effort/databases.”
This was an interesting pair that I knew would be controversial when I wrote them down… Hey, I’m just the messenger. But, even if the suggestions themselves are not feasible/acceptable, what is the reason for these suggestions and can we find a way to alleviate any concerns through another mechanism?
In my opinion, this request for revocability comes straight from the “I’m interested in learning how to skydive, but I want a spare parachute to be safe” department. Moving to a free-culture license is scary and people who represent major, publicly funded, organisations obviously don’t want to make judgment calls which they cannot undo later on. I mean, this is one of Creative Commons FAQ’s so, please, don’t think badly of institutions for suggesting it.
[Twisted lines, as seen at [[Malfunction (parachuting)]]. Something no one wants to see – especially without a backup plan.]
It was pointed out to me, quite insightfully I thought, that the very fact that the first of these recommendations could even be suggested (for revocability) is the reason why the second would never happen. That is, if institutions are thinking about publishing under a CC-By or CC-By-SA license but with a mind to revoking that license later on, then Wikimedia projects need to keep a copy of that content, rather than hotlinking it, so that free-culture remains free forever (and not just so long as the institution that owns the object can’t think of a way to make oodles of money out of it). This is a perfectly reasonable point from the Wikimedia perspective.
But the hotlinking issue was raised at a completely different part of discussions. Not because institutions were thinking about revoking access to content but because they were thinking about duplication of effort. The cultural institutions have just spent the last decade putting together digital catalogues of their content which has necessitated huge amounts of labour in transcribing card catalogues and sometimes building bespoke systems to keep all of their information and data in nice neat order. Considering that maintaining the integrity of the information they look after is of critical importance to these institutions – Wikimedians coming along, right-click-n-save and manually transferring their metadata across (often incompletely) looks like a grand waste of effort. So, if hotlinking in Wikimedia projects is not an option for very good legal, cultural and technical reasons, then the Wikimedia community should look at other ways of reducing the duplication of effort. To me this suggests that we might want to develop bots that can periodically (and with permission) scan through the catalogue of an institution and neatly, efficiently and correctly import all of the appropriate data. Tricky to implement, but it would alleviate both communities’ concerns.
“Education section: Create a best-practice for appropriate sharing/publication of indigenous knowledge”, “Law section: Take pro-active care of the moral rights of content creators as these are not waived even with free-licensing” and “Law section: Do not publish content regarding indigenous peoples’ culture without approval/consultation – indigenous cultural rights stand independent of copyright.”
As you can see, there is quite a set of recommendations that deal directly and indirectly with the idea of cultural rights – especially of Indigenous peoples and “Indigenous Intellectual Property rights”. This is an increasingly politically sensitive issue in Australia (and rightly so) as well as worldwide wherever there is an indigenous culture. See section 6 of the International Council of Museums’ code of ethics for example:
“Museum collections reflect the cultural and natural heritage of the communities from which they have been derived. As such they have a character beyond that of ordinary property which may include strong affinities with national, regional, local, ethnic, religious or political identity. It is important therefore that museum policy is responsive to this possibility.”
This is not just a matter of copyright, nor is it just a matter of “Wikipedia should have an article about everything”. No, Wikipedia shouldn’t. Wikipedia should have articles about things that are a) public and b) have verifiable sources. Much of indigenous culture (at least in Australia) is private and has a structured system of access based on gender well as things for elders-only or family-only or clan-only etc. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the interrelationship between indigenous culture and western copyright but I do know that a system such as I described is neither a) public nor b) produces verifiable sources – both of which Wikipedia needs in order to discuss anything.
This is good in that the question is not contentious, but it is clear by the number of recommendations that refer to indigenous issues and moral rights that the Wikimedia community needs to take some kind of proactive approach to being aware of cultural sensitivities around this topic. It is simply not good enough for us to say “we want to know everything about your culture and we’ll put it online where anyone can edit it.” Wikimedia needs a more nuanced approach when it comes to indigenous cultures and how we represent them. I have a feeling that the project with the Tropenmuseum in the Netherlands – to do with the the Maroon people of Suriname – will also come across these issues and I look forward to hearing what they have learnt from it.
That’s it for Round 1 of GLAM-WIKI recommendation deconstruction. I hope to get around to doing some more soon but for the foreseeable future I’ll be doing lots of coverage of Wikimania in Buenos Aires. Keep your ears out for lots of content at the Wikipedia Weekly podcast!