The British Museum and Me

Yesterday it was officially announced by Matthew Cock, the Head of Web, that the British Museum will be bringing me in-house as the “volunteer Wikipedian in Residence”! It will be a five week pilot project in June in the leadup to Wikimania 2010.

Let me restate this to emphasis its awesomeness: Arguably the world’s most significant museum, 257 years old, with countless treasures from all civilisations, has decided to be the first GLAM in the world to incorporate a Wikipedian as an official member of the volunteer team. And I get to be that lucky person!

(The Great Court - Andrew Dunn. CC-by-SA)

The Great Court. Photo by Andrew Dunn, CC-by-SA.

This is built on the idea by the same name that I’ve previously blogged about and I think this is extremely significant as it represents a new way for cultural organisations to harness the educative and collaborative potential of the internet in a way that directly speaks to their mission as public collections to teach and share. Equally, it is a great opportunity for the Wikimedia community to get access to best-practice and expertise to help improve its projects and ways of doing things.

Not surprisingly, I am honoured and very excited to be able to undertake this, in my opinion, the WORLD’S BEST JOB. What better combination could there be than the museum that bills itself as “free to the world since 1753” and “the free encyclopedia [since 2001]”!

Extract from the announcement:

[The British Museum is] one of the broadest-ranging cultural collections
in the world. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, is the most consulted
and largest compendium of knowledge ever compiled. By harnessing the
expertise of the British Museum and the reach of Wikipedia, this project
aims to bring mutual benefit to both organisations.

Liam’s underlying task will be to be to build a relationship between the
Museum and the Wikipedian community through a range of activities both
internally and public-facing. These will include: creating or expanding
existing articles about notable items or subjects of specific relevance to
the collection and the Museum’s expertise; supporting Wikipedians already
editing articles related to the British Museum both locally and internationally;
and working with Museum staff to explain Wikipedia’s practices and how
they might be able to contribute directly.

William Blake, the Ancient of Days. Public Domain. BM Catalogue reference AN38787001

(William Blake, Ancient of Days, 1794. Public Domain.
BM ref. AN38787001)

Potential activities – how can I help you?
The “Wikipedian in Residence” role is not about monopolising or owning articles about British Museum topics, but is about providing an added resource for the existing editors to improve the speed and quality of their work.

First and foremost, we will be collaborating with Wikimedia-UK to organise a “backstage pass” tour for Londonpedians some time in early June. This will be built on the experience of a similar event held at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney which proved to be a very good way for each community to meet the other to break down some barriers and share expertise. There are many things that I could also do in this role. The British Museum will bring their wishlist but equally you may have ideas of your own. Is there anything I can do to help? Check out their book Masterpieces of the British Museum and Wikipedia’s Category: Collections of the British Museum for some ideas.

Please contact me by my Wikipedia user talkpage, on twitter @wittylama, or any of the methods listed in the “contact” section of my website if you have any projects with which you think I might be able to help. Potentially I could do some research for you or put you in touch with an expert; find you a reference or collaborate on an article. The range of activities is quite dauntingly large – everything from new stubs and featured articles to translations, training and tours – I’m sure if five weeks is not enough, there’s many lifetimes’ work in this! On the other hand, if you owe me a wiki-favour expect to have it called in 🙂

Replica of one of the 12th Century Lewis Chessmen - Andrew Dunn. CC-by-SA

(Replica of one of the 12th Century Lewis Chessmen. Photo by Andrew Dunn, CC-by-SA.
BM ref. AN236174001

Out of scope
Matthew and I have tried to be careful in designing the project so that it does not step on any toes either in the Wikimedia community or the British Museum. The whole point is to build a relationship of trust, so it is important to not wade into areas that will just end up being a world.of.pain. Therefore, aside from that which comes under Wikipedia’s “non-controversial edits” guideline, I will not be working on the article about the British Museum itself nor on any contentious topics such as restitution of disputed items in the collection. Certainly, I would try to answer questions and research things that were asked of me on the talkpage.

Equally, although I will probably end up placing external links in articles back to the British Museum website, this is not the principal purpose of the exercise. It must be noted that the project is being run out of the “Department of Learning and Audiences” in collaboration with the curatorial staff. It is not a marketing campaign.

Just as the British Museum will not be asking me to undermine Wikipedia’s policies, I will be at pains not to undermine theirs. So, whilst I will be discussing various projects with staff and will continue to advocate for free-licences, I will be not be acting like the “content liberation army of the People’s Republic of Wikimedia”. Please see my previous blog post, Content Liberation for my views on this behaviour.

(the Rosetta Stone. Photo by Hans Hillewaert, CC-by-SA.
BM ref. AN16456004)

Measures of Success
As this is a pilot project the scope and scale of the activities will necessarily change as the project progresses. The whole thing will also be reviewed at the end of the five weeks. In the future the position may even become a regular one, with a new volunteer every six months coming on-site to work on “their thing”, thereby giving the chance to many people to get this experience. We’ll just have to see how this pilot works out.

As mentioned, the endpoint of the pilot period will be marked with the 6th annual Wikimania conference to be held in Gdansk, Poland (I note there’s an awesome London-Gdansk roadtrip planned of which I’ll definitely be part). I expect to be making a presentation on the success (or otherwise) of the project using qualitative and quantitative measures. Some things that will be important to track throughout this project could include:

  • aggregate pageviews for Wikipedia pages in Category: Collections of the British Museum etc. over time;
  • the quality of these articles over time and whether higher quality Wikipedia articles produces increased pageviews and/or increased clickthroughs;
  • the state of content in Wikipedia editions other than English (such as the 10 languages the Museum already caters for via its audioguides);
  • whether an on-site volunteer has a flow-on effect to other Wikipedians which helps increase their effectiveness and satisfaction;
  • the self-reported level of confidence that curatorial staff have with concepts of editing a wiki, free-licences and crowdsourcing;
  • the self-reported level of confidence local/remote Wikipedians have in using the British Museum’s resources (publications and expertise) for their research;
  • …and many others, no doubt!

(The Great Dish of the Mildenhall Treasure. Photo by Litlnemo, CC-by-NC-SA.
BM ref. AN9971001)

See you there?
I will be starting the role in the first week of June. At the very least I’ll be able to meet a bunch of new people at the 13 June London Wikipedia meetup. As I’ll be temporarily moving to London from Sydney to undertake this unpaid role, I hope someone at the meetup can shout me a beer! I really care about GLAM-WIKI relations so I think you could say this represents me putting my money where my mouth is 🙂

Stay tuned for more announcements of BM-WP awesomeness!

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20 Responses to The British Museum and Me

  1. Fajro says:

    Great job!


  2. Rosie says:

    How exciting! Congratulations, this looks an amazing opportunity. Will certainly shout you a beer if I’m in London then!

  3. Erik Zachte says:

    Heartfelt congratulations. What a splendid opportunity to bring GLAM initiatives to another level.

  4. Jan Ainali says:

    Congratulations! This is super! I can feel that this will help us a lot when talking to museums in Sweden. Did the British Museum post this in any way that is more eye-pleasing than the mailinglist?

  5. Erik Moeller says:

    Wonderful news; congratulations and good luck in your new role. 🙂

  6. Brian NZ says:

    Congard! 🙂 Sounds like a lot of fun, enjoy

  7. samuel says:

    wonderfull opportunity to make both world meet. After “Britain Loves Wikipedia” seems like both are going to live together. Tell us about the kids ;°)

  8. Peter Coombe says:

    Wow, congratulations! This sounds like a great opportunity for everyone involved.

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  10. Prue says:

    Congrats Yum! Sounds fantastic. I’ll let L.J. know you’re coming (many renditions of “WHHHHHENNNNN someone in the dark reaches out TOOO YERRR!” later)…

    xx P

  11. phoebe says:

    I want your job, only at the Library of Congress 🙂

    Congratulations! (I’m putting a note about this in the Signpost this week).

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  13. SJ Klein says:

    How wonderful. I’m excited for you; can’t wait to see what you find to work on once you’ve been there a few days.

  14. Harry Wood says:

    Congratulations! Sounds like a pretty amazing job. Great to see you’re coming along to the London wikipedia meet-ups too. Sadly I can’t make the next one myself, but maybe I shall see you there some time.

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