Backstage Pass and its achievements

[This is part of a series of posts from my time at the British Museum. If you would like to assist in this project (or just eavesdrop), please contact me to join the regular mailout list and receive news first. The project’s homepage is at]

So it turns out that neither Wikipedians nor museum curators are all that scary after all…

Last Friday approximately 40 Wikimedians me for the largest ever wiki-meetup in UK – a Backstage Pass Tour of the British Museum. I was particularly please to see the diversity amongst the group – across age, gender, languages spoken, personal interests, wiki-experience and geography.

(By Mike Peel, CC-By-SA)
(Ben Roberts curator of bronze age Europe, holding a wikireader, leading his tour)

The event was covered not only by Wikimedia press (article in the Signpost and Wikimedia UK blogpost) but also in the mainstream press with a major piece written by Noam Cohen in the New York Times: “Venerable British Museum enlists in the Wikipedia Revolution

As you can see at the schedule, we were given private tours of various departments by curators who had generously volunteered their day to come and meet us: Greece & Rome, Egypt and Sudan, Coins and Medals; Prints and Drawings; and Bronze Age Europe. Each group came back telling fascinating stories of things not normally on display. For example, the coins department showed the group the Swedish 8 Daler copper plate money which, due to such low cost of copper at the time led to people carrying around unwieldy amounts of metal – precipitating the first paper currency. The Prints and Drawings department had even curated a mini-exhibition just for us of fascinating and potentially Notable objects.

(By Fæ, CC-By-SA)
(An Van Kamp curator of Dutch and Flemish drawings, displaying a Dürer woodblock made of pear wood)

After the morning tours we had lunch together in the staff cafe (thanks to Wikimedia-UK for sponsoring that – food is always encourages a good turnout!) and then headed downstairs to fire up our laptops and do whatever we could to reciprocate.

Apart from having a nice time and learning new things, two of the underlying outcomes that this day was meant to achieve was to:

  1. Build personal relationships between the two communities by simply being able to spend time talking about our mutual interest of sharing knowledge, and also
  2. Ensure that my “residency” at the British Museum was not merely about my having access, but using that access to bring it to a wider community.

These two points are about increasing the bus number for GLAM-Wiki collaboration in an awareness that if my time here in London does not lead to a sustainable relationship after I’ve left then I have wasted this opportunity.

(By Mike Peel, CC-by-SA)
(Breakout groups in the afternoon. Curator expressed to me afterwards how impressed they were at our ability to coalesce around different tasks during this session – I replied that “it’s the wiki way!”)

So what did we achieve?

See for yourself here. Not only did we write 15 articles on the spot (several of which have since been featured on the Wikipedia mainpage as “did you know” leading to small spikes in inbound traffic to the BM website)[1][2][3][4], we also helped set up several curators with their own user accounts and taught them how to edit, created several templates for standardising the way BM objects are displayed in Wikipedia, uploaded photos to Commons and created a portal in Wikisource.

But wait, there’s more!

Featured Article Prize

In the afternoon session, the British Museum also announced another major plank in the growing relationship between the two communities. The head of the Web department, Matthew Cock announced that he would be offering a prize of £100 (≈$140USD/€120) vouchers to the British Museum shop/bookshop as recognition of effort, thanks and incentive to each of the first five Wikipedians who write a featured article about a British Museum collection item (or other highly related subject. If in doubt please contact me). Moreover, these prizes are valid for featured articles in any language edition of Wikipedia.

This is a recognition that Wikipedia work is not only good quality but is consistent with the outreach aspect of the Museum’s mission to engage the public. It is likely to have a positive effect for the Museum in terms of usage of the deeper resources and links back to their research material. It is a win–win situation for free cultural products, and more broadly for the cultural sector. More information here.

One on One Collaborations

Directly related to the announcement of the prize is the creation of a place where Wikipedians can list their desire to be “buddied up” with curators of a particular topic – the “one on one collaborations” page with listings for Wikipedians seeking curators and vice versa. So far we have seven proposals – does anyone want to add their name and potentially claim the first Featured Article prize? Go here.

Photos Required

We also now have a place to request new photographs to be taken of BM objects to help illustrate articles. It would be very hard for an article about a museum object to achieve Featured Article status without an appropriately licensed image of the object so this is a place to make your requests. There are six requests so far.

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