Backstage Pass at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Yesterday the Indiana Wikimedia community was invited along to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (the largest in the world of its kind) for a “backstage pass” tour as the opening event of a burgeoning relationship between that museum and Wikimedia. The Children’s Museum is the first to take up the baton after my time at the British Museum to invite a “Wikipedian in Residence” – you can read all about that project at the page WP:GLAM/TCMI.

[Quite probably my favourite object – a “safe, harmless, capshooting, giant atomic bomb!”]

I’ve been here in Indianapolis for the last week helping Lori Phillips settle in as their resident Wikipedian and to talk with staff about their interests and concerns in working with Wikipedia. As an organisation that is dedicated to the concept of “Family learning” (for which there is no WP article, hint hint) and one that currently has no online catalogue of their collection (but is building one soon) the Children’s Museum is particularly interested in working with us. (Lori is also helping a Museum Studies course run by IMA conservator Richard McCoy to use Wikipedia to write Wikipedia articles about notable artworks in the Indiana Statehouse. It is probably the most well-documented “Wikipedia in the classroom” project I’ve ever seen.)

[The collection is divided into three sections “American”, “World cultures” and “Natural”. This Triceratops skeleton is part of their paleontology work – something they hope to collaborate with Wikiproject Dinosaurs on.]

You can my guest blogpost at the Museum’s site about this event – entitled “The Wikipedians are coming!” here and you can see some of the great pictures taken by the visiting Wikimedians on Commons here (note also the subcategory for pictures illustrating the backstage pass event itself).

Lori’s job there will be to, as she puts it, “mine the museum” to discover good illustrations and research that can be published in a way that various Wikiprojects can use. There is already a listing of specific topics that relate WP to the museum – ranging from individual notable items to broader subject areas in which they have expertise. Whilst there’s nothing to announce at this moment I can say that things are looking very positive to be able to make the Museum’s own content (e.g. photographs of their collection) copyright compatible for Wikimedia’s purposes.

img_1314[The gorgeous Dale Chihuly sculpture “Fireworks of glass” dominating the central atrium of the museum. Yes – that’s hundreds of individually blown pieces of glass and it’s not easy to clean.]

One of the the most interesting potential collaborations between Wikimedia and the museum isn’t even on Wikipedia. I suspect that the units of study that the museum already publishes to do with its exhibitions for teachers might become great resources to improve the WikiJunior publications in WikiBooks.

[Some of the items the Museum curators pulled up to show the variety of their collection. On the far right (just before the perspex box) is an ancient Egyptian mummified Falcon!]

On a side note, one of the most interesting questions I received during my time talking with the staff was about the duty of care that the Children’s Museum has towards its target audience (minors) and whether working with Wikipedia might undermine that. Whilst it is certainly true that Wikipedia is not censored for age-appropriateness (meaning there are things that individual parents might find objectionable), and there has been substantial work done recently to survey controversial content and provide solutions on how to deal with this, it is also true that there is probably nowhere else on the unrestricted internet that is dedicated to making NSFW information as un-titilating as possible. When asked this question in a staff-only presentation I pulled up on screen the google results for the search “sex”. Wikipedia was unsurprisingly the top result. I proceeded to show the article and all images in it – beginning with a picture of human conception down to a photo illustrating sexual dimorphism in Pheasants. The staff were impressed with the educational yet direct way in which the content was presented. I think this is a great testament to the way the quality of Wikipedia articles increases the more potentially controversial the topic.

img_1298[Did you know that Darth Maul was on the staff of the TCMI?]

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