New Systems for Documenting Public Art

I’m Richard McCoy (@RichardMcCoy), an art conservator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), writer, and Wikipedian [[User:RichardMcCoy]]. Thanks to Liam for letting me guest-post on his blog.

1904 postcard of the Statehouse by the Detroit Photographing Co.

1904 postcard of the Statehouse by the Detroit Photographing Co.

For the past two years I’ve used Wikipedia as a teaching tool in my IUPUI Museum Studies Collection Care & Management course; last year I co-taught this course with Professor Jenny Mikulay [[User:Jgmikulay]].  In that class we challenged our students to document 40 artworks on and near the campus of IUPUI and publish their research in Wikipedia and Flickr. Together we created the IUPUI Public Art Collection and launched Wikiproject Public Art. The project received local, national, and international attention. Also, last spring, after we participated in Wikimeda@MW2010, Jenny organized Wiki Culture Conference at IUPUI, which brought Liam to Indianapolis for the first time, and got us thinking about future possibilities and collaborations.

I was excited to teach the IUPUI class again this semester (on my own) and take on another important final project. This year we set out to document 39 public artworks inside and around one of IUPUI’s most prestigious neighboring buildings, the Indiana Statehouse. The State Capitol building, in its Italian Renaissance revival splendor, houses the Governor of Indiana, the Indiana General Assembly, and lots of important public artworks.

Google Earth view of the Statehouse with public artworks indicated by thumbtacks.

Google Earth view of the Statehouse with public artworks indicated by yellow thumbtacks.

To kick off this year’s project I colloborated with IUPUI School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) Professor Andrea Copeland [[User:Andrea Copeland]] to bring Liam back to the IMA and join Adrianne Wadewitz [[User:Awadwit]] for a night of lectures at the IMA called Wikipedia & the Cultural Sector, which was co-sponsered by the IUPUI SLIS Program, Museum Studies Program, and the IMA. The lectures were recorded and soon will be available on the IMA’s website.

After this great kick-off event, the 21 students (19 graduate & 2 undergrad) in my course spent the past month examining, photographing, researching, and writing about their assigned artworks. A big part of this project is the students’ climb over the steep learning curve to become proficient using Wikipedia & Flickr. Though these services are complex, they are no more complex than other digital asset management system (DAM) or content management system (CMS) like TMS or EMu which new museum professionals often have to learn to use quickly when they are first getting started in the field. The reason why we use Flickr rather than Wikimedia Commons to host all the photographs is because, unlike in many countries, US law does not have a “freedom of panorama” copyright exception.  For artworks, even if permanently installed in public places, any publication of an image of an in-copyright artwork is subject to the approval of the copyright holder. We therefore use Flickr for the image collection and rely on “fair use” to minimally illustrate each article.

Richard and grad student Stephanie Herrick examining the bust of Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh by Daniel Edwards (1996)

Richard and IUPUI graduate student Stephanie Herrick examining the bust of Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh by Daniel Edwards (1996). Photo: Tricia Gilson.

This project was designed as a practical teaching tool that would produce tangible and useful results about art at one of the State’s most important cultural institutions and also serve as a model for other educational programs to document collections of artworks in Wikipedia. I was fortunate to have Lori Phillips [[Uses:HstryQT]] work as the class’ teaching assistant to help develop the logistical framework for the Statehouse project. All of the documentation exists within Wikipedia and will remain as an example for other users and classes.

The act of documenting artworks using Wikipedia & Fickr raised awareness about the collection of art at the Statehouse, some of which were made by important artists more than 100 years ago, and others that are only a few years old. Perhaps the simplest way to gauge the results of this project is to Google the words “Indiana Statehouse Art.” Before we started our project, this resulted in only a few minor links, now there is a page of links about artworks in this collection.

Here are some highlights from this year’s project:


Having articles featured on the Main Page of Wikipedia can bring anywhere from 1500 to 7500 visitors to an article, which, no matter how you figure it, is more attention than many public artworks get in an entire year.

An important point to remember about this project is that, while the students are now finished, in many ways the project has just gotten started. My experience with Wikipedia shows that over time these articles will continue to grow, bit by bit, and their overall quality will continue improve.

Now that I’ve been involved in two major public art documentation projects, I know there’s a lot to do and a lot that could be done in documenting public art in Wikipedia. What if, for starters, every university in the world used this project as a way to document public art on their campus? Or if every city had its entire public art collection documented using this method? Not only would we bringing information important artworks to light–artworks that surround us and often go neglected–but we could be bringing a new group of serious researchers and photographers to Wikipedia.

Over the past year a team of scholars and students have been developing a number of excellent resources to make it easier for anyone to document public art using these tools.  All of this information is contained within Wikiproject Public Art. There’s a lot happening with this project, so I want to take a moment to show some of the highlights and invite everyone to get involved with it and help it truly become a global project.

Without a doubt, Wikipedia is ideally suited for documenting public art because of their accessibility and openness for creating and sharing information in a collaborative environment. Here’s hoping that this project continues to grow into a truly global effort.

Posted in academia, education, History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A series of unrelated things

This post is a bit of a random collection of things that are interesting (to me at least) that have come up in the last few months:

The Brooklyn Museum in New York recently launched an exhibition on the impact of Women on the field of Pop Art which has a brilliant integration of Wikipedia content that both enhances the knowledge of the public-at-large about the subject and also improves the visitor’s experience, at low cost.

In the months before the show, curatorial intern Rebecca Shaykin went about improving the quality of the Wikipedia biographies of all the artists in the show and then the museum techies created an open source iPad interface to present the work in the gallery.

The artists featured in Seductive Subversion deserve to be better integrated into the narrative of Pop Art, in text books, on museum walls, and, yes, even on Wikipedia.  What I’ve done is simply lay the groundwork for their presence on this popular site, in the hopes of generating deeper interest in their lives in work amongst visitors to our exhibition and the general public alike. The pages featured on the iPads in our galleries, like all Wikipedia pages, are continually being updated.  Already Wikipedians have begun contributing to the pages I created just a few weeks ago. — Rebecca Shaykin.

You can see the list of all the articles they helped improve as well as the three-part blogpost about the project (the theory, the editing, and the technology).

A couple of really neat announcements that came from foundation-l this week:

  1. Tim Starling discovered, hidden away, a backup of the earliest edits to Wikipedia ever – dating back to its birthday of January 15th 2001!
  2. People can now donate to the Wikimedia Foundation on a monthly recurring basis, not just once off. Aside from “make Jimmy stop staring at me” this is probably one of the most hotly requested fundraising ideas and will no-doubt create a valuable and stable revenue stream.

Following a speculative email on the Wikimedia Australia mailing list, The National Library of Australia now generates a precise Wikipedia citation template for every single newspaper article in their collection – making it super easy for Wikipedians to find references for Australian history. Simply find any article or page in their digitised newspapers collection and click the “cite” button. The NLA’s fabulous Rose Holley is responsible for getting this done – thank you Rose! Here are her slides from her presentation about the Newspaper digitasation project at GLAM-WIKI in Canberra last year – a project that was mentioned during the presentation by the French national library during the GLAM-WIKI conference in France just last week!


The NLA also apparently has a great time at their staff christmas party! Here’s the video of the performance “puttin’ on the Writs” (don’t miss when Mr. Copyright Law makes them all jump through a hoop).

Based off the original UK war-era poster “Keep calm and carry on” that has recently become retro-cool (see google image search results for some examples and the WP article on its commercialisation). I bought myself this as a present:


It makes me wonder – perhaps we could make some nice GLAM merchandise as gifts for Wikimedians and culture sector professionals who’ve done great outreach work? A bit like the merchandise kits being sent out for Wikipedia’s 10th Birthday celebrations. 🙂

A new MediaWiki editing tool has been developed by a team at Georgia Tech university called “ProveIt” and it is the best thing for Wikipedia usability since the new editing toolbar. It makes it easy to add new references to Wikipedia articles by utilising form-based editing in a neat little javascript addition to the editing interface.

This doesn’t sound like much, but without it you have to know that to add a simple reference to the newspaper show in the NLA screenshot above would require you to write:

{{cite news |url= |title=NEW SHOWS. |newspaper=[[The Advertiser |The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931-1954)]] |location=Adelaide, SA |date=30 November 1936 |accessdate=16 December 2010 |page=11 |publisher=National Library of Australia}}

which outputs as: “NEW SHOWS.”. The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931-1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia): p. 11. 30 November 1936. Retrieved 16 December 2010.

Experienced Wikipedians are good knowing these templates but you can see why that is daunting to a new user. The genius of the ProveIt system is that it creates this code automatically after asking you to fill out a form. Clear, effective, fast. I believe that this tool will be key to encouraging new users to try editing and stay around. Congratulations to the team behind this – I hope it (or something like it) becomes increasingly integrated into the default editing interface.

My pick for best Wikimedia fundraiser satire so far (some of which the WMF has already made an attempt at cataloguing):

Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia Appeal” – the dance music video on YouTube.

And whilst we’re in the department of weird-things-from-the-internet…
I also found this bizzarity: “Kim Jong-Il looking at things

Lori, user:HstryQT, from Indianapolis has just given a presentation at the Children’s Museum about her time so far as the “Wikipedian in Residence” there. n.b Vegemite is an Australian delicacy that no one else appreciates…

On a completely separate note, here’s two things that would greatly improve the efficiency of working across multiple wikis. I know I’m not the first to think of them, but both would have proved extremely useful to me this past week.

  1. Take Single User Login to its logical conclusion and have a global watchlist, contributions lists, userpage/talkpage, interface language preferences, etc. This would alleviate much of the problem of being active on several wikis whereby you have to check each one separately. With fully integrated Single User Login you wouldn’t have to visit every one in turn to see if someone has been trying to communicate with you (see also the essay “integrated, interwiki, global watchlists“).
  2. Allow different privacy/access settings for different user rights groups.  This would not be for Wikipedia, but for all of the Wikis we run for organisational purposes. Currently, every time we have a different level of access rights we have to have a whole new wiki – to that end there the WMF has a BoardWiki (for the trustees), an OfficeWiki (for trustees + staff), an InteralWiki (for trustees + staff + chapter representatives) and the publically viewable FoundationWiki. Most chapters have a similar setup. If the right to view wikipages could be set on a fine grained basis for these different kinds of groups then we wouldn’t need to proliferate wikis all the time for purely administrative purposes. This is one of the fundamental principles of Intellipedia – the US government’s inter-agency intelligence sharing system based on MediaWiki – where pages are viewable based on your national security clearance. Perhaps they could be convinced to share their code for this feature?

Of course, not being of the techie variety, I have no idea if these things are easy to achieve or insanely difficult. Perhaps one of the chapters would like to offer ideas as contracts?

This week I also attended a conference on “Recent Developments in Intellectual Property in South East Asia“. Thank you to the good folks from CCi for inviting me and to Wikimedia Indonesia for pointing this conference out in the first place. One of the speakers was Ari Juliano Gema who is trying to port Creative Commons to the Indonesian jurisdiction. One of the tricky parts, as far as I can understand it, is that in indonesian law you are required to register any commercial contract. Whilst none of the Creative Commons licenses require commercial use several of them allow it – and do so without the obligation to receive specific permission (or registration) from the copyright holder. Ari also pointed out that Indonesians are the second largest users of Facebook (after the USA) and has the largest number of Twitterers in the world. I also I learned about the interesting “Peer to Patent” scheme being run as a pilot project around the world. It is attempting to crowdsource the research for “prior art” that is the time consuming part of any new patent application. Apparently, of the 31 patent applications used in the Australia trial a full third had discoveries made by the community that were incorporated into the final report.

Have a very GLAM christmas! I hope to have some fantastic news to share very soon – watch this space….

Posted in misc | 5 Comments

How to make cultural collaborations scale?

The way it was
There was a time when the idea of the Wikimedia community and a culture sector organisation undertaking a collaboration project would have been looked at with extreme skepticism – from both directions. It was rare for Wikimedians to be taken seriously by professional organisations and it was rarer still for such an organisation to try to work on Wikipedia without being “bitten”.

Times have changed
Now in late 2010, things have changed and we have a different problem.
Now, the issue is how to scale-up our capacity to professionally manage the sheer number of collaboration projects being offered to us, yet still in a way that is consistent with the grassroots nature of Wikimedia projects.


There are still cultural organisations making rearguard actions to ensure exclusivity over “their” cultural heritage. However, it seems to me that we have reached a tipping point in the mood of the cultural sector for curators to become guides rather than guards, for museums to be forums rather than temples. Equally with government data – there appears to be a worldwide trend to providing structured and legally reusable public datasets at the moment (e.g. The UK, Australia, New York city…) Put simply – we are now getting offers from cultural organisations faster than we can meet with them to discuss it.

For example,  two days ago I was the guest of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative in San Diego. BPOC has the task of coordinating innovative digital projects for the 20 cultural institutions in Balboa Park (the main cultural precinct of the city which includes the famous San Diego zoo, art gallery, air & space musuem etc. etc.) They were very keen to hear about what collaboration with Wikimedia projects might look like and how they could get involved, given the variety of content and expertise they have. Then yesterday I was the guest of the Minnesota Historical Society in Minneapolis who want to know how to link their forthcoming professional digital history project with Wikipedia in a way that is compatible and mutually beneficial (see previous post about how the Dictionary of Sydney did this). To that end they’ve already arranged a meetup this weekend with Wikiproject Minnesota and hopefully Wikimedians in San Diego will soon receive a similar invitation!

img_1409[Hotel room view over San Diego]

img_1419[Hotel room view over Minneapolis/St. Paul the next morning. Sunny one day, snowing the next!]

The problem
Whilst I was honoured to be able to visit these places, it is not a scalable model. This is not the Wikimedia Foundation’s fault as cultural outreach does not fall within their purview. Equally this is not a software problem (although there are many technical things that could be improved). It is not even necessarily a Chapters problem as there is no obligation for a local Chapter to exist before GLAM partnerships can happen (although it does help). I believe this is a processes, documentation, training and people-on-the-ground problem.

We simply have no consistent, easily findable, and easy to understand processes for handling potential partnerships when they are presented to us. If you want to make a mass multimedia donation you just have to know someone who knows user:multichill. If you want to develop some metrics you have to know someone who knows user:magnus manske. Furthermore, we also do not have processes of finding, training and supporting people who are willing to be the local contact for GLAM partners – whether that be using the “in residence” model (e.g the British Museum), the “ambassador” model (e.g. the Public Policy project), the “project manager” model (e.g. Wikimedia Deuschland), the “committee model” (e.g. the Languages Committee) or something else. I have learned just today about an interesting “project cycle” system that Wikimedia Indonesia is developing – CIPTA – that might also be an applicable model.

Until we have these things in place I believe that fantastic opportunities for free-culture will go begging. More importantly, the opportunities might not come again. For instance, a major New York institution told me that they would be happy to have Wikipedians on-site collaborating with their curators but not until there are systems in place for if/when something goes wrong. Cultural organisations have the reasonable expectation that Wikimedia should invest in relationship management with them. “Leave a message on my talkpage” doesn’t cut it when you’re negotiating a copyright policy change with a GLAM.

argentina[A screenshot of the first results of a current project between Wikimedia Argentina and their national broadcaster – historic news footage released under CC-by-SA.]

The solution?
I’m not sure yet.
The aforementioned “processes, documentation, training and people-on-the-ground” issues aren’t as easy to crowdsource like Wikipedia articles because they can’t easily be broken down to bite-sized pieces where everyone can contribute.

For a while I’ve been advocating that the Chapters should be hiring an “outreach manager” each to work on building relationships with local cultural institutions. However hiring “coordinators” can also be very efficient way to kill grassroots activity in any field of endeavour – from the union movement to free-culture. Chapter outreach managers could very easily hinder rather than help the community by becoming a bureaucratic bottlenecks rather than enablers. Furthermore, most countries don’t even have chapters (yet).

screenshot21[Screenshot from the British Museum homepage – recognising the fact of Wikipedia featuring their content that came from the Hoxne Challenge event. The article was clicked 57k times yesterday.]

So, what is the solution? How does the Wikimedia movement increase its capacity to professionally handle partnerships with cultural organisations in a way that in a way that builds upon our great advantage – the worldwide volunteer community.

Your suggestions?

Posted in chapters, museums | 10 Comments


Q) Who would you least expect to attend GLAM-WIKI:UK?
A) The head of rights & reproductions at the National Portrait Gallery

Yesterday Wikimedia UK formally announced the schedule for the forthcoming conference which includes an opening keynote by Cory Doctorow entitled,

“Being a beloved institution will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of being an irrelevant one.”

Including the other keynote presenters (Sue Gardner and Kenneth Crews) there will also be technical talks, presentations from GLAM representatives of five different European countries, guided-tours of Wikipedia by top-notch local editors, directors of Europeana, Culture24, DACS, Creative Commons, the BFI etc. On top of all this, I am personally very pleased to say that Tom Morgan (the aforementioned representative of the NPG) will also be presenting.

img_1186[I’m the one on the left, he’s the one on the right, in case you were wondering. Taken at the recent Open Culture 2010 conference run by Europeana in Amsterdam (my blogpost)]

His presentation is entitled:

Wikipedia and the National Portrait Gallery – A bad first date? A perspective on the developing relationship between Wikipedia and cultural heritage organisations.

I very much look forward to this presentation as the hard questions will be asked in both directions but in a forum where we will be able discuss our differences with civility.

Of course, we remain in complete disagreement on the legal principles that led to the NPG-Wikimedia copyfighting last year (e.g. for my argument see “deaccessioning by copyright“). But! Whilst I disagree with the methods by which the NPG chose to attempt to raise their concerns (by making a legal threat) I completely understand the motivation behind it – to help ensure the financial viability of an important UK cultural organisation. Equally, whilst the NPG disagrees with the method that Wikimedians used to obtain the images (extracting high-resolution files without obtaining permission) I am sure that they agree and support our motivation to do so – to make cultural heritage available to all.

[One of the beautiful NPG images in Wikipedia – Thomas Hobbes by John Michael Wright. (WP entry, NPG catalogue)]

As Adam Carter said in S03E06 of Spooks:

“You can happily question our methods, we do that all the time, but don’t question our motives”

Whilst it did not seem the case to me at the time when “the Wikipedia-NPG issue” first hit the headlines, it was probably this more than anything else that has drawn the Wikiverse’s attention to working with the cultural sector. Just like it was the Siegenthaler incident that kickstarted efforts to improve Wikipedia’s handling of biographies of living people, I believe that the NPG case has given us Wikimedians the impetus to think about how we interact with the cultural sector.

See also:

There will be many interesting presentations listen to and conversations to participate in at the GLAM-WIKI:UK conference. So, if you happen to be in London on the 26th and 27th of November please do come and join us at the British Museum.

Posted in copyright, museums

Let the Fundraiser begin

This is the first time I’ve visited the Wikimedia Foundation offices in their current location. It’s always lovely to be able to see a physical manifestation of the Wikiverse (be it at a meetup or Wikimania etc.) but to see the Foundation offices is something quite different. I think that there is often a large gap of understanding between the WMF and the community at large because it is easy for both to forget that we’re talking about people and not just names on a screen so here are some images of the place which might help to give “The Foundation” a bit more nuance.

img_1369[The noticeboard where some of the thank you letters that people send “to Wikipedia” get posted.]

This week marks the beginning of the annual fundraiser period – when banners exhorting the public to donate appear on the top of all articles. This year the WMF hopes to raise a record amount – $16Million (which is a fraction of what most other global websites operate with, see the 2011 financial plan here) but by asking for smaller amounts from a larger number of people. At the time of writing, the fundraiser has been running for less than a day and it’s already one of the most successful individual fundraising days ever. I seriously think most people in the world don’t actually know that the Wikiverse is run by a non-profit organisation, without advertising, and created by volunteers.

img_1395[Some of the fundraising team analysing the effectiveness of the three “Jimmy appeal” banners being used on the first day.]

img_1394[Some of the team in the Fundraising HQ. The fundraising team is locked on a different floor of the building and not allowed to leave for a month, or until the fundraising target is met :-P]

You can see the live donation data that we’re watching in the office by going to I think the fact that we publish this information so transparently is probably unique in the world of fundraising. It’s quite addictive to watch. I’ve also been intrigued to see the scientific way that the fundraising team here have been testing different banners, translating messages (they’ve launched in 40 languages this year!), optimising the payment systems and improving the communication with the participating chapters. There are many things to criticize the WMF for (and I do), but “consistently improving in everything they do” is not one of them.


[Also today there is a French film crew in the office filming a documentary in 3D that features Wikipedia. It’s hard not to feel self-conscious when you’re typing away at your desk and a camera-crew walk past you filming.]


[Some of the live donor comments, perpetually scrolling in the office]

img_1326[A sign posted above the sink in the office kitchen. Yes, the office is full of lame wiki-jokes. Such as….]

img_1402[…”be Bold” and “CSS is Awesome” coffee mugs! Geeky – but oh so right.]

img_1367[One of the several boards where visiting Wikimedians leave their real-word ~~~~]

img_1403[All meeting rooms are named after famous encyclopedists. XKCD cartoons are to be found everywhere.]

img_1368[“To do: Make Wikipedia Awesomer” on the aforementioned noticeboard]

img_1401[Yep, it’s an office. Looks pretty ordinary but it’s actually a really convivial atmosphere. Nearly everyone has a Tux penguin on their desk. (It’s full during the day, this was taken quite late).]

p.s. In terms of amusing responses from 3rd parties about the fundraiser, so far I think the winner is “Jimmy Wales, Undead Scourge of Wikipedia” – brilliant.

Posted in wikimedia foundation | 9 Comments

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?]

Posted in education, museums | 1 Comment

e-volunteer program

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.

Austin: Live Music Capital of the World... On Haloween night.

[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.

[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.

Posted in education, museums, Uncategorized | 2 Comments