Overall conclusions from the case studies
Herding cats, the wiki way
What these case studies demonstrate, first and foremost, is that GLAM collections are extremely varied. Even though we worked predominantly with material from Swedish institutions, we had an opportunity to engage with different material types and themes: sound recordings, sheet music, structured lexicographic data, photographs, scanned literature and databases. This is but a selection of the different types of material that a Wikimedia chapter with a strong contact network in its local community might encounter.
What all the projects presented in this paper have in common is that in order to execute each of them, we had to conduct research into the existing tools and similar uploads done by others. That was a necessary step to pick the right tools and plan our work in the quickly changing Wikimedia landscape. In general, we have noticed that the tools available to Wikimedians become more robust, stable and versatile every year. This means that there is less need for individuals to build and maintain one-off tools for processing and uploading specific collections, which makes large-scale contributions to the Wikimedia platforms feasible for people without programming knowledge – such as GLAM professionals.
Another common theme has been that there is no one way of doing things. This stems from the nature of the Wikimedia movement. The GLAM community of practice is large and diverse, uniting people with varied backgrounds, skills and interests. Codifying procedures and standards goes against the wiki way of doing things, where suitable solutions grow organically from discussions and experiences, where volunteer developers create small tools to solve very specific problems and where everyone has the right to make their voice heard and be bold.
But there are also negative consequences of the current situation: new or less technically experienced community members face high learning curves, volunteer developers are put under undue pressure if their tools become essential to other users, and outsiders, such as GLAM partners, require training to understand the landscape of Wikimedia platforms, gadgets, scripts, Toolserver tools and documentation.
Building a hub to strengthen and empower the GLAM communities of practice
The 2030 strategic direction states that Wikimedia will become the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge, and anyone who shares our vision will be able to join us. In order for this to become reality, attracting and involving GLAM institutions is crucial. The world’s museums, galleries, archives and libraries are protectors of knowledge, and sharing it is part of their mission. The Wikimedia platforms should be the obvious choice for cultural heritage institutions wishing to share their free resources.
As this paper shows, this is easier said than done. Over the years, Wikimedia Sverige has been serving as a middleman between GLAMs and the Wikimedia platforms. Initially, we would build one-off tools to process and upload specific collections in a process that was opaque to outsiders and required programming knowledge. Today, Wikimedians have flexible tools at their disposal that they can use for large-scale data processing and uploads to Wikidata and Wikimedia Commons. Volunteer developers build scripts and programs that make tasks easier. The GLAM community of practice is becoming stronger and more efficient every year.
We want to take this even further.
Since 2019, Wikimedia Sverige and Wikimedia Foundation have been working towards building a thematic hub for institutional content partnerships – a socio-technical support structure for GLAM communities of practice. The initiative is currently in its early stages, and reflecting upon our experience with GLAM uploads and collaborations is a large part of the process. The GLAM hub will provide an arena for all Wikimedia communities and partners to work together and be part of a support network. And maybe most importantly, it will provide them with user-friendly tools and technical infrastructure.
As mentioned previously, this top-down approach differs from the way Wikimedians have traditionally worked. While the culture of freedom and innovation has resulted in a powerful and varied landscape of tools and workflows, we believe that focused, centralized work on GLAM tools and services is a worthwhile investment that will benefit Wikimedia contributors, affiliates and GLAM partners alike.
In this paper, we have demonstrated some areas where content uploaders face problems due to lack of technology or documentation. It is important to note that many of those problems are not specific to the particular data sets or collections we worked with. Quite the opposite, they affect the work of anyone working with large-scale uploads. By addressing those problems, we can make uploading material easier, faster and accessible to more people – which in turn will make the Wikimedia platforms more interesting and attractive to content partners.
An advantage of building a GLAM hub to address those issues is that we have a unique position and perspective. First and foremost, by serving as a catalyst for ideas and building links between Wikimedia contributors, affiliates and GLAM partners, we can collect experiences and views from all around the world. We realize that our own experiences are not sufficient to make generalizations about the movement. The GLAMs in our contact network have a lot in common – they all have experience with digitization and online audience engagement. This is not the case everywhere, but we alone cannot reach the GLAMs who need more help in this respect due to language and local knowledge barriers. We want to become the to-go place for everyone interested in large-scale content partnerships to share their ideas, reach out for support and learn, facilitating the flow of knowledge from more experienced institutions and Wikimedians. We believe everyone involved in this line of work has stories such as those outlined in this paper that they can share with others.
Furthermore, both Wikimedia Sverige and Wikimedia Foundation have a strong position in the movement, which is an excellent springboard for this venture. Wikimedia Sverige has a decade of experience of content partnerships, a team with technical expertise and a contact network in the GLAM sector both in Sweden and internationally. Wikimedia Foundation is not only responsible for the MediaWiki software that Wikimedia Commons is built on, but also has a knowledgeable GLAM team with an international contact network and strong capabilities for community engagement. Moreover, WMF is developing the Structured Data on Commons infrastructure, which deserves a separate mention due to its potential to revolutionize working with GLAM collections. Our collaboration will make it easier to continue the development of SDC based on real needs of GLAM institutions.
Archives – rather than "vast cemeteries" – are places where one may find the "experiences, adventures, risks, and dramas" of society, as Jaime Torres Bodet, a Mexican writer and director-general of UNESCO once said. This applies to all the world’s cultural heritage institutions. For years, the Wikimedia community has been working hard to make those resources accessible to everyone, for free. We now have an opportunity to support them even better.