GLAM School/Interviews/Michelle van Lanschot (WMNL)

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Interview with Michelle van Lanschot / GLAM professional / Wikimedia Nederlands / Wikimedia affiliate / NL 24 August 2022

Tell about the knowledge platform you are producing at WMNL[edit]

We got a lot of questions from GLAM institutions who wanted to do something with open knowledge or Wikimedia projects but they didn't really know what it was or what it would entail or how things around copyrights were. We got recurring questions, and we kept answering the same questions over and over again.

We have a very small team with GLAM in the Netherlands, so we thought about what would be a good way to fix that. And then also we had this issue that there was a lot of documentation everywhere, and that it was on all different forms and platforms and videos and YouTube, you name it. So we also were looking for a way to document our own production of manuals, and FAQs and brochures and stuff, that would be more accessible for GLAM staff than a wiki, because, well, I can't even find my way around Meta so I can't really expect people who are unfamiliar with Wikipedia to manage.

And so we decided to build a knowledge platform that is supposed to function as a sort of starting point, a roadmap to Wikimedia documentation. I have tried to write the articles with the different end users in mind so we have beginner, intermediate, and advanced articles. We have tags for different platforms and we have different article styles, there are how-to manuals and FAQs. It is currently used widely.

But it's just a sort of backdrop. I also try to incorporate all the activities we are organizing, for example the Wiki goes Caribbean meetup on Saturday, it's about uploading vacation holiday pictures to Wikimedia Commons of the Dutch Caribbean. There are three articles on the knowledge platform that the participants of that event can see how they can upload pictures to Wikimedia Commons with the app, or the upload wizard. The articles have an average reading time between two minutes to 10 minutes, but also try to really show people how much time they need to invest. Because that's also one of the top concerns about them, the volunteers and GLAM professionals think they have very little time and a lot of work to do. We try to do with the knowledge platform is that it has easy tasks that can be done in 15 minutes or half an hour.

It's a Wordpress website. We also looked into the possibility of making a wiki. But I spoke to some other organizations that had set up similar knowledge platforms with different topics and used wiki for that and they said the the main advantage of having a wiki was that they expected GLAM personnel to also add information to it but they noticed that in practice they didn't do that and on the other hand that wiki had a lot of upkeep and a bit of a technical process to keep it going and also not very appealing to the end user. So we decided to make it a WordPress platform but we do have the possibility to make as many user accounts as we want to so people can also contribute to it. I'm currently emailing with WMBE to also get them on board.

What I'm also trying to do is really to connect with the information that's already available on the different platforms. But in terms of scalability, it's a bit difficult because the materials are in Dutch. And that was one of the main purposes because English is not well understood, not very easily. It's a barrier for some GLAM staff.

So, if others would want to join I think it would be possible. Why I'm also very interested in the content partnership and Helpdesk is that I think that if everybody would work together on something like that, that would be great – and we just cancel our own website. I think it sounds like a perfect task for the content partnership hub.

What kind of resources do you think should be available, what do you find especially useful?[edit]

I think what we currently don't have for the Dutch community is just a very simple explanatory video about what Wikipedia is and what the different platforms are, and what you can do with it as a GLAM organization. And there's a lot of different videos that are handling different aspects, but not one that's just a few minute long explanatory video just telling people what Wikipedia is and why it's important, or why as a GLAM institution, it benefits you to work with us, because that's what we're currently doing a lot of presentations on so that would be a time save.

I'm also very interested in the possibility of MOOCs. I think that in the Netherlands, and I think everywhere, let's not call it ignorance, I can't find a better word for it. People are afraid of copyright, and there's an increase of professional organizations actually mechanically suing for copyright infringements. There's also still the belief that a collection is owned by the organization and that they should benefit from it financially in some way, by making it public. This is not the case with the big organizations, but especially with little heritage institutions. If you combine that background with the poor understanding of the Creative Commons licenses, people just have a lot of questions and it's very difficult to answer them and start working productively.

It can cause anxiety about copyright, I think that's currently going through the heritage sector. We had a very big case a couple of years ago about some photographs that were taken, I think, before the First World War, by an unknown photographer. It was a very complicated case but the judge decided in favor of the rights owner. So now, there are a lot of archives taking all their pictures down.

MOOCS would be beneficial as people have limited time and budgets to join courses. I would say that an hour a week or something like that is realistic, and you can advance at your own pace. I think there isn't even a very publicly available course on Creative Commons in the Netherlands at the moment.

In-person events[edit]

I think it's also very important to have in-person learning opportunities, but in my experience they might not be as effective as we would hope for. At WMNL we hosted a course, which was called Share your data a couple of years ago, and it focused on Wikimedia Commons, Wikidata, and at one session on Creative Commons licenses and copyright, and the idea was that it would prep the participants to join in with our TechStorm event which is a sort of a hackathon. It was building up to that and what we found was that in the beginning for the copyright session we had, I think, 20 or 22 participants, and as the course proceeded, the number of participants went down, and at the actual TechStorm two remained, but one of them is currently still very active and also working with Wikimedia there. The idea that even after four sessions it is still difficult for people to get in there and actually work with things so I think that in-person sessions should mainly be focused on actually just starting to work together.

TechStorm is a great model of in-person events we have. We have organized it two times. First time it had a focus on non-binary participants and on women, and the second time it was focused or geared towards GLAM organization, and the participants really liked it. I'm not really sure about the metrics that came out of it, but overall, they were perceived as very positive. You can see where people learned a lot and where they could work together with a coach or just together in groups and there was a very good inclusive atmosphere.

What I also try to do when we're hosting meetups like at for example this week’s Wiki goes Caribbean meetup. We give a practical component, for example, uploading the picture. Like that people get to work straight away.

We have also had a couple editions of OpenRefine cafés.

We have so called wiki circles that are regionally working on Wikipedia together and sometimes they also work on Wikipedia Commons or they take a little step into Wikidata. They convene on a monthly basis at the library and they start working together on Wikipedia. A few weren't successful but the ones that are successful have existed for a couple of years. Usually, they start out when we get a request from a public library that wants to do something more about information literacy, and they want to collaborate with us. What we as chapter do is try to find a Wikipedia volunteer who's located in that area or who has an interest in helping out. There’s also the library personnel. The library does PR, we do a little bit of PR and people can sign up and sometimes they invite speakers from other libraries or GLAM organizations. The difference to a classic editathon is that these are recurring, which we find to be more effective than just hosting one event. Also, it stands or falls with the volunteer doing it.


DEI is an important strategic direction. As a chapter we are not focused on GLAMs as much as we were in the past because we have these focuses on the Dutch Caribbean and the gender gap. The project is called Wiki goes Caribbean and it focuses on the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as well as other areas in the region with Dutch heritage, such as Suriname.

We had to change our thinking about access to materials, when we started working with the Caribbean communities. It was a big switch. We had to create our own apps in order to be more inclusive, make the materials and manuals available on mobile, and prioritize uploads via the apps instead of for example the general Upload wizard on Wikipedia.

We've been working with the University of Curaçao for a little bit in a pilot project. They have Wikipedia in their own language papiamento, and it turns out they use it for documentation. We tend to assume that Dutch would be a mutually understandable languge, but papiamento is far easier for them to understand, so we're now thinking about maybe translating our Wikipedia manual in papiamento. There's also still a need for paper handouts and for more paper manuals for things you can actually just put next to your laptop or your computer or your phone and take with you and and read. What I tried to do with the knowledge base is not only use example images or articles of Dutch topics, but also from that area. Otherwise they do not speak to people.

I don’t think our platform has specific capabilities to handle multilinguality, and I don’t think we have the capacity to categorize and order information according to several languages.

What we tried last year is to set up a Wikipedian in Residence or a project employee locally on one of the islands. It would make such a big difference in the collaboration with the institutions or universities. We are also struggling with showing progress. It is difficult to get people involved but I also think it's very difficult because we're not from those communities. I'm also very much looking forward to hearing more about these kinds of issues because I can imagine there are a lot of chapters struggling with the same issues.

It's very interesting to work together more with user groups or chapters from the global south. We are now working with the Heritage Foundation of Suriname for Wiki Loves Monuments and we are beginning to think that we might not be the right partner for them because of the big cultural differences there are. It might even be better for them to team up with for example Wikimedia Brazil, or a chapter that's more closely related to them or at least as in their part of the world. We could for our part focus on getting the Dutch collections that have reference to those areas out on Wikimedia Commons, for them to use, which is what we're currently working on with Wiki goes Caribbean. So that we just are more facilitating instead of trying to force something. Wikimedia total upload culture may not be very helpful.

Although it’s not on the top of my agenda, we would like to have a conversation or we have to be able to discuss the practices of the Wikimedia platforms for managing content that deal with different cultures.

Peer GLAM community[edit]

The upcoming GLAM coordinators’ meeting is a great thing. But maybe also while there are of course Facebook groups and things like that where we can exchange information it's still a bit difficult to know who's working on what. I am trying to read This Month in GLAM but things like that are the first thing you skip when your workflow is bigger. So if there would be a more concise way of asking each other questions or maybe also because I'm not on Facebook. Also, there's no archive on Facebook. So you can't really look back on things that were discussed earlier.