Connected Open Heritage/Presentation at Wikimania 2016
This is the content of the presentation How You and the Rest of the Wikimedia Movement Can Help Preserve the World’s Cultural Heritage – or How to Beat the Deadline.
My name is John Andersson and I am the project manager for the Connected Open Heritage project. Together with my colleagues Axel and André I will give a talk about How You and the Rest of the Wikimedia Movement Can Help Preserve the World’s Cultural Heritage.
This talk will focus on what our movement is doing in this field and what you could actively help with to move things forward and how we can create projects that has a bigger impact.
Axel will start with giving a bit of background on how we, as Wikimedians, have worked on digital preservation. I will then talk about a project we currently are working on and André will give a glimpse into the future.
Take it away Axel.
Working with GLAM is awesome as there is a huge variety both in what can be done and also in the different ways volunteers and chapters are doing it. Some concepts are used in many places, but in different ways:
- A Wikimedian in Residence are in some places a volunteer doing training and background work, and in other places someone getting paid to write articles or upload images.
- WLM in Italy is a struggle to clear rights for every municipality and monument, while in Sweden they throw ready made datasets on us to build lists from. The awesome work by volunteers means we have a database with cultural heritage data from over 50 countries, even though some of the data sets has not been updated or synchronized since it was included.
Some things, like batch uploads, are similar but done by different people or organisations. Sometimes a volunteer reaching out to a GLAM, or “taking” a free collection without reaching out, sometimes a GLAM asking a volunteer or a chapter for help, and some GLAMs doing uploads by themselves. Working together can either be a one time workshop or edit-a-thon not leading to anything more, it can be a long time relationship including one or more of the activities over several years, and in some cases the collaboration ends because the GLAM becomes good enough at doing wiki-stuff to start doing it at their own. Batch uploads and edit-a-thons are some of the most appreciated components, both from GLAMs who get visibility for their material and get to share their knowledge, and from the communities who get better datasets and images to use in Wikidata and in articles and experts to ask for help and have as co-writers.
Partnerships within the GLAM world can be both long and short term, initiated by the GLAM, by a volunteer or by a chapter, and they can be either one way (in or out) or two way. Apart from GLAMs of all sizes, from the smallest museums to national archives, libraries and museums, there are both public authorities and government bodies on all levels and small and large companies working with us to either contribute with data or content or to use material from one or more of the projects in various ways. Partners can also provide contacts, their network, cultural knowledge and expertise into a project. For larger, externally funded, projects, usually the funding body acts as sort of a partner in form of participating in (re)design of the project, communication or with other stuff. Sometimes they can recommend new partners that will help form a stronger bid or make sure organizations working with similar bids talk to each other before handing in the application. Previously our projects have usually included one partner and one, or maybe two, components, something that leads to more overhead, more coordination and less fun.
Good partnerships in projects should be both giving and taking, both input and output of data, content, knowledge and what is relevant for the project. Back in the days a partnership could be more of “You have some nice free images in your archive, we’ll just take them and put them on Commons”. I think, and hope, we have moved on from that to at least offer some kind of activities to get visibility of content through edit-a-thons, data connections and back links. The more rewarding the partnership is for all involved parties the stronger and longer lasting it usually turns out. Some partnerships can also start with a GLAM using material from Commons as part of an exhibition, and the return could be better descriptions or categorization of the material. Some years ago we got a list of all working life museums in Sweden, and the coordinates in their database were of all formats and different kinds. After some magic by André we could both use the coordinates in our lists, and also hand back a nice structured list that allowed them to put a map with all museums on on their website. Since we wanted the data and had to work with it, both parties, and all users of their website, got something out of it. Not only win-win, but rather win-win-win in this case.
Through the project Connected Open Heritage we are bringing together a number of initiatives from the past into one massive project. We have built the project around the type of successful activities that Axel presented. We are aiming to increase the focus on cultural heritage from countries that are currently missing on our projects. We are especially targeting countries where the cultural heritage is at a direct risk, for example because of threats from people or natural catastrophes. We want to take our collective experiences and build on them, and assist countries that haven’t done much work in the field of cultural heritage online. As a midsized chapter with technical expertise in-house we wanted to take a larger role in the digital preservation work and do our best to help out. With this project we can support other Wikimedia organizations with their needs so that they can start working more with cultural heritage preservation online.
We started the project in January 2016 and will continue the work at least until the end of July 2017. It is an externally funded project of 300,000 USD by the Culture Foundation of the Swedish Postcode Lottery. They finance projects that they believe to have a positive and large impact on the cultural sector and understood the value of what Wikimedia can do in this field. It is a technology oriented project and we are now establishing standards and a know-how amongst more staff within our organization. This is something we are very happy with as it should make the project possible to scale.
As an organization we strongly believe that the possibilities with digitization will be enhanced with more and smarter international cooperation. Information that should be connected is still dispersed around the world and most decision makers don’t know about the possibilities - even if they share the ideals with the Wikimedia movement. It is our role as Wikimedians to highlight this and help them to take the first steps. We are trying to create awareness in as many countries as possible and we are sharing what we learn on our portal on Meta. Our portal is also the hub where we coordinate our efforts and invite you to get involved in different ways that would be especially valuable. In the project we are working in close collaboration with three partners in order to reach the decision makers and relevant new partners:
- We are working together with John Cummings at UNESCO. We are financing half a year of work for him there as a Wikipedian in Residence. Having a Wikimedian there is of great benefit and UNESCO is a name that creates interest and open doors.
- We are also working closely with Cultural Heritage without Borders that are helping us to gather information about the countries and to get in contact with local decision makers through their network.
- Wikimedia Italia is working with us to gather collections of images from Syria and to organize an international photo exhibition.
These partners expand what is possible for us to do and achieve. We have a number of things we need volunteers to help us with and we are also talking to other chapters, with WMF, with different GLAMs and with national governments.
It is all about gathering as much information as possible about the cultural heritage of the world and making it accessible for free to anyone interested. By putting all these things together in one project we hope to be a one stop shop for anyone that is interested to work on cultural heritage preservation online. These are the things we are targeting and what we need your help with:
- We are working in different ways to make sure that relevant stakeholders are informed about the project and what the Wikimedia movement is doing. Conferences, press releases etc. are tools that we are using. If you know about interesting events where a talk about cultural heritage online would fit, then please get in touch with us.
- We will focus a lot of our time on moving the existing WLM data onto Wikidata. Together with the communities that gathered the data we will match it with Wikidata items. The WLM database will still live on for a while when tools etc. are adapted. Before we fully move away from it, in a few years, we will make sure that the information on Wikidata are up-to-date with the updates that have been done on Wikipedia in the meantime. Having your help with matching the data in the WLM database with items and properties on Wikidata would be very valuable and make it possible to move as much data as possible from your country.
- We are furthermore working hard to expand the amount of countries we have data about. We aim to get 10 more countries added to the database, or existing countries have their database updated. We will aim to get countries where the cultural heritage is most at risk. We worked a lot to identify these. We think that this is a great opportunity to start the discussion about open data and free knowledge in a number of countries as we can approach the national decision makers. Here you can help with contacts, supply us with information about the countries, translate and match the data sets etc.
- To make the data items on Wikidata or the articles on Wikipedia about cultural heritage more interesting and understandable we will upload at least 100,000 historical or official images to Wikimedia Commons. Even though we will work hard to include good categories etc. Your help with improving metadata, adding more categories etc. would be awesome.
- The next step is that we will work on connecting the images to Wikidata and Wikipedia through a number of events and online activities. We hope you will participate and perhaps also organize events in your area or help with translations to make it easier to join.
- The images on Commons that showcase cultural heritage in danger will be exhibited in a photo exhibition in at least three countries, and off course an online exhibition. This is to showcase the Wikimedia movement’s work in this field to the general public. Here you can help by 1) visiting, and 2) tell people about the exhibition.
- Finally, to make the work more valuable we will work hard to create a lot of the missing documentation around the Wikimedia movements work within the cultural heritage field, such as brochures, learning patterns, better documentation for the database etc. Furthermore we are planning to develop better tools, visualizations and structure on Wikidata, such as new properties, that will make it easier to use the material that has been gathered as part of the project and through previous work. We will need your help with proofreading, giving comments, connecting it to existing materials, translations etc.
Although this project ensures we are better prepared, there is still a lot that remains. We have been thinking about what we believe would be good to work on in the future, and about what is already happening that will have an impact for digital preservation of the world’s cultural heritage. Connected Open Heritage and previous initiatives have been very successful in bringing content online and we have gathered enormous amounts of important information. However, globally we are still missing the majority of basic information so the work must continue. During the project Connected Open Heritage we have observed many new and inspiring possibilities we believe will be important for the future. But we have also seen many needs we believe should be worked on and things that seem to be in the pipeline and that we are hoping to actively working on. We will present a few of them.
- Tools needed (statistical, visualization, reporting etc.)
With more information being shared with us from third party sources there is an increased interest in finding information about how the material is being used.
For images we have some very basic statistics but we have barely scratched the surface, less alone figured out how to do this for Wikidata. Tooling which makes it easy for the organisations themselves to retrieve statistics, create standardized reports and visualisations is therefore sorely needed.
Both in order to convince more organisations to join the movement as well as for making it easy for already participating organisations to justify the effort that they are investing in it.
- Integration on Wikipedia
Many new types of media and information are being created by volunteers or being made available by GLAM organisations. But even if this material can be made available through Wikimedia Commons or Wikidata we currently lack both the technical means as well as consensus for how this should be integrate into the Wikipedia experience. Both aspects of this is something I believe we need to prioritise as a movement.
- Structure data on Wikimedia Commons
Structure data on Wikimedia Commons is something that we again and again see the need for. This is important both for the discoverability of new material as well as ensuring that we make it as easy as possible for everyone to reuse our material in an easy but still correct way.
- How to work together efficiently as chapters
There is lots work in the area of Cultural Heritage being done by Chapters, User Groups, Thematic Organisations and individual volunteers. And although we have gotten better at sharing what we have done there is still a lot we can do in actively including each other while the work is going on. This ensures we make full use of the truly global movement that we actually are.
...and related to this is also the question of which role the WMF should take in these types of collaborations and projects.
But if we can overcome these challenges then just imagine the possibilities.
Many of the organisations we encounter through COH are already looking at 3D representations of the objects or sites they are managing. Imagine going to the Wikipedia article about one of these objects and being able to study it in a way which would never be possible in a museum.
Similarly 360 images are increasing in popularity as the means of producing these have been getting successively easier and cheaper. Imagine being able to look around in the rooms of a monument you are reading about on Wikipedia and which you could otherwise never enter or which have since been destroyed.
There are even techniques already which combine the two giving you a better understanding of the place than you might have even if you actually were to visit it.
Similarly as GLAM organisations are getting used to sharing their data with Wikidata the interest in ensuring that this information is up to date has also increased. Imagine Wikidata being automatically updated whenever a new building gets protected status or whenever an important piece of our cultural heritage gets destroyed.
“The greatest threat towards the cultural heritage is lack of knowledge and disinterest. The best way to protect the cultural heritage is therefore knowledge and information that is easy to find and free” — Lars Amréus, Director-General of the National Heritage Board of Sweden.
Find more information and sign up on our portal on Meta: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Connected_Open_Heritage
This is a list of the images used in the presentation.