Long term impact of Wikimedians in Residence (2018)/impact of WIRs/external image changes

Changes to institutions’ external image

Through the remarkable increases in content accessed and other disruptive characteristics, the WIR programme has created over the longer term very significant and far reaching changes in the host institutions’ image - from inaccessible to modern, innovative and user-friendly. How these major national cultural and educational organisations are now seen externally, in their sector and within the general public, has in some cases brought the institution out of a persistent, historical image of being outdated and out of sync with the needs of its users and potential users. As the extended case study further down explains, National Library of Scotland published a book on open access partly as a result of hosting a WIR - and this publication is now creating a stir within the whole professional community in Scotland.

This change is boosted by the often significant media attention received by the institutions around their residencies (both at the starting point and throughout the project). For example, when National Library of Scotland launched the recruitment campaign for its resident, Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said:

“The National Library of Scotland is one of Europe’s major research and reference libraries, offering world-class special collections as a rich resource to promote Scotland’s unique heritage and distinctive culture. With the many millions of people worldwide who view themselves as Scots, this initiative offers an easy and user-friendly way for Wikipedia users to enhance their learning about Scotland, its people and its place in the world.”

In this context, the press coverage helps change external perceptions of host institutions:

British Library was seen in the sector as risk averse, but the fact that we hosted a WIR was a signal that we are open to innovative projects.
-- Mahendra Mahey (Head of British Library Labs, involved in the WIR project), impact interview July 2017

That change of image is crucial, because through it the institution can ensure that it is seen as relevant to the needs of modern audiences. The challenge is both to change the traditional models of operating - becoming more open - and to make sure that potential audiences are aware of this change, so that they engage with the content that’s been released. A residency can help with this challenge by demonstrating and launching projects that engage with a global audience. Natural History Museum framed this in the following way at the point of summarising its residency:

One of the great challenges of a 21st century museum is how it embraces technological advances. Museums need to be conservative, to ensure that their holdings will be available (and useful) to many future generations. But museums must also maintain relevance to modern audiences, scientists studying giant datasets created by combining digital data from hundreds of organisations, or somebody googling information about a species.
As a museum we have a clear ambition: to be a voice of authority on the natural world. Technology allows us to advance this ambition, reaching audiences far beyond those who can visit us. The projects run by Wikimedia allow us to engage with a global community who will use, reuse, interpret and add value to our content. In short: Wikimedia provides a platform that allows anyone to become a collaborator with one of the world’s great museums.
-- Ed Baker (Data Researcher, Natural History Museum, involved in the WIR project), residency final report May 2014