Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Considering 2030: Future of reference and open knowledge

As part of the Wikimedia 2030 strategy process, the Wikimedia Foundation is working with independent research consultants to understand the key trends that will affect the future of free knowledge and share this information with the movement.[2] This report was prepared by Dot Connector Studio, a Philadelphia-based media research and strategy firm focused on how emerging platforms can be used for social impact, and Lutman & Associates, a St. Paul-based strategy, planning, and evaluation firm focused on the intersections of culture, media, and philanthropy.

As Wikimedia looks toward 2030, how can the movement help people find trustworthy sources of knowledge?[1]

How is the world of free online reference and information changing and who else is working to bring information online? How is new digital content from legacy players like galleries, libraries, archives and museums evolving? What practices will Wikimedians need to adopt in order to verify, cite and incorporate new forms of online information? What is the role of subjective perspectives in creating rich information content?

Civic and cultural institutions will improve their digital access, services and reach


As students, lifelong learners, and other information-seekers turn to their computers or mobile phones as their primary information-seeking devices, libraries and other content and information repositories are actively pursuing ways to make information freely available online and to make it searchable and mobile-friendly. This includes not only the digitization of collection indices but also the organization and digitization of primary sources that are owned by and housed within institutions such as archives and museums. This has resulted in a proliferation of platforms, repositories and open access databases that provide public access to materials, but at the same time creates fragmentation and at times, a disorienting number of options for accessing information.

Examples abound: the San Francisco-based Internet Archive, whose mission is to provide universal access to all knowledge, has preserved more than 279 billion web pages, 11 million books and texts, and maintains a searchable library of more than 1.4 million TV news programs, and these collections and more continue to grow. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is working to physically and digitally recreate the ancient Library of Alexandria (and serve as a back-up site for the Internet Archive). The New York Philharmonic is deeply invested in making its archives freely available for scholars and the public. The Getty has shifted from fee-based to free access to its vast collection. Smaller institutions are also getting creative. The Maine Historical Society partnered with more than 270 local organizations to create a statewide digital archive. University libraries around the world are building open access repositories for providing access to pre and post-print journal articles from their faculty. And the audio program, American Routes, makes its musical heritage audio programs documenting the breadth of American roots music fully searchable and freely available.

Empowering people to interact with these collections in creative ways is building new audiences for previously obscure sets of materials. Many cultural heritage institutions also are annotating and animating their collections by providing links to further reading, and building apps and games that can bring these sources to life. Institutions that collect material and make it accessible to the public also often design engagement programs that allow users to share, mash-up, personalize, or otherwise use their materials creatively.

Further, cultural information that is not easily shared via text can be documented and shared via oral histories, photography, video or other formats. Organizations such as HistoryPin, StoryCorps or Digital Diaspora Family Reunion work with communities and individuals to empower them to tell their own stories, drawing on memories, family-held objects, and local memorabilia to document community memories and foster shared experiences. Unlike the Wikimedia movement, these organizations can encourage and enable the sharing of subjective observations, personal stories and everyday objects, thereby creating community meaning and bringing forward emotional content, while not expecting formal adherence to a journalistic or encyclopedic approach or comparable editorial standard.

Libraries have notably increased their patrons’ access to digital materials. Card holders typically have access to e-books, magazines, film and television programs, sound recordings and data bases, all via the Internet. (An E-card at the Chicago Public Library, for example, provides the user access to a very wide variety of digital materials.) Trained as stewards of free access to information, librarians are at the forefront of both materials’ access and training in digital literacy skills. For example, Facebook recently partnered with Oculus to donate 100 headsets to California libraries to provide patrons with free access to experiment with learning new information through these tools.[3] Wikimedia has expanded its engagement with libraries, as documented in a series of Opportunities papers and these lively partnerships would benefit from further investment and expansion.[4]

With the adoption of virtual reality and other platforms for three-dimensional viewing,[5] information providers are finding inventive ways to heighten the experience of both objects and places. Future search engines will not only provide textual information about the Sistine Chapel but may also virtually take you there as an immersive experience. Google Arts and Culture’s Cultural Institute already provides virtual visits to cultural landmarks and works of art. Museums are experimenting with ways to show visitors an object’s provenance and construction using digital interfaces to show layers of information that are not otherwise visible. For example, institutions like the British Museum offer 3-D printing of a favorite museum object allowing visitors to “own an ancient artifact.”[6]

The digital and the physical will become more symbiotic


Perhaps ironically, these same institutions are re-inventing their roles as physical spaces, as conveners and as advocates for “third spaces” (spaces that are neither home nor work), claiming their civic purpose as part of the public square. Libraries today are hubs for small business development, job search, author readings, live event programming, makerspaces and even cafes and restaurants. Libraries are places of refuge from the street for people who are experiencing homelessness, and they provide free internet access for a population that lacks the devices or the services that would allow this from home. In an interview with Business Insider, the Institute for the Future’s David Pescovitz said that libraries are, “poised to become all-in-one spaces for learning, consuming, sharing, creating, and experiencing—to the extent that enormous banks of data will allow people to ‘check out’ brand-new realities, whether that's scaling Mt. Everest or living out an afternoon as a dog.” He writes: “The hallmark of future libraries, meanwhile, will be hyper-connectivity. They'll reflect our increasing reliance on social media, streaming content, and open-source data.”[7]

The Wikimedia movement already includes allies and partners in the library world, and cultivating more between now and 2030 will help to ensure the continuing relevance of Wikimedia projects in these reinvented spaces.

GLAM organizations will help strengthen the open knowledge movement


A clear trend among museums, libraries and archives is to make their collections freely available and to share underlying technology platforms with other institutions.[8] In the U.S., certain foundations have made open access a grant requirement or have considered open access policies when evaluating competing requests.[9] In a 2013 report, 11 U.S. and British museums’ open access programs were analyzed in a study commissioned by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.[10] The study concluded that open access is a mission-driven policy and that, over time, institutions’ concerns over loss of control over their collection’s images and information fades, while their commitment to open access grows. Such organizations are natural allies for the Wikimedia movement, which is predicated on open access to knowledge.

Another example of open access advocacy is Linked Open Data in Libraries and Museums (LODLAM), an “informal borderless network” interested in connecting data from galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) with W3C standards. “Open” in this instance is defined by LODLAM as “the use of open licenses, such as the Public Domain Mark, Creative Commons 0, Creative Commons Attribution, and Creative Commons Attribution-Alike. Data can be raw data, metadata, descriptive data, bibliographic data, etc.” Active members of LODLAM have included large collections such as the Getty, Europeana and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Already the Wikimedia movement is becoming important in LODLAM conversations; Wikidata is beginning to become important player in the LODLAM ecosystem.[11]

New collections are becoming freely available, and with increasing regularity. For example, in February 2017, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that 375,000 objects in its collection are now available under Creative Commons Zero (public domain).

In a very recent example of the open access mindset among GLAM institutions, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art developed a text-based image request protocol called Send Me SFMOMA.[12] Mobile device users can text #572-51 with the words “Send Me ____” and complete their sentence with a noun, verb, or adjective. The museum responds with an image from its collection.

In a paper and presentation for the 2017 Museums and the Web conference, three national Canadian museums presented their experiences in “Open Innovation: Open Movements and the Role of A Museum in the 21st Century.” As an example of the trend toward “open” in cultural heritage organizations, these museums have:[8]

“embarked on a process of sharing cultural heritage data and assets as open data, open information, and open archives through a set of related portals. But more significantly, it has used “open” as an opportunity for engagement and a site of participation: from joining community meet-ups, to supporting in-class university projects, to connecting with hobbyist and academic researchers, to participating in national hackathons. In doing so, it is undergoing a strategic shift, repositioning its role as a museum within broader society.”

If such organizations continue this movement towards openness over the next 15 years, increased open access will not only provide additional content that can be used in Wikimedia projects, but will also reposition these institutions as allies to the Wikimedia movement’s mission.

GLAM organizations will struggle to adapt


That said, museums, libraries, public media institutions and other community information resources face significant obstacles with respect to the lack of common open platforms on which to develop, share and invest in their technical infrastructure. Many of these institutions have purchased custom and proprietary systems and developed unique local platform solutions that not only were expensive to develop but are cumbersome to maintain. Smaller organizations are less able to afford user-friendly tools that can deliver the digital experiences that users increasingly expect.

In the U.S., the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) now imagines a national digital infrastructure for libraries and museums, one that “is the combination of software applications, social and technical infrastructure, and staff expertise that provide library content and services to all users in the US.”[13] IMLS now directs funding toward component parts that are sharable and scalable to leverage its dollars toward shared infrastructure projects and capacities. These projects are called out in regular missives to the museum and library sectors.[14]

Europeana is the shared digital platform for European cultural heritage, involving more than 3,000 cultural heritage institutions, libraries, and archives. Europeana represents a robust multi-country, multi-institutional approach to shared digital infrastructure bringing more than 50 million digitized items, including those in Wikimedia Commons, into a single search engine for free and via open access. Europeana Labs provides a research and development function for collaborating institutions. Europeana also demonstrates the utility of a non-proprietary platform model for civic and legacy institutions, offering digital tools that individual organizations could not provide on their own.

Shared systems are needed to help multiple organizations simultaneously research and address a wide variety of obstacles and complexities. For example, what standards should be used for archiving new kinds of data and sources, such as email, audio, or virtual reality and gaming applications? The pace of technological change means that archiving new forms of knowledge/content becomes more complicated as devices and interfaces spring up or become obsolete more quickly. Shared systems and services can help legacy players respond collectively, rather than individually, to such dilemmas, setting standards and best practices that can serve a host of organizations and content types. Wikimedia can provide support and leadership by helping to establish standards and practices for new information sources within its own information resources.

These overarching trends in sharing heritage through digital ecosystems offer a number of strategic opportunities for the Wikimedia community:

  • How might Wikimedia extend the existing partnerships and relationship models created by the GLAM-Wiki community in new ways?
  • Could Wikimedia become a core part of the ecosystem of platforms and tools that allows cultural heritage institutions to bring their collections, movement members, and digital innovations to more educators, students and lifelong learners worldwide?
  • How can cultural heritage communities contribute their expertise in curating, maintaining and preserving knowledge to ensuring a sustainable future for Wikimedia’s reliable content?
  • Given that much of the innovation in these digital spaces has been confined to well resourced institutions, how can Wikimedia communities and platforms become hubs for distributing and supporting access to knowledge from smaller, less resourced organizations?

Translation will improve


Over the coming 15 years, one obstacle that seems likely to diminish for both learners and cultural institutions is the ability to translate text across languages online.[15] Already, accelerations in translation capability are changing our possibilities for sharing information globally across language barriers and this trend is projected to accelerate.[16] By 2030, simultaneously voice-based translation may well be available via our mobile devices. Innovations like the Simple English wiki can help expedite translation and usability around the globe.

Text-to-voice will surge


At the same time, advances in text-to-voice (and the reverse) will change how learners get information. Already, this functionality is available at a relatively basic level. By 2030, text-to-voice capabilities will be seamless. Applications such as today’s Apple’s Siri, Google Voice, and Amazon’s Alexa are likely to become integrated companions to daily life and all its tasks.[5]

Accessibility will increase


Further, efforts to improve digital services for people with disabilities or who are vision- or hearing-impaired will be increasingly successful.[17] The Wikimedia movement addresses this this through its WikiProject Accessibility.

Training users around misinformation will be paramount


Wikimedia has a leadership role to play in addressing the issue of the escalation of misinformation. As reference sources grow rapidly, challenges will continue to arise around how users determine whether or not the information they receive is grounded in facts and/or history. Digital and media literacy skills will become increasingly important to understand how to evaluate source credibility and recognize bias, propaganda, covert advertising and evidence of censorship, as explored in our prior research brief on the future of misinformation. Verifying information is likely to take on increased importance[18] as educational settings move towards more individualized instruction with fewer official gatekeepers. Wikimedia can stand as the global example of citizen-sourced, validated information.

Questions for the Wikimedia movement

  • How can the Wikimedia movement best partner with GLAM and other cultural institutions as they continue expand their free and open digital content?
  • Would the Wikimedia movement benefit from in-person, physical programming? What might such programming comprise and how might it be different in different countries and regional centers?
  • How might Wikimedians contribute their platform expertise to benefit smaller, less formal and less institutionalized GLAM partners?
  • What role can subjective materials like oral histories, personal photo collections or other documentation play within the Wikimedia movement’s citation practices? Can the movement help foster connections with these sources that enrich, for example, Wikipedia’s content?
  • What investments could the Wikimedia movement make in GLAM organizations globally to advance diverse, inter-cultural knowledge?


  1. While many of the links on this page point to the English Wikipedia, the language in which this brief was originally written, similar pages and policies exist on many other Wikimedia sites. Translators are welcome to substitute links here with the equivalents on other language Wikimedia wikis.
  2. "How will external forces hinder or help the future of the Wikimedia movement? – Wikimedia Blog". Retrieved 2017-07-13. 
  3. Wong, Queenie, “Facebook’s Oculus to bring virtual reality to California libraries,” San Jose Mercury News, Juen 7, 2017, [1]
  4. “Presenting the IFLA Wikipedia Opportunities Papers,” Information Society, International Federation of Library Associations, January 17, 2017, [2]
  5. a b m:Special:MyLanguage/Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Considering 2030: Future technology trends that will impact the Wikimedia movement (July 2017)#Emerging platforms and content types
  6. Cassano, Jay, “3-D Printing the Museum Store,” Fast Company, November 3, 2014, [3]
  7. Weller, Chris, “Libraries of the Future Are Going to Change in Some Unexpected Ways,” Business Insider, August 24, 2016, [4]
  8. a b Dawson, Brian, Fiona Smith Hale and Sandra Corbeil, “Open innovation: Open movements and the role of a museum in the 21st century,” Museums and the Web 2017, accessed July 26, 2017, [5]
  9. Kapsalis, Effie, “The Impact of Open Access on Galleries, Libraries, Museums, & Archives,” Smithsonian Emerging Leaders Development Program, April 27, 2016, [6]
  10. “Images of Works of Art in Museum Collections: The Experience of Open Access,” Carnegie Mellon Foundation, June 2013, [7]
  11. Charles, Valentine, “Why data partners should link their vocabulary to Wikidata: a new case study,” Europeana blog post, August 7, 2017, [8]
  12. “Send Me SFMOMA,” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, accessed September 5, 2017,  [9]
  13. Marx, Maura and Trevor Owens, “The National Digital Platform for Libraries and Museums,” American Libraries, June 11, 2015, [10]
  14. “Read the Nine New National Digital Platform Project Narratives,” Institute of Museum and Library Services, September 15, 2015, [11] “Inclusive Digital Collection Infrastructure and Community Archives,” Institute of Museum and Library Services, October 20, 2016, [12]
  15. Special:MyLanguage/Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Considering 2030: Demographic Shifts – How might Wikimedia extend its reach by 2030?
  16. de Looper, Christian, “Machine Learning Improvements for Google Translate Expand to More Languages,” Digital Trends, March 7, 2017, [13]
  17. “Promoting digital accessibility: For persons with disabilities, with persons with disabilities,” Internet Society, February 13, 2017, [14]
  18. Special:MyLanguage/Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Considering 2030: Misinformation, verification, and propaganda (July 2017)