Wikimedia Blog/Drafts/Smiles at the National Library of Wales: The first 6 months

Published Sep 18th 2015

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  • The first smile and photobomb ever captured in a photograph are now on Commons



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  • Six months of work at the National Library of Wales is already showing great benefits. Take, for example, the smiling boy.



The omnipresent smile in today's photographs has its roots here. Photo from the National Library of Wales, public domain.

The photograph is simply labeled "Willy." It features a young man with close-cropped hair and dressed in fine clothing, including a collared shirt and jacket. Willy is looking at something amusing off to his right, and the photograph captured just the hint of a smile from him—the first ever recorded, according to experts at the National Library of Wales.

Willy's portrait was taken in 1853, when he was 18. He was captured on film because he was born into the Dillwyn family from Swansea in Wales, whose photography hobby was inspired by relative-by-marriage Henry Fox Talbot, who invented salt print and the Calotype. Two members of the family were particularly notable: Willy's father, John Dillwyn Llewelyn, was a botanist who took the earliest-ever photographs of Wales.

This particular photograph, however, was taken by John's sister Mary, who is important in her own right for being one of the first female Welsh photographers. She was among the first to avoid the formal photography used during that time, favoring smaller cameras with short exposure times that could capture informal moments. With this method, she took photos of Willy smiling, the first-ever pictured snowman, and the famous "peeping" girl—perhaps the world's first photobomb.

This image is just one of 700 that the National Library of Wales has released into the public domain, free for anyone in the world to use. The library's Jason Evans asserts that these images "are hugely significant to the history of Wales and photography in general. Not only do they highlight Wales' mid-19th century status as one of the most innovative, industrialized, and technologically advanced countries in the world, but they provide a rare snapshot of life at that time."

Willy's smiling image, part of a collection from Mary Dillwyn, "are particularly valuable as such images are so rare from that time. ... images like the 'smile' and the 'snowman' are the first of their kind and that means they will always inspire and capture the imagination," says Evans. He doesn't seem to be far off the mark: the initial upload of 700 images has already been viewed over a million times.

Six months into the Wikimedian-in-Residence, plenty more than smiles and snowmen have been uploaded. Video by the National Library of Wales, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Evans' tenure as the library's Wikimedian-in-Residence, specialized positions that place Wikimedia editors in culture heritage institutions, has been aided by its commitment to open access—the first priority in their 2014–17 strategy document, titled Knowledge for All (pdf), is "access," including a goal to "further enhance the interfaces that make it possible for users to access and benefit from these materials." As releasing content on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons aligns with this strategy, the library will be adding 5,000 images to the 700 they've already uploaded.

These images have been selected by Evans with an eye towards displaying aspects of the library's collections and illustrating Wikipedia articles. This has resulted in, as Evans told me, "images that span more than a thousand years of history. These range from "family snaps to formal portraits and photo journalism ... early illuminated manuscripts, including a sequence of miniatures portraying the battles of Alexander the Great ... [and] maps, paintings and early Welsh newspapers." These will be joined by extracted illustrations from digitized Welsh newspapers, for which a specialized automated tool is being developed.

Once this content is properly categorized, described, and added to articles, it becomes an "educational tool," Evans says, for teaching about Wales and photography. He's personally used it to bring in people for trainings and edit-a-thons at the library, resulting in new or improved articles on topics like Y Wladfa, the Welsh colony in Patagronia (the far southern region of South America).

Look for more of the National Library of Wales' content—which includes six million books, periodicals and newspapers, 25,000 manuscripts, and nearly one million visual pieces; Evans calls it "one of the great libraries of the world"—on Wikimedia sites over the next six months. Evans is open to collaborating with other institutions and editors; get in touch with him on Wikipedia.

Ed Erhart, Editorial associate, Wikimedia Foundation

What was perhaps the world's first-ever photobomb was captured on film by photographer Mary Dillwyn. Photo from the National Library of Wales, public domain.

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From the beginning of my employment, a broad range of goals were set out, ranging from community engagement to releasing images and effecting policy change. Library management have welcomed and supported every aspect of my work, and early on I was given the green light to start releasing thousands of images to Commons.

I have been helped by the library's commitment to open access, dating from before I was hired. The first priority in their 2014–17 strategy document, titled [Https:// gwefan/amdanom ni/dogfennaeth gorfforaethol/corff strat KnowledgeforAll 2014 2017S.pdf Knowledge for All] (pdf), is "access," including a goal to "further enhance the interfaces that make it possible for users to access and benefit from these materials." Doing this via Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Commons align perfectly with this strategy.

With this in mind we have begun releasing images into the public domain on Commons without restrictions, and we're already seeing high levels of success: the initial upload of just 700 images from the National Library has just surpassed 1 million views. We plan to upload our first large batch of 5,000 Welsh landscape images in the coming weeks

In my work, have tried to upload a range of different images in order to showcase the library’s broad collections, whilst furnishing Wikipedia with images for a variety of articles. As such you will find photographs spanning more than a hundred years of history, from family snaps to formal portraits and photo journalism. We have also uploaded examples of early illuminated manuscripts including a sequence of miniatures portraying the Battles of Alexander the Great. We have also begun uploading examples of maps, paintings and early Welsh newspapers and are currently developing tools to extract illustrations from the Libraries vast collection of digitized Welsh newspapers, which we hope to upload to Commons soon.

Releasing images like ‘The smiling boy’ to Commons is easy, but in order to unlock the true potential of the image it must be correctly categorized and described, added to articles and linked to other wikis. In this way the image becomes an educational tool, a small but engaging piece in the history of photography and the history of Wales. This is where community engagement, staff and volunteer training become so vital. And there is plenty to smile about in the first six months of the residency. Dozens have attended Wikidata training and a number of edit-a-thons have produced new and improved articles on a number of subjects from The Welsh Colony in Patagonia to Welsh Photographers. The Library manages an enthusiastic group of local volunteers, who have embraced Wikipedia and more projects are now being planned to take advantage of such plentiful philanthropy.

The library is committed to releasing more of its digital content to Wikimedia Commons over the next six months and to run projects to make use of the images and information resources held by the National Library on Wikipedia. I also want to find new avenues of collaboration and secure a long term partnership between Wikimedia UK, the Library and its partners in the culture sector through a change in policy, perception and attitude.

Jason Evans, Wikimedian-in-Residence, the National Library of Wales



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