Wikimedia Deutschland visits Washington: Our role in the Wikimedia community
A global challenge
Here at NARA, we’re working hard to understand Wikipedia’s inner workings. The Wikimedia community—which is responsible for writing and maintaining Wikipedia and its sister projects—is a vast, international network made up of individual editors, geographically organized chapters, officially affiliated groups, a central Wikimedia Foundation, and third-party stakeholder groups with overlapping educational missions, like the National Archives. Our mission is ultimately archival—we preserve and provide access to the records of the United States government—and we need to remain firmly dedicated to that in all we do. Therefore, taking a thoughtful approach to engaging Wikimedia and Wikimedians in a way that will be mutually beneficial and promote mutual understanding has required increasing our awareness of the structure and diversity of the Wikimedia community.
As an example of our efforts at a deeper level of Wikimedia engagement, the National Archives supports the GLAM-Wiki US Consortium (“GLAM” stands for “galleries, libraries, archives, and museums”), an official Wikimedia-affiliated user group whose mission is to support the sharing of experiences and best practices among cultural institutions and Wikipedians. And we’ve worked extensively with our local chapter here in DC, Wikimedia District of Columbia, with whom we’ve partnered on about half a dozen events so far.
An international opportunity
So, when we heard that representatives from Germany’s national Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia Deutschland, would be in town to interview Wikimedia D.C. leadership as part of the Wikimedia Chapters Dialogue project, we jumped at the chance to host them at the main National Archives Building in downtown Washington, D.C. for the day. The Chapters Dialogue is an ongoing effort to assess the “needs, goals and stories” of all the Wikimedia chapters around the world with in person interviews of chapter representatives and other Wikimedia stakeholders by the German team. (You can follow the Chapters Dialogue team on their journey on their Facebook page.)
The global Wikimedia community has grown fast and there’s no model for it, so there’s a constant need for self-assessment and communication between the various groups. For us, getting involved as hosts for the D.C. leg of the Chapters Dialogue was a chance to communicate that we as a cultural institution represent an important part of the Wikimedia ecosystem, and of our local chapter’s activities. As an added bonus, we got to show off our magnificent building to a couple of travelers on their first visit to the United States. We’re fans of promoting understanding through dialogue, and we’re trying to be out in front (to use a NARA phrase) when it comes to Wikipedia engagement—visible and enthusiastic partners to Wikimedia, while at the same time adding our voice to that community and staying true to our principles.
As an example of how various groups making up the broader Wikimedia community work together toward common goals, in February this year, we’ll be hosting a citizen scanning event which is part of a semester-long project by a local American University course taught by Professor Andrew Lih, titled “Public Knowledge in a Crowdsourced Age”. Coordinated with Wikimedia D.C.’s assistance and grant money, with help measuring success by the Wikimedia Foundation’s program evaluation staff, and with local Wikipedia editors attending the events, the students will visit a series of D.C. institutions for hands-on Wikipedia-centered events to learn about the digital convergence of Wikipedia, cultural institutions, journalism, academia, and other stewards of knowledge in the public interest. In concrete terms, we’ll get public records scanned by volunteers, described and added to our catalog by staff, with access boosted by their addition to high-visibility Wikipedia articles—but these activities are as much about relationships, building supporters, and raising our profile within allied communities. For an archives, this has not traditionally been core work, but it’s increasingly essential to our mission, as new technology changes the nature of access and public expectations.