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National Archives at Kansas City hosts Wikipedians

by on June 25, 2012


Today’s post comes from National Archives at Kansas City staff members, Archivist Elizabeth Burnes and Exhibit Specialist Dee Harris.


Photograph, Improvement Missouri River in Vicinity of Glasgow, MO, August 1881. RG 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Omaha District.  (National Archives at Kansas City)

The National Archives at Kansas City welcomed four local Wikipedians for a meetup and scanathon (based on similar past events) on Saturday on June 16, 2012.  The meetup theme was “Between the Rivers” and focused on photos and textual holdings related to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This event was the first of its kind for a National Archives (NARA) regional facility, as well as a first for the Kansas City Wikipedia community.  An IP-based notice for logged-in Wikipedia users and and personal notifications to e-mail and wiki talk pages promoted the meetup, and a Wikipedia events page allowed participants to obtain further information and submit an RSVP.  The full day event included a welcome by Director of Archival Operations Lori Cox-Paul, an exhibit tour by Exhibits Specialist Dee Harris, a video conference and slideshow presentation with NARA Wikipedian in Residence (Washington, DC) Dominic McDevitt-Parks, and project time in the research room coordinated by archives staff members Elizabeth Burnes and Jessica Edgar.  Participants had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects including scanning, transcription, researching/editing articles, and tagging.

The meetup theme was directly related to an upcoming exhibit at the National Archives at Kansas City. “Between the Rivers” looks at how the states of Iowa and Missouri have been shaped by the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers that run through them. The exhibit will explore the effects of the rivers on Iowa and Missouri’s environment, culture, and economy from the 1830s to the 1930s.  The Wikipedian meetup produced products that will be used in developing the exhibit, which opens on September 25, 2012. One project involved scanning historic images of river conservation work on the Missouri River from the Missouri River Basin Commission in the 1880s.  Another project consisted of transcribing information about packet boat and steamboat vessel licenses issued by the Bureau of Navigation from 1862 to 1864.  A final river-related project involved transcribing an Iowa Admiralty court case relating to the Northwestern Union Packet Company, the steamer Phil Sheridan, and the barge T. Fawcett.

The meetup was a great success!  Project results include: 53 scanned images from the Missouri River Basin Commission, 190 transcribed vessel licenses, numerous keyword-tagged images within NARA’s Online Public Access system, and a transcribed admiralty court case.  You can see examples of the work illustrating this blog post. Additionally, the Wikipedians established connections within their local community, project products can now be uploaded into Wikimedia Commons and Wikisource for use by researchers, and the National Archives at Kansas City opened the door to future collaboration.  The opportunity for future meetups is exciting in light of the recently released Open Government Plan which prominently features discussion of the powerful role that “citizen archivist” activities (such as Wikipedian meetups) can play in fulfilling NARA’s institutional mission.

Vessel license for the Mollie McPike, September 5, 1864. RG 41, Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of Navigation (From series 4616197) (National Archives at Kansas City)

The biggest lesson learned from this first meetup was that establishing a foothold with Wikipedians can be difficult.  Wikipedians in the Kansas City area did not have an existing listing of participants  (Wikipedians in many large cities have worked to build collaborative online communities based on their geographic location) and we had to determine the best means of reaching out. The National Archives managed to put on the first success Wikipedia meetup of any kind in Kansas City. Establishing a connection with this diverse pool of participants required patience, a creative approach, and a willingness to become a part of the Wikipedia community with hopes that the group will slowly build over time.  The prospect of future growth has us ready to schedule more meetups though, and we’re set to expand our presence in the Wikipedia community!

The National Archives–Wikimedia collaboration falls under the GLAM-Wiki (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) initiative.  If your institution is interested in joining the dialogue between archives and Wikipedians you can get in touch about GLAM-Wiki by emailing glam@wikimedia.org or by checking out the upcoming fall campaign “Wikipedia Loves Libraries” (for archives and other institutions, too).


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