Saturday, 23 April 2011

Set your digital archive free

Many organizations have delightful self-hosted databases of images available to the public which they would like to see in wide use. Other organizations have image repositories that they would like to open up but do not have the funding or expertise to run an on-line database.

Wikimedia Commons recently announced their 10 millionth hosted image, and is seen as the best and most stable way to get image collections out into the public domain remaining free to use and with no advertising. It has rapidly become a default resource for journalists and publishers to find accurately described images with unambiguous and reviewed copyright status. Images must be free for any use (including commercial reuse) but can be legally obliged to have any attribution you require, such as a name and link back to an institution website. You can even have a special license template with the logo of your institution on it. If you click on the Commons link to the official Obama photograph below you can see a specially designed license with the logo of the US Congress built in.

Other benefits include an ever expanding willing network of e-volunteers to help categorise and describe uploaded images. For example in March 2011 the antique map dealing company Geographicus offered to make a large collection of high quality images from their catalogue available for upload, you can see the ongoing volunteer project to sort and use these attractive and historically significant photographs at Commons:Geographicus.
The first known Japanese Buddhist map of the World dated 1710.
Publicly available thanks to Geographicus donation
Once an image, video or sound file is uploaded on Commons it is immediately available for use in all sister projects such as all language Wikipedias (nearly 300 including Chinese and Catalan) and projects like Wikiversity which makes learning materials freely available across the world.

There is an active community of experienced tech-savvy wizards who will investigate the best way to mass upload collections from other sites or databases giving a great deal of thought into how to preserve metadata (such as dates or geolocation), optimize the resulting page layouts and then create a script (bot) to fully automate the task. They take requests for new jobs at Commons:Batch uploading and don't charge a bean for their intricate and tricky work.

Lastly, there is also the option of converting from other online hosting systems. For example many public bodies have loaded image collections to Flickr (owned by Yahoo) as their staff find it easy to understand, categorize and use. Commons has tools such as Flickrripper to automate the process of importing them over and there is no need to stop using Flickr if that is what you are comfortable with.

Using the words "GLAM Ambassador"

GLAM Ambassadors are enthusiastic unpaid volunteers who help Galleries, Museums, Archives and Libraries (or similar institutions) with working out how to improve the quality of their presence on Wikipedia and other sister projects (such as Wikimedia Commons which hosts images, audio and video for use across all language Wikipedias (nearly 300) and other projects). Institutions rely on the advice and active support of these volunteers to work out how to best reach the network of Wikipedians who might help with updating the articles about their collections or to help their own staff with making corrections and updates to key articles without running into problematic accusations of "conflict of interest".

GLAM Ambassador was coined after Wikipedia's very successful programme of Campus Ambassadors which helps students with a recognized point of contact on-campus (sometimes virtually) to turn to for advice on how to best use and improve the encyclopaedia and discuss the eternal issues of copyright and plagiarism. However, there are some problems with the word Ambassador:
  1. Authority is implied when a GLAM Ambassador has no literal authority to speak on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation (who operate Wikipedia) or on behalf of groups such as Wikimedia UK, an independent member chapter promoting the interests of Wikipedians and other content contributors in the UK.
  2. The word "Ambassador" can discourage prospective volunteers. Someone who would like to engage with their local museum or archive is likely to believe they ought to ask an experienced Ambassador to do it without realizing that they probably already have the skills to just get on with it.
  3. Similarly there is the perception that we ought to have official training or certification to be an Ambassador.
The title ambassador is broadly helpful in that the concept is easy to understand and implicit within the language is the perception that an active Ambassador probably has significant "life skills" to have grown-up discussions with organizations such as museums and a deep understanding of how Wikipedia and Commons works in order to provide credible advice (a quick headcount shows almost all current GLAM ambassadors in the UK to be aged over 40).

I propose to use the term e-volunteer to describe the range of people that I would hope to see take part in our vision of a UK wide GLAM outreach network. The term can then encompass ambassadors along with any volunteer helping their favourite institution with their presence on the internet, staff within an institution actively helping with improving Wikipedia content and releasing media in support and those people who are acting as a point of contact between Wikipedians and Institutions but who prefer not use the authoritarian or overly official sounding term Ambassador.

See GLAMcamp_London for the next planned e-volunteer networking event on 21st June 2011.