Saturday, 23 April 2011

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.


  1. I'm with you on this. Another worry for me is that we invent these new terms and start to work out the way that mere mortals can become one. Meanwhile those brave enough to just do it have their profile taken away as they are not members of this new group. If we are going to invent new terns then we need to identify the founding members of this group before we work out rules for membership otherwise we can give the impression that we are redefining the rules in order that we can weed out under performers.

  2. I quite agree with the concerns enumerated by Fae here, and also Victualler's point in the above comment. As the person who had promoted the creation of the concept in the first place though, I should say that it doesn't actually matter what people call themselves if that title (or absence of title) helps them to do good Wikiwork. Think of this as a corollary to WP:IAR - if a title hinders you from improving the encyclopedia, ignore it :-)

    Moreover, I'm quite happy if we were to rename the "ambassador" system with "eVolunteer" if that was a net benefit. I suspect that some institutions and individuals would find it easier/more empowering to use the former, whilst some the latter.