12 September 2008
Local Studies collections are incredibly rich assets. Much of the knowledge is unique.
Many of the materials cannot be found elsewhere.
But they’re generally undervalued by just about everyone in local government.
Except librarians. No, even librarians.
Despite early access to information technology, their more recent experience has been working behind firewalls, having restricted access to rich media and using comparatively antiquated equipment. Most people at home have better access to the net than what’s available to library staff.
And I’m not sure if the enthusiasm of larger State libraries and museums for using social media like Flickr and user tagging and comments has filtered down to Council management in a practical sense – for example, adding blogging to workplans. Or rostering time for outreach (surfing the net, serendipity).
Then there’s all those great temporary exhibitions in libraries curated by local history librarians that are not captured in digital form.
But there’s a way around obstructionist IT staff, overworked webmasters and harried library managers.
Take your work to Wikipedia
- You’ll be in a busy public space, lots of people passing through. There were about 240 million unique visits to Wikipedia in July 2008. How many pageviews did your library pages get? I did a very rough comparison using Wikipedia article traffic statistics and our site’s Google Analytics – and Wikipedia articles on our LGA had 10 times more pageviews.
- Your information will be advantaged in searches. A Wikipedia page on a topic often appears near the top of search results on Google.
- Geocode your articles and who knows to what purpose they’ll be put in the future. Here’s a great example of geocoded images on Flickr being mashed up with Google Streetview. Here’s a site that allows you to browse the Wikipedia spatially. You could even add a local Google map with article placemarks on your library website.
- People will follow you back from Wikipedia. A community history project I administer has Wikipedia as second top referring site.
- Add to the sum of human knowledge. Your information is likely to be unique, original content. And surveys show users of government websites want information specific to their street, suburb or region.
- You never know who can add to your information! Or even correct information.
- If it’s published on the net, it’s in a cache somewhere. Republishing keeps information alive.
- You’re explicitly allowing certain use of the work. Everything contributed to Wikipedia is released under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reuse must credit authors, relicense the material under the GFDL and allow free access to it.
- Your excellent work will be visible in your Wikipedia user profile. To managers, patrons, the public… and future employers.
- No original research!
- No corporate accounts – it’s about individuals. “Sharing an account – or the password to an account – with others is not permitted, and doing so will result in the account being blocked.”
- Wikipedia is not the beginning and the end. Photographs and other pictorial works are better published to Picture Australia and Flickr, but dropping the odd image into the Wikimedia Commons may sometimes be appropriate.
- Getting to grips with Wikipedia’s house style and formatting language.
- Monitoring edits.
- Negotiating content and style choices.
Resources & further reading
Long story short
Local history librarians – argue for it. Managers – write it into work plans.