Museums and galleries encouraged to embrace Britain Loves Wikipedia campaign

By Culture24 Staff | 03 December 2009
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A photo of the inside of a glorious chapel

(Above) The choir and rood screen at Albi cathedral in France is one of thousands of heritage sites worldwide pictured on Wikipedia

Last February, a "scavenger hunt" between Wikipedia and museums and galleries was launched under the Valentines Day-inspired auspice of Wikipedia Loves Art.

A photography contest challenging snappers to snoop around institutions grabbing shots of exhibits, it was driven by the likes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and London's own Victoria and Albert Museum, rewarding Flickr and Facebook fiends with various tasty prizes for their efforts.

In the process, the scheme also substantially beefed up the proportion of collections catalogued online via the oracular reference site, and calls for a follow-up campaign in 2010 have been widespread.

Britain Loves Wikipedia is a more UK-centred project, starting at the V&A on January 31 and summoning "Wikipedians" to capture out of copyright artefacts from museums during February.

The Museums, Libraries and Archives council are backing the campaign and are trying to entice museums to sign up on sister site Wikimedia for the pilot project, in the hope of creating a trail for participants to follow.

A photo of the outside of a grey brick museum against a blue sky

The Victoria and Albert Museum took part in the US-based version of the campaign in 2008

"The idea is to get UK museums to throw open their doors – and ideally their stores – to people who create Wikipedia records," says Nick Poole, of co-organisers The Collections Trust.

"These photos will be uploaded to a staging server where the museum can review them, remove anything dodgy and then approve them for upload to the commons."

Poole wants institutes to sign up to this "crazy thing" to boost the photographic record of their collections, gain funding impetus by association with Wikipedia and increase web hit numbers.

"Wikipedia has a partnership with museums as curators, creators and collaborators," he explains.

"At the most fundamental level, we share a common aim of bringing public content to the public. As in museums, the majority of Wikipedians are only incidentally technologists – the majority are photographers, creators and copyright geeks."

Their collective cause, he argues, lies in the vision of "decentralised collective action".

Given the current perceived need for museums to rethink ways of involving the public with their work, the possible benefits of uniting via a site which already contains more than 14 million articles are obvious.

"Wikipedia has achieved that magical online double-whammy of combining breadth with market share," says Poole, who doesn’t envisage its pull diminishing.

Stattos at Tate already reckon around half of their online traffic comes from Wikipedia, and others are being encouraged to follow their lead by signing up at the campaign website.

They're only after a couple of dozen museums to test the concept but, if this latest attempt to make museums realise the potential of new media succeeds, it could spawn something much more powerful.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: