Talking GLAMs, the British Museum and low hanging fruit with Wikimedia's Liam Wyatt

Liam Wyatt interviewed by Jane Finnis | 14 June 2010
a photo of a bearded man speaking

Liam Wyatt at a recent Culture24 Wikipedia workshop.

Kicking off a new series of conversations with key people from the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums sector, Culture24 Director Jane Finnis interviews Liam Wyatt, Vice President of Wikimedia Australia and the British Museum’s Volunteer Wikipedian in Residence.

I love that I am now part of what your Wikimedians have called the 'GLAM' (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector. Who first coined the phrase?
I first heard it from Brianna Laugher, former president of Wikimedia Australia when we were casting around for a title for our conference last year. But since then it's grown to take a life of its own both within the wiki-verse and in the cultural sector itself.

Apparently in NZ the acronym has been in common usage for a while though. There's even a new open-source CMS being built for the (Australian) National Film and Sound archive and the Art Gallery of N.S.W in Sydney called GLAM-Kit - apparently the authors of that software first heard of the acronym from us.

We both recently were part of a one day workshop at M&TW in Denver to explore opportunities for collaboration between our worlds, can you share with us your top take home from that day?
It was not so much about some grand announcement being the result of the day but the fact that the Wikimedia community had "stood up and introduced itself" at the important forum. Lots of individual relationships and projects will come from that. You can see my blog post about the event outcomes from my perspective here: http://www.wittylama.com/2010/05/Denver

Tell me how you ended up in residence at the British Museum?
Mike Peel from WM-UK and I met with Matthew Cock and his team from the BM last year as part of a general meeting to just introduce ourselves and to try to have a proactive relationship. In that meeting we pitched a variety of potential ideas for projects to him and this was the one that he was most keen on. It took some time to get organised in our respective communities but here I am!

What has been the biggest surprise to you in your time at the British Museum
There's much less antagonism/ambivalence towards Wikipedia than I was expecting - everyone I've come across is happy to chat about it and open minded (indeed - excited) about the potential for collaboration. I don't expect everyone to be as enthusiastic as me but I remember only a couple of years ago when I was first proposing my thesis about Wikipedia and Historianship and at the time the academics' approach to WP was stand-offish at best.

I think this represents a gradual shift across all sectors of society that Wikipedia is no longer as scary as it once was and they can see it getting better and better in front of their eyes. It's gone from being fringe to being mainstream and people are no longer scared but intrigued by that fact.

If you were the Director of a small GLAM organisation, with very limited resources, what would be your strategy for working with Wikimedia?
How long have you got? Wikipedia is only one audience and I don't pretend that it is the be-all and end-all of what GLAMs should be doing. But, considering the scope and scale of the project and its contributors there is a lot of potential for a GLAM to try to motivate people in their geographic or subject area.

This can be anything from translations to restoration of digital media, compiling reading lists to writing the articles themselves. What I say is that there is clearly already a group of e-volunteers who are affiliated with that GLAM whether the GLAM itself knows it or not. Every museum has a volunteer team and respects/encourages their work - why not look towards the Wikipedians as the core of a new group of e-volunteers that the museum could work with.

Where do you see as the key quick wins for the GLAM sector in terms of working with Wikipedia on improving online knowledge?
Have a look at the "GLAM-WIKI" recommendations and see which of those might be easy for each institution to respond to. Every GLAM is different with different concerns/restraints/advantages - you can pick and choose which are the "low hanging fruit". In terms of what I believe to be the single easiest project with the lowest potential risk, please read http://www.wittylama.com/2009/11/low-hanging-glam-fruit/.

What's the funniest story of Wikimedia-graffiti you can share with us?
I can go better than that - have a look at our own lists of "lamest edit wars" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Lame and "list of silly things" like longest standing hoax-articles or funny-sounding policies http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Silly_Things.

If you could change one thing about the GLAM sector what would it be?
I would say to not treat digital visitors with a different level of rights than in-person visitors. Yes, it is more difficult to measure engagement online but sometimes digital-visitors to GLAM institutions are treated at best as a burden and at worst as art thieves.

For sure, nothing can or should replace the *actual experience* of visiting a museum - but the reach of a museum can be so much greater online and the impact can be much broader with unexpected benefits. Moreover, the internet is a great leveller - even the biggest physical institution only has access to the same software and platform as the smallest. It's not a matter of what you've got but what you do with it!

So what next? If you could follow up this residency doing anything, anywhere, tell us what it would be?
I would like to be the person to help spread what I've done/am doing here at the BM across to other GLAMs and other sectors of society (the sciences, the universities etc.) so that eventually every GLAM has a pro-active relationship with not only Wikipedia but with the free-culture community. There simply must be ways of having a relationship that is mutual benificial between the free-culture community and the GLAM-sector and it's only by spending time with each other will both communities work out how to do that.

When are you most happy?
Surfing with my girlfriend at my home in South Curl Curl, Sydney.

www.wittylama.com/blog
Peace, love & metadata

Read Jane Finnis' blog http://janefinnis.wordpress.com.