In 2022 I was chosen to be the New Zealand delegate to the Wikimedia Summit in Berlin, an annual meeting to discuss the strategic direction of the Wikimedia movement. Because travelling to Berlin solely to attend a conference for a few days seemed a bit silly, I applied for funding to spend a month in Europe and spend time in Berlin, Utrecht, Prague, and Stockholm, to see how European galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (collectively the GLAM sector) engage with Wikipedia and open knowledge.
After 42 hours of travel from Hokitika to Berlin and a weekend recovering from jet lag, I felt relatively human for the Wikimedia Summit. This was the first time a New Zealand representative had attended, and it was fascinating to compare the well-funded European Wikimedia chapters, some with million-Euro budgets, with our small volunteer group in Aotearoa.
Germany was one of the few European countries still taking COVID seriously, with masks common on public transport. The conference was exemplary: masks inside, except for speakers while presenting. All food and drink were consumed outside, and attendees were required to take a RAT test at a government clinic before the opening session and show their negative results before being admitted.
Europe 2022 MRD Prague house. I did some urban sketching in my spare time, a great way to explore.
After the Berlin summit, I attended a GLAM Wiki meeting in Prague with representatives of the European Wikimedia chapters that work most closely with knowledge institutions. We had a presentation from the Czech National Library in the Klementinum, a former Jesuit college. It’s amazing medieval collection was made of books from shut-down colleges and convents all over Czechoslovakia, including the library of the Counts Kinsky. One of that noble family, Friedrich-Carl Graf Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau, emigrated to New Zealand as a political refugee in 1949. Here he was known simply as Fred Kinsky and eventually became Curator of Birds at the National Museum, where I used to work.
Marginalised knowledge is a hot topic in European GLAM institutions, whether from communities excluded by disability or gender, citizens of former European colonies, or marginalised ethnic groups like the Roma. With over 150 employees, Wikimedia Deutschland has an entire team devoted to marginalised knowledge. It was the topic of one session at the Prague conference. In Utrecht, I spent an afternoon discussing how Wikimedia Netherlands could collaborate with its former colonies of Suriname and the Dutch Caribbean.
I was told repeatedly that Aotearoa was a shining example of collaboration with Indigenous people. This seems surprising to us. We're painfully aware of our failings, the lack of Māori and Pasifika representation in the Wikimedia movement here, the very Western way that knowledge is catalogued and organised, and the exclusion of Māori from power structures. This is slowly changing, especially in LIANZA. But the situation in Europe is worse. Most collaborations with Indigenous or marginalised communities seem to be ‘white saviour’ projects, where Indigenous people are consulted but aren't leading or even helping run the initiatives.
I explained the ‘nothing about us without us’ kaupapa and encouraged European organisations to ask more questions. Questions such as does this community want your project? What are their actual needs and desires? What concrete benefits will they get? Will they be in charge of the project, and if not, why not? What needs to be done first to get them in the driving seat? Lots of robust conversations ensued!
For me, the biggest benefit of this trip was learning more about OpenRefine from experts like Sandra Fauconnier. This data-cleaning tool has long been a way to bulk-edit a spreadsheet of information, and more recently it has been able to connect to the open database Wikidata, which underpins Wikipedia and add or amend Wikidata properties. What's new with the latest version is the ability to work with Wikimedia Commons, the open-licensed image library that Wikipedia uses.
Traditionally if a GLAM institution had a photo collection it wanted to make publicly usable, it would upload tens of thousands of images to Wikimedia using a (sometimes rather flaky) tool like Pattypan. But OpenRefine can now bulk-upload images to Wikimedia and edit their structured data and metadata—a powerful new workflow. I gave a presentation on this at a Wikimedia meeting in Sydney in November and will be running training sessions here in Aotearoa to help our sector get up to speed with this new tool.
I’m very grateful for the Paul Reynolds ‘No Numpties’ Grant. It has allowed me to make so many new connections and start international collaborations that would never have been possible. I encourage anyone interested to apply for this year’s final grant!
This grant was set up in memory of Paul Séamus Reynolds (1949-2010) an inspirational, enthusiastic, and digital world citizen. It was established in 2010 from donations made by the National Library of New Zealand, Internet NZ and friends of Paul Reynolds. The donations are held in trust by LIANZA.
The grant is to enhance the knowledge and development of those working in the New Zealand GLAM sector and funds projects that reflect the value of the internet and digital world for New Zealanders. It enables successful applicants to spend time working with an overseas institution to research and develop specialist digital knowledge or experience. The grant will be offered for the last time in 2023.
PREVIOUS AWARD WINNERS
Gareth Seymour 2019
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, Saskatchewan, Canada
Adam Moriarty 2015
British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, British Library, Science Museum and Wellcome Trust
London, United Kingdom
READ MORE https://www.librariesaotearoa.org.nz/korero-blog/adam-moriarty-paul-reynolds-grant-recipient
Virginia Gow 2013
Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, USA
READ MORE https://www.librariesaotearoa.org.nz/korero-blog/virginia-is-no-numpty
Paul Hayton 2011
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia
READ MORE https://www.librariesaotearoa.org.nz/korero-blog/paul-hayton-is-also-no-numpty