NARA’s Inaugural Tumblr Answer Time with Amending America Curators

Today’s post comes from our Tumblr guru and Today’s Document lead, Darren Cole.

"Amending America" Tumblr Answer Time banner featuring Christine Blackerby and Jennifer Johnson

 Where are the aliens?”

“Did Nicholas Cage ever return the Declaration of Independence?”

“What’s the worst amendment ever proposed?”

tumblr_o731c4YGwU1ql14hlo1_500

Tumblr Answer Time bio picture and signatures for Christine and Jennifer

These are just a sampling of the questions recently put to National Archives curators during our inaugural “Answer Time” Q&A session on Tumblr.

On May 17, Tumblr users were invited to the National Archives Exhibits Tumblr to ask co-curators Christine Blackerby and Jennifer Johnson questions about the new “Amending America” exhibition.

Opened in March at the National Archives in Washington, DC, “Amending America” explores some of the 11,000 attempts to amend the Constitution.  It includes petitions, interactives, landmark documents, and political cartoons addressing issues including child labor, prayer in schools, free speech, suffrage, civil rights, and more.  The National Archives Exhibits Tumblr blog serves as a companion portal, sharing these items and others that couldn’t fit in the exhibit online.

tumblr several questions

The  live, online chat provided a great opportunity to engage with audiences about the mission and work of the National Archives. During the event, Christine and Jennifer fielded a variety of questions from Tumblr users, ranging from classic interests like exhibit design and the inner workings of the National Archives to the more niche topics of ‘craziest failed amendments’ and favorite sandwiches.

NARA's First Tumblr Answer Time

National Archives exhibit curators Christine Blackerby, Jennifer Johnson, and Alice Kamps confer on a question. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

tumblr aliens question

The biggest challenge was keeping up with the steady deluge of questions.  By the end of the session, over 1,100 questions had been submitted.  Ultimately the hosts were able to respond to 32 questions over the course of the 2 hour event. The most popular topic? Queries about “aliens in the Archives” comprised over 11% of user submissions.

NARA's First Tumblr Answer Time

Some members of our Answer Time team: Darren Cole, IT Specialist; Hilary Parkinson, writer-editor; Cindy Sandoval, writer-editor;  Meredith Doviak, Digital Engagement Specialist; and exhibit curators Jennifer Johnson and Christine Blackerby. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

Questions included the serious, silly, and speculative.  The most popular question asked whether the National Archives might hold records on the comic book character “Captain America.” While the subject may have been fictional, it was a great intro to more realistic archival topics, including military personnel records, declassification issues, and actual comic books in our records.

tumblr fighting american

Takeaways:

  • Preparation was essential.  Our curators had documents and images from the exhibit ready to go as needed.
  • Staying on top of the questions was exhausting.  Our team of six started reviewing questions that morning, only to see them gradually double over the course of the day.  Most fell into thematic groups so we tried to choose representative questions from each set.
  • Divide and conquer.  To make the session run smoothly, each member of our team had an assigned task.  Some questions were answered jointly by the curators but in general they assigned according to their specialty and interest.  A member of the communications staff then proofread and edited their draft answers.  Relevant images and links to relevant blog posts and pages on archives.gov were added to the answers by the Web & Social Media staff and finally queued up for posting.
  • Keep it fun. Don’t avoid the silly or lighthearted questions. They’re still a great opportunity to engage with users and add some levity to the conversation.

    NARA's First Tumblr Answer Time

    Darren Cole, IT Specialist; Christine Blackerby, exhibit curator; Jennifer Johnson, exhibit curator; and Hilary Parkinson, writer-editor. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

See the complete thread of questions and answers at:
http://usnatarchivesexhibits.tumblr.com/tagged/AnswerTime/chrono

Catch our next AnswerTime on July 1 when you can send your questions to Archivist of the United States David Ferriero at http://aotus.tumblr.com/ !

Posted in exhibits, Social Media (Web 2.0), Uncategorized | 2 Comments

“BEWARE: It’s Addicting!” Citizen Scanning in the Innovation Hub

Today’s post comes from Dina Herbert, Innovation Hub Coordinator at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

I recently met Cindy Norton at the Innovation Hub in Washington, DC when she arrived to scan Civil War pension files. Once she started, she never stopped! We now see Cindy a few times a month; she even celebrated her birthday with us by scanning records in the Innovation Hub!

Cindy was kind enough to answer some of my questions about what it’s like to scan records in the Innovation Hub. She is our biggest cheerleader and a great citizen archivist and scanner.

You too can be a citizen archivist! Visit us at the Innovation Hub, or learn more about the opportunities to tag, transcribe, subtitle or upload and share: http://www.archives.gov/citizen-archivist/


How did you hear about the Innovation Hub at the National Archives?

I came to the National Archives in late February 2016 with the intent of scanning a Civil War pension file. I had previously made paper copies of several files, but wanted the advantages of a digital scan. When I put in my request for Military Records I was asked if I wanted to scan this file for FREE! I said, “Free is good!” I was informed that the only stipulation was that I had to scan the ENTIRE file. That was not a problem – in fact I always get a copy of ALL the documents in a pension file. After my first day in the Hub I was hooked! I have been trying to run down to the Hub as much as I can ever since.

Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton scans records in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed

Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton scans records in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What motivated you/interested you in citizen scanning?

I was an intern at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 1995. I worked primarily with Connie Potter and Claire Kluskens. As an intern I became aware of the importance of preserving the records that have been created by the federal government. I also became aware of how many records had not been microfilmed, i.e. Civil War Union Pension Records. I LOVE old records and the stories they tell. As a family historian I appreciate these documents that help me know my ancestors. Fast forward 20 years to July 2015 and the launching of the Hub and the introduction of citizen scanning. The tools in the Hub are amazing! As an intern I did not have these resources available to me back in 1995. I had reels of Microfilm that were black and white. I also had a copy machine that made black and white copies. Currently Fold3.com is scanning the Civil War Widow’s pension. These are excellent images, but they are also black and white. In the Hub I have the distinct advantage to scan documents in color. It makes analyzing these documents far easier for me as I can distinguish the different colors of ink.

How did you get into genealogy and family research?

I have been interested in genealogy for a long time. I started in 1977 taking a class offered by my church in Columbus, Georgia. My interest REALLY took off while I was attending Brigham Young University (BYU). To graduate I had a few religion classes to take. One of the religion electives was an introduction to Family History. I took this class in 1978, but it wasn’t until 10 years later when my husband was the PMS (Professor of Military Science) of the Army ROTC at BYU that I changed my major once and for all to Family History.

Are others in your family interested in genealogy?

There are some sparks of interest in my family that need to be fanned. My husband asked me what I wanted to do for my 60th birthday and I said I wanted him to come with me to the Hub and scan records. He was a GREAT sport and came with me!

How much have you scanned so far?

I have scanned 25 Civil War pensions, a few Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR) and a Bounty Land Record.

What is the most interesting thing you have found while scanning?

The most interesting thing I have found is a Father’s pension. It listed the pertinent dates and places for the soldier, his father, mother and brother. I have not found much about a soldier’s parents so this has been a unique experience.

Do you have a favorite subject area?

Anything associated with soldiers. My favorite subject to scan is Civil War Pensions.

Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton reviews her scans in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed

Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton reviews her scans in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed

Why do you think citizen scanning is important?

Scanning is important because it gives researchers the ability to study old fragile records without having to physically handle those records causing additional deterioration. It makes it easier to transcribe, abstract, and tag these documents by enlarging the images on a computer screen. Because the scans are in color it is easier to distinguish between the different authors found on a single document.

Do you have advice for other citizen archivists and scanners?

Come to the archives at your earliest convenience. BEWARE, it is VERY addicting! If you enjoy handling old records than you will LOVE scanning them. There is a lot of work to do, but if a million researchers scanned just two records each we could literally have these records at our fingertips. If you cannot come to the Archives, consider going online and transcribing or tagging the available scanned records.

Posted in crowdsourcing, DC-area Researchers, Digitization | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

The new read–write API for our catalog

We’d like to introduce you to the National Archives’ online catalog API, a major feature of the revamped catalog. If you are not already familiar with the magic of APIs (or “application programming interfaces”), you can think of it this way. Underlying both the API and the browser-based catalog is the dataset of archival descriptions, authority records, web pages, and other information. And just as the web site you see in your browser is the interface which allows you, a human, to interact with and search our dataset, the API is the interface by which computer programs can interact with the dataset—by following documented methods to retrieve or alter the structured data in the system.

The dataset for our catalog API contains all archival descriptions, authority records, digitized records (the images, videos, and so on) and their file metadata, all NARA web pages, and public contributions (tags, transcriptions, and comments). The API will allow developers to retrieve all of this metadata in specified formats (JSON or XML) for any given record or search results set. This means it is much more flexible than the advanced search or refinement options in the user interface, since the API can search using keywords or any field in the system, filter based on type of record, search within ranges, apply sorts, specify only particular fields to return, or any combination of these options. You can also generate a bulk export of your search results (including digital media), just like you can do in the catalog. The API is also writable, which means you can use it to post tags, transcriptions, or comments to records. We believe it is one of the first public write APIs in operation at a cultural institution. In order to support these functions, there are also methods for user registration and login—though accounts are the same in the UI and API. We just rolled out in-catalog transcription last year and comments this year, and we think building it into the API from the beginning has the potential to take it to a whole new level.

National Archives API sample

This is what our catalog records look like as structured data! (Formatted by JSONView.)

In addition to being read–write, the API is open source and follows the principles of REST. In designing our API, we were strongly influenced by the Digital Public Library of America’s API philosophy, especially their principle of a “presumption of openness”. Following this approach, we designed a system not for any particular use case, but one that is as open as possible to accommodate the creativity of the public. No API key or account at all is required to do basic searching. All original API source code has been released under the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0), and you can find the it in our GitHub account. And, of course, all of our metadata and most of our digitized records are in the public domain, as works of the U.S. federal government, and can be freely reused and remixed without permission for any purpose.

We think this is a big deal. NARA’s recently revised mission statement affirms our commitment to “drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value government records.” Our mission is bigger than just our research rooms and web sites. In a recent essay, museum theorist Ed Rodley writes that the “spread of digital assets is a key factor in delivering on museums’ missions to educate, inform, stimulate, and enrich the lives of the people of the planet we live on.” We believe that our API will become a major way in which users are able to access our records, because the fundamental purpose of open data is to make our data sharable and reusable in many contexts outside of NARA itself. For example, in 2013, OCLC noted that 98% of the usage of their Virtual International Authority File comes via its API. This means they are succeeding in making their data useful to the public where people already go on the web, undertaking projects like linking hundreds of thousands of VIAF identifiers from the Wikipedia articles for their subjects. We think there are several ways we might make use of the API ourselves, like creating programs to gamify transcription of our records, uploading all of our data and digital assets to Wikimedia Commons or Wikidata, or setting up automatically curated social media feeds with our content. However, what excites us most is the potential for creative and unexpected uses of our API by the public, for any purpose.

Our API is still relatively new. We have documented several known issues which are still being worked out. But we encourage you to give it a try and see what you can create with it. The API is located at https://catalog.archives.gov/api/v1/, but we also recommend you start out by reading some of our documentation pages on GitHub, or playing in our interactive documentation feature to learn the ropes. And, also, be sure to give us feedback (whether questions, bug reports, or ideas for improvement) either in a comment below, in our GitHub repo’s issue tracker, or by emailing api@nara.gov. Let us know what you make!

Posted in Catalog, Databases, Open Government, Social Media (Web 2.0), Wikipedian in Residence | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Open Government Forum for Researchers

National Archives Open Gov logo

Wednesday, April 20, 2016
3:00 p.m. Eastern

National Archives at College Park, MD
Lecture Rooms C and D

Join remotely at:
www.connectmeeting.att.com
Meeting: 8883316674
Access code: 5335828

Please join us to discuss the agency’s next Open Government Plan and initiatives and seek your suggestions, ideas, and feedback on how we can improve. We are looking for your ideas on:

  • How we can improve the researcher experience?
  • How can we provide greater transparency to our records or our processes?
  • What new or different kinds of services would you like from Research Services?

Share your ideas on the Open Government space on History Hub at https://historyhub.archives.gov/community/open-government
or email opengov@nara.gov.

 Agenda

  • Open Government Plan Process – Pamela Wright, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Innovation Flagship Initiative – Pamela Wright, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Research Services – Ann Cummings, Access Coordinator
  • Ideas, Comments, and Suggestions – Participants are asked to share their thoughts on what NARA should do to strengthen open government.
Posted in DC-area Researchers, Open Government, Research | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Civilian Records Round Table at Archives 1

If you’re in the Washington, DC area and want to learn more about the Civilian Records held at the National Archives Building in the Nation’s Capital, come participate in next week’s Reference Round Table on March 30. Archivists will be available to discuss frequently requested records, share new discoveries, and answer researcher questions from 11 AM to noon.

Event flier for Reference Roundtable 3/30/2016

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We want to help you crowd-source your research

Today’s post comes from Kelly Osborn, History Hub Community Manager, and Naomi Lieberman, National Archives Intern.

Do you have cable TV, a smart phone, or some other technological gadget? If you’re like me, when something breaks, you probably head to your favorite search engine and usually end up on a community forum where someone has asked a similar question to yours. There’s often a string of responses, some from regular people like me who have figured out a solution, and some from various technology experts who can give you the information that can be technically correct but maybe not easily understood.

At the National Archives, we wondered, can we use that same approach to make research easier for family historians, citizen archivists, and open government advocates? Can we create a way to crowd-source research that would normally have to be conducted by email or in person? Can this platform answer questions before they’re asked, saving time and frustration for the public?

The National Archives has embarked on a ground-breaking experiment with History Hub, a pilot support community for historians and other history enthusiasts, researchers, genealogists, citizen archivists, open government advocates, and archival professionals.

What can I do on History Hub?

It is a place to ask questions, share information, work together, and find help based on experience and interests. History Hub offers tools like discussion boards, blogs, and community pages to bring together experts and researchers interested in American history. Think of it as a one-stop shop for crowdsourcing information related to your research subject.

For example, if you have ever been curious about your genealogy, you can ask your pressing questions and receive either answers or guidance on where to look for further information, from knowledgeable individuals both inside and outside of the National Archives. Or, if you happen to be conducting a research project on U.S. soldiers in WWI and you are looking for military records from a specific time period and location, the History Hub can point you in the right direction.

History Hub is a game-changing way of providing access, information, and diverse sources of expertise to the public. The pilot will run until the end of May and inform how we approach customer service and crowdsourcing in other areas of the National Archives, from the online catalog to how we respond at our call center. We will apply what we learn to a longer-term solution that can be used by federal government agencies and other interested organizations looking to expand public participation. This phase is all about learning lessons. So check it out, ask a question, answer a question, and let us know what you think. We want to make the final product as useful as possible, and we need your input.

Explore, ask a question, answer a question, start a discussion, or try something new to help us all find out how the History Hub might be useful to our community.

Visit us now at historyhub.archives.gov!  

Posted in crowdsourcing, Genealogy / Family History, Online Research, Questions, Research | Leave a comment

Share your ideas for our next Open Government Plan!

National Archives Open Gov logoWelcome to Sunshine Week, the week we celebrate open government and access to public information. This week, we are kicking off the development of our next Open Government Plan for 2016-2018. We need your ideas, suggestions, and feedback to make it happen!

Submit your ideas by April 15, 2016:

How do you think we should increase the three pillars of open government — Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration — in the way we do our work at the National Archives?

We are looking for your ideas on how we can improve:  

  • Your research experience – in person and online
  • The experience of veterans in accessing military records of the National Archives
  • The National Archives Catalog and Archives.gov
  • Our engagement on social media and crowdsourcing projects, including History Hub
  • Innovation at the National Archives, including the Innovation Hub  
  • Our work in records management
  • Our work in declassification
  • Our implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  • Our efforts to digitize records

We will carefully consider all ideas. In the past, we’ve received more than 100 suggestions and we report on these and respond in an appendix to the Plan. Even if you’ve shared an idea before, please share it again. We need your ideas on how we can better serve the public.

Take a look at our last Open Government Plan and Archives.gov/open for more information.  Is there something that you think we could be doing better?  Let us know!

Also, join us for Sunshine Week as we work to transcribe more than 2,000 pages! Every day there’s a new transcription mission on the Citizen Archivist Dashboard. How many pages can  you transcribe?

Posted in Open Government | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Catalog Search Gets an Upgrade

In today’s edition of Catalog Updates, Jason Clingerman, the National Archives’ new Digital Public Access Branch Chief will focus on the improved search features that make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for. 

What’s changed?

  • You shouldn’t have to start your research with a hunt for the Search bar. We’ve relocated it to the center of the homepage hovering over the background image so it can’t be missed (don’t forget to refresh the page and see the different images!)

catalog search bar

  • To create an advanced search, leave the search bar blank and click the magnifying glass button. Click the Advanced Search link at the top of the new page..

There are also big changes to the advanced search itself:

  • We’ve simplified the “Limit search to:” field. Your new options are:
    • Archival Descriptions – only descriptions of records, excludes digitized records
    • Archival Materials Online – only digitized records and their related descriptions
    • Authority Records – only descriptions of authority records, e.g. organizations, individuals, etc.
    • Web Pages – only archives.gov and presidential library web pages

Advanced search: search limit and dates

  • We’ve enhanced the date search features. There are now three ways to search dates:
    • Search by Date Range – enter a range with begin and end in MM/DD/YYYY format
    • Search by Exact Date – enter an exact date in MM/DD/YYYY format
    • Search by Recurring Date – enter a recurring date (i.e. without any specific year) in MM/DD format
  • Record Group/Collection ID search field has moved towards the top.
  • All fields are now visible but are activated and deactivated depending on where you enter your search terms.

These new options allow for much more flexibility in filtering your searches. Here’s an example, showing the fields you’d fill in to pull back all digitized moving image or photographic items related to the Fourth of July, and held by the Harry S. Truman Library:

catalog advanced search fields screenshot

Let us know what you think of the newly improved search in the National Archives Catalog, and don’t forget to check back here for new posts. Happy researching!

Posted in Catalog, Online Research, Research, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Searching for Something? Try the New Catalog!

Today’s post comes from Jason Clingerman, archives specialist in the Office of Innovation, Digital Engagement Division 

new catalog homepage- ship

Updated homepage featuring Austro-Americana & Fratelli Cosulich poster (NARA ID 7455537)

Have you visited the National Archives Catalog lately? Now’s a great time to stop by! The Catalog is the online public portal to National Archives records and information about our records. We’re excited to announce some big changes that will make it easier to use, more interactive, and an even more valuable research tool. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be highlighting these features along with tips on how to get the most from your visit. To get started, here’s a preview of the improvements you can expect in this new release:

  • Enjoy the updated homepage featuring background images from catalog records
  • Add your comments on digitized records, descriptions, and authority records
  • Find what you need with a more intuitive advanced search
  • Efficiently browse hits with better “Next Page” link placement
  • Track your Citizen Archivist contributions with updated user account pages
  • Add data from scanned records to your developer toolbox with increased API functionality

Want Catalog news and tips delivered directly to your inbox? Sign up for our occasional newsletter here. It’s a quick, fun read, and we promise not to spam you.

If you have questions and comments about the new version, or about the Catalog in general, please leave a comment or email us at catalog@nara.gov.

Posted in Catalog, Online Research, Research, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Special Report from WikiConference USA at NARA

As David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, announced earlier on his blog, the National Archives was the 2015 host of WikiConference USA, the annual national conference for the Wikipedia editor community and enthusiasts. For NARA, the conference represented an opportunity to further our engagement with the Wikipedia community, which serves our mission of public access, and we found the event to be a resounding success—full of enlightening presentations and invigorating conversations with citizens dedicated, like us, to innovation and open knowledge.

WikiConference USA at the National Archives

WikiConference USA at the National Archives. (CC-BY-SA, by Gerald Shields)

The conference was held from October 9–11, and the following account comes from Robert Fernandez, a Wikipedian and Assistant Professor, Reference/Instructional Librarian at Saint Leo University’s Cannon Memorial Library. If you are interested in catching up on the conference’s proceedings, you can check out the hashtag at #WikiConUSA and watch the archived stream on NARA’s YouTube channel.

Robert Fernandez (left) speaks at WikiConference USA

Robert Fernandez (left) speaks at WikiConference USA. (CC-BY-SA, by Gerald Shields)

I’ve been a pseudonymous Wikipedia editor for over a decade, but at this weekend’s WikiConference USA at the National Archives I made my first public appearance as a Wikipedian.  Once a hobby I kept entirely separate from my professional life, like tinkering with a train set in the garage, it has now become an integral part of my professional career and research. Like the National Archives and other librarians, archivists, and information professionals and the institutions they work for, I’ve realized that Wikipedia and its associated projects are key resources for disseminating and preserving information, knowledge, and cultural heritages.

The conference opened with remarks from Pamela Wright, NARA’s Chief Innovation Officer, who outlined how NARA has been collaborating with Wikipedia in that effort, a collaboration that dates back to Wikipedia’s decennial celebration in 2011.  That collaboration has included hosting over a dozen Wikipedia-related events and uploading over a hundred thousand files to Wikimedia Commons, the online repository for freely usable media files, including most of the images and files on Wikipedia. In 2011, NARA hired the first Wikipedian in Residence in the US Federal Government, Dominic Byrd-McDevitt. Wikipedians in Residence are experienced Wikipedia editors embedded in archives, museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions to help them engage with the encyclopedia.

The keynote speech was delivered by Andrew Lih. Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, has become a sort of spokesperson for the encyclopedia, explaining it and its importance to the outside world. Professor Lih plays something of the same unofficial role for academia and the Wikipedia community itself. His rousing speech, “What Wikipedia Must Do”, was a call to action for editors in eight important areas—usability in a time of growing mobile traffic, improving social interaction on the encyclopedia itself, gender and diversity, expert engagement, reimagining ways in which Wikimedians contribute original content, improving access to multimedia content on Wikipedia and related projects, partnerships with other organizations and institutions, and improving relationships between different groups of stakeholders.

After lunch, Dr. John Howard, Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussed how the US Federal Government’s “science partners” wanted to engage with Wikipedia, especially after noticing how many of the incoming hits to the CDC’s website came from Wikipedia. He noted that Wikipedia was “a major channel for transparency and dissemination of government information and science”.  The National Archives is hosting a NIOSH-led workshop on Wikipedia for federal research agencies next month.

David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, followed with a discussion of the importance of working with Wikipedia, noting that his involvement with online encyclopedias dates back to the abortive Interpedia project back in the early 90s.  Ferriero appears to have a talent for delivering readily quotable statements, and this was no exception, saying that “What better way of engaging the American people than engaging the Wikipedia community to get the word out.

A panel presentation from the National Archives followed – including Wright, Byrd-McDevitt, Andrew Wilson, and Darren Cole – discussing the work NARA was doing with and related to Wikipedia, open access, and information dissemination.  Exciting projects like the Innovation Hub and the new API for NARA’s catalog take the DIY ethos and open access commitment of Wikipedia and apply them to traditional archival tasks. Citizen scanning of archival documents and the ability of people to add tags and transcriptions to items in the online catalog will be ways in which NARA, like Wikipedia, can use crowdsourcing to provide more access to and a richer context for its holdings.

The next morning, I emerged from the Metro stop on Pennsylvania Avenue to the sounds of a brass and drum band playing “Poison” by Bel Biv DeVoe. It was the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, and the sidewalks and streets were filled with vibrant celebration and activity. Inside NARA, that day’s keynote was delivered by Alice Backer of AfroCrowd. AfroCrowd is a new organization devoted improving the representation and participation of Africans and African-Americans in Wikipedia and other open access projects. It was important that their vital work was on center stage at this conference, and not scheduled during the concurrent sessions as an optional “diversity” session that most conference participants might skip.

Highlighting the example of the documentary Garifuna in Peril and topics related to Garifuna, a Central American language and ethnic group of African and indigenous origin, Backer noted the problems encountered by editors mentored by AfroCrowd when attempting to write about topics that the white male-dominated editor base of Wikipedia are unfamiliar with. This problem is hardly limited to AfroCrowd and happens with many different  groups of new editors and topic areas. Many in the audience, including myself, were able to examples of their own experiences with these difficulties. The audience liked my suggestion that instead of having programs like AfroCrowd events only one-way educational experiences, where new editors are educated about Wikipedia, we needed to make the education a two-way process, where established Wikipedia editors are also informed about the significance of topics that groups like AfroCrowd are trying to document. How exactly to do this remains a challenge.

Another significant challenge to Wikipedia was discussed during the final day’s keynote. Danielle Citron, law professor at the University of Maryland, spoke on “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace“, the subject of her book last year from Harvard University Press.   Online harassment is an issue that Wikipedia is dealing with, and failing to deal with, more and more in recent years.  Following Citron’s presentation, many audience members shared their opinions and experiences with harassment on Wikipedia and looked to her for potential solutions.  From the audience, librarian Megan Wacha posted on Twitter “I do love that we’re all so engaged with this issue that we are way over time and no one cares”.  That’s certainly true, but taking that passion and employing it to solve this issue will require some hard choices by the community and perhaps some reassessment of our key values and approaches to Wikipedia.

In between all these speeches were the concurrent sessions where Wikipedians, including myself, presented workshops, presentations, and panels.   It isn’t fair to highlight particular panels or presentations just because I was able to participate in or attend them when there were so many Wikipedians talking about their work on topics ranging from education to metadata to pomological watercolors to dance.  While online, the atmosphere can sometimes, unfortunately, become heated or negative, at this conference I met scores of Wikipedians who were engaged, energized, and passionate about Wikipedia.

Posted in Events, Online Research, Research, Wikipedian in Residence | Tagged , | 3 Comments