GLAM-Wiki: Common Questions from Librarians and Archivists

by Dorothy Howard, Wikipedian-in-Residence and Open Data Fellow at METRO

Wikipedia is a common point of reference for knowledge seekers for every genre and subgenre. As further proof of its status as a go-to resource, Wikipedia pages rank in the top three results on any given search engine. As a result, Wikipedia has great potential to enhance and extend the online presence and visibility of libraries, archives, and museums. Several METRO members are already in the midst of utilizing Wikipedia within their institutions. Two have already hosted Wikipedians-in-Residence of their own and a handful have already organized Edit-a-Thons around their collections.

During my fellowship at METRO as Wikipedian-in-Residence and Open Data advocate, I have been meeting with a diverse group of METRO member libraries and archives. These meetings have included internal staff trainings, consultations on specific uses of Wikipedia, and talks about integrating Wikipedia into the daily workflow. While the range of potential Wikipedia and open data projects is pretty wide, it does seem that librarians and archivists have been asking some of the same questions.

In this post, I will recount a few of the most common concerns METRO institutions have expressed about GLAM-Wiki, the movement to bring Wikipedia into Galleries Libraries, Archives, and Museums. My answers express my own experience and opinions, and hopefully will begin more conversations in the GLAM-Wiki community about the ways to go about incorporating Wikipedia into the workflow of librarians and archivists.


Should a museum library or archive have its own article apart from the main museum article?

The short answer: yes. An institutional library or archive generally has its own history apart from the main institution, and that history would be appropriate to put in an entry on Wikipedia. An entry about a library or an archive can include the circulation information, sources of the collection, major figures, and an entry about the scope or collecting criteria of the institution. Logistical information about the size of the space and the building are also appropriate.

The GLAM-Wiki initiative does have a particular interest in helping GLAMs get their collections and holdings online (rather than on improving institutional main pages). Think of the main page as the portal to other developed articles about the institutional collections.


As a library/archive, we want to focus on our books and other holdings, not the museum collections or curated collections. Is this standard?

Yes. There are several possible ways information library/archival books and other holdings in particular can be added to Wikipedia. Some libraries have made it their goal to add reference links to their online catalog. They have also added bibliographic entries on books from their collection to general article pages on a related subject. This way, someone doing research on that topic will know that there are materials of use at their local library/archive. This policy will also allow for librarians and archivists to edit articles on the information that they are working with and know best.

For example, see the Met’s Wikipedia Wiki organizing page. In this project, facilitated by William Blueher, citations to books in the Met Library are added to a group of Wikipedia articles that are related to the content of each book. Also see the Wikipedia citation code placed at the bottom of pages on the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum.

Others have begun to write articles on books or documents in a ‘Collections Highlights’ or ‘Catalog Highlights’ section on the library or archive entry. This method showcases important items in the library or archive’s collection, with the potential for information about their history, their acquisition by the museum, their circulation, reception, and exhibition history.

See how the British Library has organized and highlighted its collections on Wikipedia.  


Who in our institution should be delegated the job of updating Wikipedia articles? Does it fall under the scope of social media?

Whether Wikipedia editing is done by the social media specialist, interns, or archivists is determined on a case-by-case basis. I recommend that the person who heads Wikipedia projects in your institution also be the person most invested in Wikipedia, or is the most knowledgeable editor. That said, Wikipedia is not a social media platform, nor should it be treated like one.

Although an institution’s increased presence on Wikipedia will probably result in increased traffic to the institution’s website (see my above comment in Question 1 on de-emphasizing edits on the institution main page), one consideration for getting involved with Wikipedia is how to best incorporate editing Wikipedia into processing library and archival (a topic that I will address further in future articles).


Can we use the text from our Finding Aid, Bio Notes, or History Note directly on Wikipedia articles? What kind of licensing does Wikipedia use?

You may use content from Finding Aids but remember that once something goes live on Wikipedia, it is in the public domain, so your institution can no longer claim the rights for that piece of writing. Please read more about licensing your works on Wikipedia.Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons generally use the Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 unported CC0 license, though they do offer other CC0 licenses in some cases.   

If you are planning on using Finding Aids for the content of multiple articles, use page-bottom attribution. This can be simplified using a citation template.