GLAM/Case studies/German Federal Archives

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In German: Fallstudie Bundesarchiv

This text documents the partnership between Wikimedia Germany and the German Federal Archives (German: Deutsches Bundesarchiv) between autumn 2007 and December 2008. It is intended for archivists, librarians and curators of cultural heritage.

The text is divided into two sections. Firstly, the uploading of 100,000 images from the photo archive of the Bundesarchiv to Wikimedia Commons and their worldwide inclusion in Wikipedia articles. And secondly, the improvement of the Bundesarchiv metadata by integration with existing collections of structured personal data from biographies on Wikipedia.

Representatives of cultural institutions will find information for next steps, for example, contacting local chapters, at the bottom of this page.

How images bring encyclopedia articles to life

Flowering beds at Bundesgartenschau Karlsruhe 1967, a result of tireless efforts

Too many events in recent history have no freely accessible and usable imagery. The dynamics and intensity of a historical event can not usually be conveyed through text alone. Interested readers who want to gain a comprehensive impression of the November Revolution of 1918 for example, therefore need both high quality encyclopedic texts, and images of the Berlin printing district and makeshift barricades. Images are an essential component of high-quality encyclopedia, without which it is difficult to fulfill Wikipedia's educational mission.


The image archives of the German Federal Archives contain about 10 million photos. It is already partly digitized. The legal mandate of the Archives is to find and archive records and make them available to the public. Since many people start their search for material on the internet, it is natural for Wikipedia as one of the most used sources online to develop a cooperation with the Archives. Some of these extensive holdings of the picture archives are being uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, so that they can be included directly into articles in all language editions of the online encyclopedia.


The selection of images made by the German Federal Archives followed qualitative criteria, and obtaining the necessary rights for publication of the works under a free license. After the selection, Wikipedia volunteers developed software for the automated uploading of images to Wikimedia Commons. The uploading began on December 3, 2008. Within minutes, Wikipedia editors began integrating the images into articles.

In the following days, extensive documentation pages were created about the use of the images and how to provide feedback to the German Federal Archives. As of October 2009, this cooperation has included 100,000 images.[1].


The cooperation with the German Federal Archives was the largest collaboration and addition of a stock of images to Wikimedia by then. It is hardly possible to capture all facts of the positive impact of the project, which has not been confined to one country or language. Broad subject areas of Wikipedia can now be visualized clearly for the first time. And the availability of good images was an incentive to write many new articles.

The cooperation with the Bundesarchiv has served as a model for partnerships between Wikimedia and other institutions from the cultural sector.

For the German Federal Archives, this cooperation led to dramatically increased visibility of their holdings. At the same time, the use of the images by Wikipedia editors has led to a stream of comments by readers and authors, and to the continuous improvement of image descriptions and metadata.

How volunteers improve metadata


The German Federal Archives had over decades of work developed a special catalog of personal data about the subjects of its images. The data compiled in this list is not always correctly assigned to a particular person. Updating and correcting this data was too large a task for the Archive to undertake itself. At the same time, the Archive had a hard time integrating its stock of images into other contexts.


With three years of experience in the use of personal data and thousands of authors and editors of biographies, the German Wikipedia is the largest user of this type of data outside the library sector. Since the start of the cooperation with the German National Library, 250,000 personal records were created in Wikipedia, with 80,000 links to personal data files.

In addition, the German Wikipedia developed an arsenal of software solutions for the maintenance of such person-data records and their links (for instance: the apper-PD-Tool:, magnus's tool, and more: )


A Wikipedia volunteer completed within a short time a web form that allows easy connection between a) Federal-person data, b) the Wikipedia biographies, and c) PND records.

After a few days, [Welchel] brought the tool into production. A total of 59,000 records were linked within the first four months of its use.

Screenshot and raw data:


With the data developed, we were able to realize much easier cross-referencing between Wikipedia and the holdings of the German Federal Archives. This allows readers of the digital photo archive to easily find biographies on Wikipedia, and in this way also to have access to areas covered by National Library titles. Third-party users, including other government agencies such as the German Federal Press Office, also benefit from this accumulation of data, as do Wikipedia readers, who can now quickly locate associated information in libraries and archives.


2011 statistics


There's a 2011 Youtube video on the Bundesarchiv cooperation:

Dr. Oliver Sander (head of the Bundesarchiv's department B6, image archive) spoke about the experiences of that cooperation, including some basic statistics.

  • 4.200 registered users (most of them new users)
  • 2-5 new users per day
  • 9 orders / day
    • 2011: 65,78% cost-free orders
    • 2010: 72,99% cost-free orders
    • 2009: 81,44% cost-free orders
  • >30% foreign users
  • visits increased two-fold (49.000/month)
  • income increased by 193% from 2008 to 2010
  • 230% increase of inquiries from 2008 to 2010 (without additional staff to handle requests)
  • approx. 95% of re-uses are copyright violations due to failure to comply with CC-BY-SA

Next steps for interested archivists, librarians and curators of cultural heritage

  1. Identify a person in your organization that is responsible for the collaboration with Wikipedia
  2. Contact your local chapter and find out who could assist you
  3. For further information see: Advice for the cultural sector
  4. Share your experiences with us and give us feedback


  1. Using the Glamorous tool (Help on Commons), you can see with this query:[wikipedia]=1&projects[wikimedia]=1&projects[wikisource]=1&projects[wikibooks]=1&projects[wikiquote]=1&projects[wiktionary]=1&projects[wikinews]=1&projects[wikivoyage]=1&projects[wikispecies]=1&projects[mediawiki]=1&projects[wikidata]=1&projects[wikiversity]=1

    how many images are in the category (and up to 3 levels of subcategories) and how many of those distinct images are used across all Wikimedia projects. As of May 2014, 101207 images are in the category, of which 22566 (27.18% of all images of category) distinct images are used in the projects.