But adopting an open access policy is not enough to meet the Smithsonian 2022 goal of reaching 1 billion people per year with its digital content. Wikipedia is an important strategic partner to achieving the exponential reach the Smithsonian envisions. Whether you're doing a Google search to research information, using a voice assistant to answer a question, or doing an image search on your mobile device, Wikimedia content is used throughout the Internet, across commercial and noncommercial entities alike. This is true to the long term strategic goal of the Wikimedia movement to be the "essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge."
The launch of the Smithsonian Open Access project also marked the start of an innovative plan for deep strategic engagement with the Wikimedia movement. This not only contributes content, but fosters collaboration and co-creation of new ways to access, visualize and interact with the resulting shared knowledge base.
Kelly Doyle initiated this work, coming to the Smithsonian Institution as a Wikimedian in Residence in the role of Open Knowledge Coordinator, focusing on the American Women's History Initiative. AWHI focuses on restoring women’s contributions in the narrative of American history, and sharing new resources about women openly to address the gender imbalances found online. Through our Wikipedia efforts, we’re adding women from new curatorial research onto Wikipedia, Commons, and Wikidata to be shared and remixed by all.
Andrew Lih joined the Smithsonian in the role of Wikimedian at Large, to set up the infrastructure to share and track the impact of Smithsonian Open Access collections in the Wikimedia ecosystem, to develop tools and workflow for sharing structured data about women at-scale, and to share the open access images and data with key wiki projects. The Wikimedia community has worked with museums and the cultural sector for more than a decade, and this marks the largest collaboration to date. He has previously worked with the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Metropolitan Museum of Art on groundbreaking Wikimedia projects.
The work with the AWHI includes compiling lists of notable women whose stories need to be written back into history and shared with an open access policy on Wikimedia projects. The Funk List is a spreadsheet of data about women in science crowdsourced with staff and the Smithsonian’s historian. These women contributed significantly to science but were sometimes working alongside husbands on a volunteer basis, or weren’t given the job title they merited. Dr. Liz Harmon, digital curator at Smithsonian Archives and Libraries, has researched and filled in the information gaps in the list. The goal is to pilot sharing this list as a set to Wikidata to stubs, and investigate ways to connect people across the Smithsonian’s collections with the identifiers accumulated in Wikidata.
Wikidata serves as the core of most Smithsonian-Wikimedia projects. As a multilingual open data platform that is collaboratively edited in the same way as Wikipedia, it is gaining widespread popularity among libraries and museums around the world. Though not as widely known as Wikipedia, Wikidata is utilized by major search engines and online services to maintain knowledge graph databases.
Beyond Wikipedia with Wikidata
Why the focus on Wikidata? Wikidata is more inclusive and expansive than Wikipedia, as it employs a much lower "notability threshold" for the inclusion of topics. While the largest Wikipedia edition (English) is an impressive 6.2 million articles and growing, Wikidata contains more than 92 million items encompassing objects, documents, locations, people, or concepts known to humankind. For example, Wikipedia seeks articles written about the most famous painted artworks in the world, whereas Wikidata documents all of them and currently has more than 500,000 entries.
The larger range of concepts in Wikidata is a crucial link to establish the online presence of those missing from the historical record, unlocking ability to do powerful creative projects. Mapping of locations, examining a timeline of events or finding connections among people are all easily performed in Wikidata. We are already seeing the benefits of these capabilities, such as seeing patterns and connections for data from the Smithsonian contributions to Wikidata. What were the schools and colleges that were influential in producing leaders in the American women's suffrage movement? What scientific disciplines are well documented in Wikimedia projects and which ones need more Smithsonian content?
Wikidata provides ways to easily visualize the knowledge graphs within its structured database, and we are constantly working on interfaces to allow for any user to explore these and to find insights that go beyond our basic understanding of history.
Dashboards and reporting
Another initiative is to measure the impact of Smithsonian content as delivered through Wikimedia sites. We can reliably examine traffic to specific media files contributed by the Smithsonian and the Wikipedia articles that used them, even if we cannot completely measure all its downstream uses. We are regularly recording statistics about media file usage from the various Smithsonian units, with the goal of pinpointing areas ripe for improvement.
We are already seeing some interesting results. In Q4 2020, four out of the top seven images used from Smithsonian Institution Archives on English Wikipedia were of women:
scientists Marie Curie, Pauline Gracia Beery Mack, and Barbara McClintock;
African American academic Angela Davis; and
author/advocate Chelsea Clinton
This underscores the impact and importance of Smithsonian, and the AWHI in particular, as a supplier of crucial historic information to populate Wikimedia projects. The multimedia assets and the metadata help complete the historic record, with repercussions down the line, to search engines, to voice assistants and to all manner of educational resources.
What's next and participation
The Smithsonian’s Open Access initiative and the AWHI’s Wikimedia commitment allow us to widely share our collections, across languages and cultures, and offers an opportunity to close the gender and diversity gaps on Wikipedia.
Only 18% of biographies on Wikipedia are about women. We are working to change that through the power of Wikidata and community events like Wikipedia meetups and edit-a-thons.
If you’d like to learn more about Wikimedia and editing Wikipedia or Wikidata, join in one of our virtual AWHI edit-a-thons. Events are regularly updated on our calendar or through our email list, sign up here.
You can also examine the work being done with Smithsonian Open Access content at the Wikidata GLAM WikiProject to see statistics reports and tools.
The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) held a work session to add information from library finding aids to Wikidata, using the Philadelphia Area Archives Research Portal. The session focused on under-represented communities including African Americans and LGBTQIA folks.