I thought the curators had all the answers and knew the secrets. Then I hung out with the archivists at the Archives of American Art.
Little did I think I’d be the Wikipedian in Residence at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, hanging out with archivists and picking their brains about all the amazing things they know about the collections. This afternoon I had a chance to do just that, as I met with the archivists team here at AAA.
As I sat down for the discussion, led by Barbara Aikens, Chief of Collections Processing, I felt like I was with old friends. Everyone had input, ideas, and genuine interest in the opportunities behind Wikipedia partnerships and GLAMs. Our brief conversation was an eye opener for me, as they spoke about archival descriptions and the work being done by Daniel Pitti; and most importantly, their desire to make information accessible to the world. That seems to follow in the mission of a similar organization I know.
Barbara spoke about how archivists must remain neutral and seek to deliver “just the facts.” While researchers often look to archivists to provide the information to make their research a success, archivists are often overlooked by the non-scholar as a source of information. The team was excited about the possibilities of working with Wikipedians share their collections with the public on a broad level. "This is a way to reach the public, not just a small group of scholars," Barbara said, in regards to the exciting possibilities of archives working with Wikipedia.
It was at that moment when I realized - Wikipedia Needs Archivists.
- They write amazing finding aids. Finding aids that give you the basic details about complex collections that often span decades. They are neutral, to the point, and provide an amazing starting point to write articles. These are found in archives around the world, online.
- They want to see collections digitized. This allows the public more access to primary documents for transcription, rarely seen photographs, and better awareness and notability about collections. This means more media and more content for Wikipedians to use.
- They want to work with you. The archivists want to share what they know, and show you how to find it - whether they do it online or in person.
- They want you to be a better researcher. Many of the archivists I have been working with desire to see better documentation available for Wikipedians on how to be better researchers; i.e. How to use the collections, finding aids, and the people at their fingertips. We’re going to make that happen, with a how-to guide for Wikipedians that will encourage us all to become better researchers.
- They want the world to know what they are preserving and how to use it so it benefits your work to the utmost.
This brief meeting was vital to my role as a Wikipedian, a researcher, an emerging museum professional, and a Renaissance woman. During my time here at the Archives, and the Smithsonian as a whole, I look forward to exploring working relationships with archivists and making the most use of their knowledge.
I hope the Archives of American Art, and this summer’s residency at the National Archives and Records Administration, will encourage archives to consider partnerships with Wikipedia, and encourage them to allow their archivists to shine as evangelists of the dissemination of culture in a place where more and more are seeking information - Wikipedia.