Graduate student and Wikipedian Michael Barera became the first Wikipedian in Residence at a U.S. presidential library last week. Barera, who attends the University of Michigan’s School of Information, is serving as resident at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum, which is located on the University’s Ann Arbor campus.
This fresh partnership is a wonderful example of how outreach and education about Wikimedia projects can be key components at fostering opportunities such as this. Barera, who has been editing Wikipedia articles and uploading photographs to Wikimedia Commons for over five years, joined the Michigan Wikipedians, a student club on campus, and the first of its kind in the United States. Through the club, Berera attended a seminar held by the Wikipedia Education Program in the Fall of 2012. The seminar educated attendees about the opportunities for using Wikipedia in the classroom as a learning tool, and showcased partnerships being held around the country.
Little did Berera realize that the woman who would spearhead the development of his future residency was also in the audience: Bettina Couisneau, Exhibit Specialist at the Ford Library & Museum.
Berera and Couisneau connected at the seminar, and Barera started volunteering at the Ford, using his skill set to categorize images that the Ford had uploaded to Commons, which totals over 11,000 images to date. Berera also created WikiProject Gerald Ford, a project that brings together Wikipedians from around the world to edit content about the 38th president of the United States. The opportunity for a more formal partnership was clear – Berera would be the natural choice for a Wikipedian in Residence at the Ford.
“This position is perfect for me,” says Barera, “It combines my academic passion for history, archives, open source advocacy, and technology. I see my role as a facilitator, helping to bridge the gap between those who have the content and those who have the technical skills to make that information accessible to the whole world.” Barera will do just that – serve as a liaison between the international e-volunteer community of Wikimedia and the collections and staff at the Ford. By working with both parties, Wikipedians will gain more access to collections to improve Wikipedia and its sister proejcts, and staff will gain further awareness and knowledge about how Wikipedia works, and how to better work with it and it’s community.
With a collection that comprises almost exclusively of openly licensed content – federally created public domain materials – the Fords’ collection and resources are a perfect match for Wikimedia projects, which require freely licensed contributions. “With these core similarities, I believe that this collaboration can be rewarding for both parties, as well as the Fords’ visitors, Wikipedia’s readers, and the general public,” says Barera.
By improving coverage about President Ford on Wikipedia and related projects, and by educating staff about open sharing, the Ford will be able to expand on it’s mission to provide the public increased access to their collections and resources. “Our goal is to have our content accessible to everyone, everywhere,” says Couisneau, “Wikipedia is a new outreach venue for us. Not everyone can visit our museum and library in person, but everyone can visit us online.” And with the skill set of Barera, and the advocacy of Couisneau, the Ford will be able to provide online access to their collection via the world’s 5th most popular website, Wikipedia.
Elaine Didier, Director of the Ford, hopes that Couisneau – who went from Wikipedia reader to Wikipedian during the course of developing the residency project – will inspire others to get involved: “I hope that this partnership also inspires more people like her to join with us, become Wikipedians, and help broaden our perspectives and our horizons to inch us ever closer to our goal of collecting ‘the sum of all human knowledge’.”