Wikipedia, Museums and Journalists

by journojames on April 20, 2012

Originally published Mar. 9, 2012

Lori Phillips, the current Wikipedian-in-Residence at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, admitted last week that she never thought Wikipedia would become such an important part of her museum studies research.

Lori Phillips, Photo courtesy of Wiki Strategies

It was enlightening to hear her talk about how she’s realized the importance of Wikipedia and its great potential as a collaborative learning tool, especially when partnered with museums.

Phillips said that museums are looking to the future and trying to find ways to become more technologically creative, collaborative and accessible to the public. She said that Wikipedia could help museums do all of that.

She said that her main responsibility was to coordinate and oversee special projects that provided content from her museum to Wikipedia. She said this collaboration not only increased the visibility and popularity of her museum, but it also benefitted a global audience through shared content and information via the online encyclopedia. According to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, there were 3.8 million page views of museum images and over 41,000 page views of museum articles just between October 2010 and September 2011.

Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Photo courtesy of City Profile

She also noted that by collaborating with Wikipedia, museums, in general, were also starting to take on the important responsibility of digitizing the enormous amount of all their archival information.

Now, with hindsight, it is surprising that it’s taken this long for brick and mortar museums to realize how beneficial Wikipedia could be to them. At the same time, it’s understandable if museum directors were apprehensive about collaborating with an online encyclopedia that absolutely anyone — expert or not — could contribute to and edit without research or accountability. Wikipedia’s greatest challenge probably still lies with its credibility. How much of it can you really trust?

A couple things struck me while listening to Phillips talk to the class about Wikipedia’s new collaborative role with museums. If this marriage really is the way of the future — and by Phillips’s accounts and articles like this one, that does seem to be the case – museums would become like living things that would always be changing and evolving, because this is what Wikipedia does.

Museums like this one could collaborate with Wikipedia, Photo courtesy Humanity Life

No longer would museums just be filled with permanent collections and artifacts with information that is to be accepted as absolute and conclusive truths. They would instead have to become more open and be willing to offer new explanations and points-of-view that may challenge some long held beliefs and the status quo, ruffling some staunch feathers along the way.

The other idea was that perhaps journalism, too, was heading towards a similar future. Maybe (more or enhanced) collaboration is the future of journalism? Professional journalist would work with citizen journalists and bloggers to report on a story. In addition, maybe stories that get reported are never completely finished and they never die? Perhaps they just get updated from time to time with new information.

This reminded me of the idea behind our class’s public art project from last semester. In fact, Wikipedia has done something similar.

The news, history, and Wikipedia – I feel these are all related. News is simply the presentation of information. History is a collection of all that news. And an encyclopedia, like Wikipedia, is an organization of that history. These elements are connected for sure, but they seem to be developing a stronger relationship, becoming even more intertwined with one another as new technologies — like the Internet — continue to blur long-standing boundaries. Since all of these elements seem so intertwined going forward, how could they not evolve and progress similarly?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Phillips is probably right about the future of museums; they will become even more connected with the online encyclopedia. But I could easily see this idea expanding beyond the museum walls in the future, too. Take for instance, a historically rich city like Boston or an ethnically diverse one like Los Angeles. I can picture a collaborative effort among museums and Wikipedia where small QR codes are permanently located at points of interest throughout these cities. These codes would offer updated information and interesting facts via smart phone about some significant location or some important artifact.

Perhaps in the near future journalists could collaborate with both museums and Wikipedia and write articles and help curate them. There’s no reason why they couldn’t get involved in this process, helping to write the articles and tell the important stories that need to be told. News sites are the traditional outlets, but perhaps in the future, museums and online encyclopedias should also be considered as possible outlets for journalistic endeavors.

I’m sure Wikipedia probably already has an article about this right now.

Previous post:

Next post: