Wikimedian in Residence for the National Library of Scotland | 7/31/2014
There were a number of significant factors that had a positive influence on the outcomes of the residency and my ability to achieve my objectives. Without a doubt, the most influential was the discovery of a supportive community at the NLS and in the wider GLAM community in Scotland, as well as the emergence of an engaged and active community of local Wikimedians. Over the course of the year’s residency, it became increasingly apparent that the GLAM community in Scotland shared the primary goals of the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedians, and this overlap became a crucial aspect of working towards establishing an ongoing relationship between the two in Scotland.
Scottish GLAMs are very interested in the opportunities offered by collaborations with Wikimedia, and this seems to be part of an open agenda that is growing in strength and influence throughout the country. The National Library of Scotland in particular demonstrated a sympathetic approach to open access well before the collaboration in its deliberate cultivation of an array of high-quality, yet entirely free and open, online resource made available on its website. That the majority of digital content from the NLS was and continues to be made available free of charge and without registration shows a pre-existing commitment to openness. The Library’s purpose, as stated in the 2011-2014 strategy, is described as 'The National Library of Scotland exists to advance universal access to knowledge about Scotland and in Scotland.'
My support within the NLS was extremely positive as well; my line manager worked hard to facilitate the goals of the residency, and I also received significant support from colleagues in different departments of the Library and from members of upper management. Beyond the host institution, I was given extensive support from Wikimedia UK and previous Wikimedians in Residence to help outline and follow through a successful series of events, and to ensure the release of digital content later in the residency. Another undoubtedly significant influence was the flexibility of the goals and objectives of the residency itself. While the agreement between the NLS and WMUK outlined a general set of objectives, both Wikimedia and the Library were receptive to allowing for re-evaluation and adaptation throughout the programme, which was essential to determining what would offer us the best chances for a sustainable partnership in the long term.
While the Library was extremely open and supportive at all levels throughout the residency, there were some broader cultural factors which proved obstacles to achieving the kind of collaboration envisaged by both parties. From my arrival at the organisation, recent instability in the NLS’s staffing infrastructure made it difficult to establish and maintain contact with the appropriate curator or manager, and posed some problems in terms of hesitancy on the part of staff to engage with the programme. A heavy existing workload for staff members likewise resulted in hesitance and lower participation on their part, in particular with regards to individual editing.
Furthermore, a climate within GLAMs more broadly that emphasises income generation based on content created anxiety with regards to the release of digital content to an open repository like Wikimedia Commons. Concerns were raised by staff members over whether the uploading of content to Commons would render NLS digital resources unnecessary, or would detract from their impact. Similarly, there was some anxiety over whether usage of the content released to Commons would have a negative impact for the Library, whether by generating bad publicity in the case of controversial re-use, or again by detracting from Library services. While reassurances and discussion helped address some of these anxieties, their influence remained in the restriction of released content to compressed .jpg files rather than to all versions of digitised public domain content.