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2017

My time as New Zealand’s first Wikimedian-in-Residence

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Wikimedian, Susan Tolich works on a page on the Auckland-based fashion designer, Emma Knuckey.

On July 14th, I started a five-week placement at the Auckland Museum as the first official Wikipedian–in-Residence in New Zealand. This is a title that few people understand and I had no idea what it entailed until I began my placement. I came into this through my Masters degree in Heritage and Museum Studies at Victoria University, and this is how I was introduced into the world of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is the fifth most used website in the world and has 31 million registered editors. There are over five million articles in English alone. However, for all that Wikipedia provides, the topics it covers are heavily biased towards the interests of white conservative men who make up the bulk of those that edit the online encyclopaedia. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation, 90% of Wikipedians are men, and only 10% are women. This has been a known flaw in the website for many years and there are active groups on Wikipedia that work towards correcting this bias.

Women in Red’ was founded in 2015 by Americans Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight and Emily Temple-Wood. Their aim is to increase the number of biographies on women on Wikipedia which currently stands at 17% of the total biographies. Given the international membership of this group few had any knowledge on New Zealand women. However, after I approached them they were eager to provide editing skills and tools to help me create articles based on Auckland Museum’s archives of New Zealand women.

The quality of articles and the topics which are covered on Wikipedia are dependent on the resources that can be easily accessed online. Access to information is a privilege that can be taken for granted. Not all Wikipedians have access to university libraries or research that exists behind paywalls. Part of my role as a Wikipedian in residence was uploading images from the Auckland Museum collection onto Wikipedia and to create articles on female artists using information in our archives. Through creating the barebones of articles, Wikipedians started coming to these pages and contributing their own knowledge and fine tuning them. It was truly a global effort with editors from New Zealand to Luxembourg to Michigan pitching in to help. The biggest surprise I had in my internship was how giving the people I met in the community were which was truly inspiring.

It is impossible to spend any time on Wikipedia without learning something new. My personal favourite find was the Wikipedia page of a birthday cake recipe book with a cult following. A cult, I was surprised to remember, my own mother had been a part of! People end up on Wikipedia through pursuing their passions. Sometimes those passions are about cake!

Auckland Museum holds a wealth of information, with over a million records available on its Collections Online, and Wikipedia is a platform where people who are hungry to learn are willing to take this information and run with it. The articles I created will continue to be changed and added to by editors. The images will take a life of their own and be used to improve articles or aid research. Even now my placement has ended, Wikipedians have contacted me eager to improve the Treaty of Waitangi article to continue engaging and improving New Zealand history online. This online community offers new avenues for a museum’s archive and collection to be engaged with and reach a wider audience beyond its own walls. It’s an encyclopaedia that gives agency to the reader and brings online visitors from around the world to the Museum’s collection.

  • Post by: Susan Tolich

    Susan Tolich is New Zealand's first Wikimedian-in-Residence. As part of her Master's in Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University she worked at Auckland Museum for five weeks populating the Wikipedia pages of female artists.