In Cote d’Ivoire, partnering with libraries provides opportunities

Photo by User:African Hope, CC BY-SA 4.0.

There’s a global community working to strengthen the bonds between GLAMs—galleries, archives, libraries, and museums—and the volunteer population who edit Wikipedia and Wikimedia websites every day. These people are creating partnerships, experimenting with new tactics, and acting as liaisons to cultural institutions all around that world. Still, although the Wikimedia community aspires to be a diverse community which can work on and represent the world’s knowledge and culture, in practice GLAM-Wiki frequently reflects the larger biases of Wikimedia projects.

This is changing in one country in French-speaking Africa, as local volunteers from Wikimedia Community User Group Côte d’Ivoire are partnering with librarians to create an active and vibrant community that participates in activities like the global #1Lib1Ref campaign, which asks “every librarian in the world to add just one reference to Wikipedia”.

The Wikimedia Foundation’s GLAM Strategist Alex Stinson interviewed Samuel Guebo, one of the Wikimedians working on this partnership, about the opportunities created by working with libraries.

Alex: Can you tell me a little bit about the user group, and who is involved?

Wikimedia Community User Group Côte d’Ivoire (WCUG-CI) is a group of volunteers based in Côte d’Ivoire, legally organized as an Ivorian association and acknowledged by the Wikimedia Foundation since 2014. It contains 32 registered members, with one third being active members and regular editors. Its actions focus on four main programmes: WikiMousso, a local version of the Wiki Loves Women project; the Education program; Wiki Loves Africa; and GLAM-Wiki, wherewe forge links with libraries and others heritage organizations.

Alex: How did the user group get involved with local libraries? Why are these relationships important for the user group? What do you hope you can do with the libraries?

In 2015, our current chair Donatien Kangah was selected as part of the BSF Campus programme. This initiative from Libraries Without Borders selected and trained, based on their application, 12 young leaders working in the library environment of Côte d’Ivoire. Back then, Donatien applied with the “GLAM Côte d’Ivoire initiative”, a project that aimed at documenting and promoting African heritage through Wikimedia platforms. Donatien had the chance to join a wide network of librarians. Ever since I was appointed by our board as the Coordinator for GLAM-Wiki in 2016, I have been building on this network.

Collaborating with librarians means a lot to our user group. They provide valuable referencing documents for our edit-athons, logistics support such as room for training sessions, and are good advocates for Wikipedia before the academics and research community. So far, our collaboration mainly include training sessions during which librarians are introduced to Wikipedia and its sister projects, and add at least one reference to the online encyclopaedia. Also, as we are getting more librarians involved, we hope to start digitization collaborations soon and make available to the world our local heritage.

Alex:You recently signed an agreement with the APSID-CI (Association of Professionals of the Information Sciences of documentary of Cote d’Ivoire). Why did you need a formal agreement with the organization? What do you hope will come from that relationship?

In our West African context, skepticism stands out as a constraint while partnering with local heritage institutions. To reduce that skepticism, it is important to show these institutions what Wikimedia projects are about and also how trustworthy we, as an organization, are. The agreement serves that purpose. It tells our partner that we are working in a transparent way and encourages others like-minded institutions to join us.

In the specific case of APSID-CI, even though we had started to collaborate before the agreement, we were still in the discussion phase. As we needed to start doing practical things, it appeared necessary to define where we wanted to go together and what we desired to achieve. This is where the agreement came into play.

This is a significant agreement because APSID-CI is the main association gathering librarians in Côte d’Ivoire. Through this partnership, we will hopefully expose a much higher number of librarians to Wikipedia and its sister projects and eventually turn a portion of them into regular editors. Also, digitization is on the agenda of this collaboration. Members of the APSID-CI are professionals working within institutions that curate important documentary archives, data, heritage collections, etc. However, most of them are facing storage issues. Those documents are exposed to physical hazards such as moisture or heat, and also vandalism during conflict periods. Through the collaboration with APSID-CI, the idea behind digitization is to offer an alternative conservation for archives and heritage collections. Once digitized, archives should be free from the risks mentioned above. Also, as some of the digitized archives will be released under Creative Commons license, it will be possible to reuse them and improve them collaboratively as in the case of pre-colonial textbooks.

Alex: #1Lib1Ref seemed to be an important opportunity for the user group to speak with libraries. Why have you been working with the campaign?

Indeed, #1Lib1Ref was a great opportunity for us to interact differently with librarians. Actually, before the 2017 #1Lib1Ref campaign, our outreach activities towards librarians only consisted in presentations. With this campaign and its ‘add just one more reference to Wikipedia’ rule, librarians could make their first edit to Wikipedia.

Plus, articles lacking references served as a good example to show librarians how their help could make a difference. At the end of the workshops for #1Lib1Ref, some said that adding a reference to an article that lacked some was quite a fulfilling experience.

Furthermore, as Wikimedians, we enjoyed being part of a larger set of editing activities carried out by other Wikimedians across the world. When carrying out activities locally, sometimes it feels like you are somewhat working in a silo, detached from the rest of the Wikimedians. So large scale editing activities such as Wiki Loves Africa, Francophone Contribution Month or #1Lib1Ref create an opportunity to work alongside Wikimedians from other regions, share your approach and, more importantly, learn from others.

Alex: You have been attending a number of Wikimedia events, and talking to a lot of program leaders in other parts of the world. How do you think GLAM-Wiki and library outreach is different for you in Cote d’Ivoire, as opposed to other part of the world?

Many areas of collaboration between GLAMs and Wikimedians are still unexplored in Côte d’Ivoire. For example, throughout the world partnerships with GLAMs have led to thousands of heritage objects from collections being digitized and imported to Commons. Additionally, the Wikidata project allows GLAMs to match metadata of their collection with hundreds of other data sources. There are many opportunities to be explored.

Yet, a stronger collaboration with heritage institutions implies necessarily a stronger and wider awareness raising among GLAM professionals. As I mentioned earlier, in our local context GLAMs do not clearly see the benefits of the Open movement in general, and Wikimedia projects in particular. This skepticism or ignorance is not a unique situation. It is faced by other communities from the Global South. Earlier in January at WikiIndaba 2017, Wikimedians from Ghana reported how institutions were not willing to start any collaboration without an official Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

However, against skepticism or ignorance, we think that the best advocates of WMF projects before the GLAMs community are librarians, and GLAM professionals more generally. This is why for now we insist on projects that get GLAMs involved and comfortable with the values of Wikimedia projects.

Alex: I think an important part of the exchange between cultural professionals and the Wikimedia Community has been the exchange of different approaches to organizing and sharing knowledge with the world. What do you think you or the Wikipedia community can learn from the libraries?

Librarians are by definition practitioners of information sciences. Their skills include organizing information in order to promote and facilitate its access. This is an aptitude that the Wikipedia ecosystem currently needs if we consider the millions of pages and data that it gathers. Collaborating with librarians should help Wikimedians improve the accessibility of the content they produce. There is also an opportunity to improve Wikimedia contents, both qualitatively and quantitatively, by leveraging documentary sources curated by libraries.

Alex: What’s the most exciting or unusual thing that has happened as part of your collaboration with GLAMs?

The collaboration with the Parliament of Côte d’Ivoire between 2016 and mid-2017. As part of the WikiMousso project, our version of Wiki Loves Women, this collaboration led to the creation of 40 articles about parliamentarian women of Côte d’Ivoire. The main references used while creating these articles were offered by the Parliament’s archives staff, our partner.

Beyond content creation, this collaboration showed us another benefit of partnering with GLAMS. It showed that we could also improve the quality and quantity of Wikimedia contents thanks to the valuable documents and data provided by GLAMs.

Interview by Alex Stinson, Strategist, Community Programs
Wikimedia Foundation


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