The Wikipedian in Residence concept seems like a great idea given these core characteristics (text below from here):
- Serves as a liaison between the organization and the Wikimedia community to promote a mutually beneficial cooperation.
- Promotes understanding of Wikimedia among staff at the organization through workshops and events.
- Works with organizational staff to digitize, compile, and organize resources that can be shared with the Wikipedia community.
- Facilitates the improvement of content by the Wikipedia community, rather than directly editing articles as a core goal.
- Coordinates events, such as Hack-a-Thons, Edit-a-Thons, or Backstage Passes, that bring Wikipedians on-site to work with staff on content creation and improvement.
- Avoids Conflict of Interest by not editing articles directly relating to the organization.
- Formally coordinated by the institution, allowing the resident to work closely with staff for various projects.
- Ultimately, a residency lays the foundation for a more lasting partnership between the Wikipedia community and an organization.
I especially like the idea as a possible internship or independent study opportunity for graduate students to work with cultural heritage institutions and gain professional experience applicable to cultural heritage institutions and industry positions (a good deal can be learned about search engine optimization alone). I really like that the work is both open-ended but can be assessed by some quantitative measures (how much was added/edited on Wikipedia, how many community members were involved and to what extent).
Despite how much I like this idea, I’m still not quite sure how to implement it without breaking the conflict of interest, at least in the way Wikipedia states it. It makes absolute sense that Wikipedia has a strong and clear conflict of interest statement that draws the line at any articles relating directly to the organization. However, public institutions like the University of Florida (UF) answer to internal constituents, the organization, the State of Florida, taxpayers, and the larger public. UF also has extreme financial limitations, making it difficult to invest resources into work that doesn’t benefit as many of UF constituencies as possible.
For my work in the UF libraries, I think an best return on investment for all involved would be to have a graduate student work on creating intellectual access to rare and unique materials by writing and editing Wikipedia articles about the materials, authors, publishers, and other associations. I see this as so valuable because of the sheer volume of rare and unique materials at UF, materials which require research and expertise to create anything more than a citation, and this is common to so many other libraries and archives. Creating that initial intellectual access from even a very basic Wikipedia page can lay the groundwork to facilitate research, scholarly discussion, and scholarship.
While the intellectual access is best served by people (graduate students and others) conducting the research and creating the information, I worry that this work can read like “copywriting” and not enrich a CV and professional portfolio to the extent it should. I think “Wikipedian in Residence” sounds like something highly technical and sophisticated to most people. More importantly, it’s been used enough that it seems as though it sounds “real” instead of simply causing confusion. Because I want the best outcome (in terms of impact and return on investment) for the libraries and for the graduate student, I haven’t yet found what I feel is the best solution. It could be that I simply missed the right solution, or that I’m not thinking properly about how to frame the needs for the UF Libraries, Wikipedians in Residence, and/or graduate students. I haven’t researched this enough yet, so I’ll be looking for existing graduate student internship, independent study, and course descriptions focusing on writing for Wikipedia to see about other possible terminology already in use.
Update from 2012/7/7: Thanks to several folks involved with Wikipedians in Residence (thank you!), I’ve learned that, yes, I was just thinking about this incorrectly and that there’s not an issue for the conflict of interest. There wouldn’t be a conflict of interest for UF-related people writing about UF materials, as long as the writing is not about UF in particular. I still don’t think I’m thinking about this as productively as I could be because the Wikipedian in Residence program presents such a rich opportunity that I still think I’m viewing it a bit too narrowly. Luckily, like many institutions, UF is part of the Creative Campus Initiative which has funding for the Creative Campus Community. The funding includes awards for scholars-in-residence and from the catalyst fund, with applications for next funding cycle likely due in early 2013. It seems like both of these could be used to fund a Wikipedian in Residence, coordinating campus-wide contributions with the opportunity for many individual contributors to be strongly integrated and affiliated with the program even if focused more narrowly.