Wikipedians at the National Archives

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The National Archives at Kansas City welcomed four local Wikipedians for a Meetup and Scanathon Saturday on June 16, 2012. The meetup theme was “Between the Rivers” and focused on photos and textual holdings related to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This event was the first of its kind for a National Archives (NARA) regional facility, as well as a first for the Kansas City Wikipedia community. Wikipedia geo-notices and email notifications promoted the meetup, and a Wikipedia events page allowed participants to obtain further information and submit an RSVP. The full day event included a welcome by Director of Archival Operations Lori Cox-Paul, an exhibit tour by Exhibits Specialist Dee Harris, a video conference and PowerPoint presentation with NARA Wikipedian-in-Residence (Washington, DC) Dominic McDevitt-Parks, and project time in the research room coordinated by archives staff members Elizabeth Burnes and Jessica Edgar. Participants had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects including scanning, transcription, researching/editing articles, and tagging.

ship license

Vessel license for the Mollie McPike, September 5, 1864. RG 41, Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of Navigation (ARC: 4616197) (National Archives at Kansas City)

The meet-up theme was directly related to an upcoming exhibit at the National Archives at Kansas City. “Between the Rivers” looks at how the states of Iowa and Missouri have been shaped by the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers that run through them. The exhibit will explore the effects of the rivers on Iowa and Missouri’s environment, culture, and economy from the 1830s to the 1930s. The Wikipedian meetup produced products that will be used in developing the exhibit, which opens on September 25, 2012. One project involved scanning historic images of river conservation work on the Missouri River from the Missouri River Basin Commission in the 1880s. Another project consisted of transcribing information about packet boat and steamboat vessel licenses issued by the Bureau of Navigation from 1862 to 1864. A final river-related project involved transcribing an Iowa Admiralty court case relating to the Northwestern Union Packet Company, the steamer Phil Sheridan, and the barge T. Fawcett.

Photograph, Improvement Missouri River in Vicinity of Glasgow, MO, August 1881. RG 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Omaha District. (National Archives at Kansas City)

The meetup was a great success! Project results include: 53 scanned images from the Missouri River Basin Commission, 190 transcribed vessel licenses, numerous keyword-tagged images within NARA’s Online Public Access system, and a transcribed admiralty court case. Additionally, the Wikipedians established connections within their local community, project products can now be uploaded into Wikimedia Commons and Wikisource for use by researchers, and the National Archives at Kansas City opened the door to future collaboration. The opportunity for future meetups is exciting in light of the recently released Open Government Plan which prominently features discussion of the powerful role that “citizen archivist” activities (such as Wikipedian meetups) can play in fulfilling NARA’s institutional mission.

The biggest lesson learned from this first meetup was that establishing a foothold with Wikipedians can be difficult. Wikipedians in the Kansas City area did not have an existing listing of participants (Wikipedians in many large cities have worked to build collaborative online communities based on their geographic location) and we had to determine the best means of reaching out. Establishing a connection with this diverse pool of participants required patience, a creative approach, and a willingness to become a part of the Wiki community with hopes that the group will slowly build over time. The prospect of future growth has us ready to schedule more meetups though, and we’re set to expand our presence in the Wiki community!

The National Archives-Wiki collaboration falls under the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (GLAM) Wiki initiative. If your institution is interested in joining the dialogue between archives and Wikipedians you can learn more about GLAM-Wiki by emailing [email protected] or by checking out their upcoming fall campaign “Wikipedia Loves Libraries.”

~ Elizabeth Burnes and Dee Harris
National Archives at Kansas City