Wikipedia: Lessons learnt from GLAM

This is my last note from the Wikipedia-universe. In my last days there, whilst working on the Conference idea, this was a Wikipedia project that caught my interest. GLAM is an abbreviation that stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. It was an effort from Wikipedia to open and make publicly available some of the knowledge and treasures stored in these cultural institutions.

My first brush with GLAM was when Liam Wyatt came to India to visit cultural institutions in the country. The trip made me go to the Prince of Wales Museum (now called CSMVS) for the first time since my childhood. I was shocked at the changes that I had seen. What I had imagined as I had seen it had transformed completely. While the Museum was looking for new avenues to explore, I guess this seemed a little too radical for them. While they said they would speak to us, there was not much of a response and our preoccupation with the Conference prevented something more substantial.

We did get many from Bombay’s cultural world for a talk on the Creative Commons (CC) license. It was a good experience and I think we got to speak to a lot of people about GLAM as a concept. Whether the cultural world embraces the CC licenses and enters a techno-cultural age is something the cultural world must debate. The event helped us understand that the debate was happening and there were multiple views on the subject and some interesting side discussions on specific areas like accessibility as well.

Something I learned from the space world, was that not all things that you borrow can be directly used in any context. You have to understand local conditions before you adapt a concept for a geographic location. While I was more familiar with the landscape among space enthusiasts, this was not the case with the cultural scene. I had not visited a gallery, archive or museum, ever or in my memorable past. I did visit libraries but I did not engage them in the concepts of openness. I went there mostly as a customer. This made the underlying working layer of these institutions and their quirks invisible to me.

Once these layers become visible, there are different approaches to each institution – at the level of educating the need for openness and contributing to Wikipedia, helping them enter the technical age, help them participate in techno-cultural debates, engage with various communities and ensure that the cultural institutions become vibrant institutions.

While Wikipedians seem eager to engage with cultural institutions, sometimes they need to don the role of people opening the cultural sector. They also need to understand the mindset of the cultural institution. There are still spaces that view digitization as the death of the government agency if not reduction in manpower. The original cultural relic does not reduce in importance with its digitization, it becomes more valuable. This needs to be communicated to the cultural institutions. In addition, the importance of preserving the original cultural relic and ensuring an accessible web presence for the cultural institution cannot be stressed enough.

With these thoughts, I am quite happy to close the doors on the Wikipedia phase of my life :) . Have a great day.

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