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Collaboration, Creative Commons and Archives

A case-study paper submitted to The National Heritage Council for consideration at the International Conference on Archives. 2-4 November 2012 East  London, South Africa.

Submitted by: Dumisani Ndubane (Wikimedia ZA) and Isla Haddow-Flood (WikiAfrica)


The collection, organisation, and conservation of archival material are colossal tasks that have been entrusted to natural institutions and government organs around the world. These tasks have been and are being performed with diligence by many different institutions. Over and above the collection and conservation, the primary mandate of these organizations is to make this collective knowledge available to, and useful for, society. This is their most important task as prescribed in their mandates, and yet, due to constraints in resources, staff and other issues, this particular task is often challenging for the institution. These challenges ensure that the archiving institutions are effectively closed to the public, which in itself is contrary to the fundamental reason and human desire to archive and protect items of historical value.

The task of sharing the knowledge held within the institution with the public does not have to be the sole responsibility of these natural institutions, and neither does it have to be an one-organization-show. Over the last few years, a global movement has arisen to help these institutions share their knowledge with the help of interested volunteers who assist in providing access to archived information and media for research and general information. A significant part of this movement has been manifest by Wikimedia (through Wikipedia and GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Musuems)) and Creative Commons (through Open Source Licensing) at the point where they and archive institutions intersect and overlap.

Africa, with nearly one-billion people, represents the world's third-largest market after China (1.3-billion) and India (1.1-billion). It is widely recognized as the last frontier for global economic growth. It is also where humanity began. Yet it has the lowest and least informed profile of any region on the internet. Africa deserves a new deal – and especially in Wikipedia. WikiAfrica is an international collaborative project between Africa Centre and Lettera27 that is designed to Africanize Wikipedia by generating and expanding 30,000 articles over two years [1]. In South Africa, WikiAfrica collaborates with Wikimedia ZA in sourcing and training Wikipedians and volunteers to contribute into the WikiAfrica project through the Wikipedian in Residence internship method. WikiAfrica currently works with 19 GLAMs across Africa.

A Wikipedian in Residence, as defined by Wikipedia, is a "Wikipedia editor [who] accepts a placement with an institution to facilitate Wikipedia entries related to that institution." These positions are associated with Wikipedia's GLAM WikiProject (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) initiative that focuses on improving Wikipedia's coverage of topics related to the cultural sector [2].

In the past two years, Wikipedians in Residence around the world have broken new ground in facilitating the digitization and transcription of primary source materials through Wikisource (a free-content library) and Wikimedia Commons (a free media repository) which utilize Creative Commons licensing. This presentation will introduce delegates to the power of collaboration with Wikipedia and its sister organisations, the importance of Creative Commons, and will share case studies of seven Wikipedians in Residence from North America (2), Europe (2), Asia (1), the Oceania (1) and Africa (1) [3] [4].

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