There I was, at Rossimoda Shoe Museum in Villa Foscarini Rossi, Stra, Venice, running the Europeana Fashion Edit-a-thon 2013 about footwear, fashion history and shoes produced in Italy. I’d tried to organize this event with university students and their professors, and I had finally succeeded. A short time ago I became a member of Wikimedia Italia and quickly discovered that, like in many associations, you have the chance to do a lot, or nothing at all.
I had no idea how to actively participate in Wikimedia Italia in the beginning. I wanted to do something, then a great opportunity arose. The digital library Europeana Fashion was contacting fashion museums and Wikimedia chapters in Europe to organize edit-a-thons for November 2013. The goal was to promote knowledge of cultural heritage through the improvement of Wikipedia articles related to fashion and history of costumes. Considering that fashion and fashion history has long been my passion, I accepted the offer to work on the project.
Here are a few of the (important) things I learned along the way:
If you like it, do it!
If conditions are good (for instance if you’re working with an international digital library, an excellent museum, a great collection of books and dedicated professors and students) do not get intimidated because you are not an expert. This is exactly the moment to learn and maybe become an expert yourself.
People are key
Without the involvement and help of the museum’s curator, I would have had a really difficult time. She looked for and found contacts inside the university, people which in turn helped us a lot. She ordered sandwiches and pizza for everyone (almost 80 people during the morning, 40 during the edit-a-thon in the afternoon). She sent me a mountain of emails and patiently followed my extensive to-do list. People are key!
Working for an international project is rewarding
Our project was about shoes and historical footwear production, a very specific and local topic. Without Europeana’s initiative (and its Dutch contacts), the availability of Wikimedia Sweden in setting up a post-edit-a-thon at Fashion Challenge, art books and catalogs offered by participating museums and Wikipedia itself, this local topic would have remained just that – local and unknown.
Organizing other people’s work is a responsibility
As everyone involved in Wikipedia introductory workshops probably knows, the complexity of wiki projects is stunning. The only way to avoid the sense of confusion that arises from managing 40 people is to give them a general presentation about Wikipedia and then encourage them to work within a clear path. The students who participated were divided into groups of five. With the right books and resources at their disposal, they worked on articles that were assigned to them. It would have been easier to simply tell the students to edit articles of their choosing, but suggesting a topic with a guided path proved more effective, even if it did require more prep work.
You don’t need to be an expert to create new articles, just look for information and declare your own limits
Insisting a student start an article from scratch is a sure way to scare them away. I tried to have students work on existing articles and, where the right articles didn’t already exist, I created them in advance following my personal rules, which are, put a source for every line, and never forget a stub template!
The best cultural collections in the world don’t really exist unless they are online, and as human beings our duty is to put them there
As a relative newcomer to the world of wiki, the most difficult part has been solving the puzzle regarding the use of images. Rossimoda Shoes Museum allowed me to publish images of their shoe collection under an open license. My past experience with uploading images consisted of one picture of a horse that I took and uploaded onto Wikimedia Commons. I was now faced with a variety of new challenges. I had to explain to the Museum curator that Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons is probably one of the few places on the internet where copyright is fully respected. I had to find a model of authorization under CC BY-SA conditions license. Then I had to wait for the signature of the museums managing director, deliver the authorization to Wikimedia’s OTRS reader services system, upload the images one at a time and write down the exact description for each one, discover the existence of the arcane user rotate bot, ask for help from a Commons admin to choose the right categories for the images and finally inform people involved in other fashion edit-a-thons in Stockholm and Israel about the results. Even though there are only a few images, the hope is essentially to share them with other museums and institutions considering the absolutey rarity of the pieces.
Get public sector role into perspective
The University of Padua and Venice IUAV played a fundamental role in the edit-a-thon. Rossimoda Museum is the typical corporate museum, and therefore a private one. The wiki infrastructure, with its own peculiar mechanisms, is completely external to the public and private sectors. If you’re a public servant like me, and you’re looking for an opportunity to fulfill a project and learn new things, don’t rely only on the public administration to do the work for, do it yourself.
People who helped me in this project and who I personally want thank are, John Andersson, Alessandra Arezzi, Aubrey, Romano Cappellari, Luca Corsato, Cotton, Elitre, Shani Evenstein, Brigitte Jansen, Jaqen, Gabriele Monti, Federica Rossi, Alessandra Vaccari, Erwin Verbruggen and Xaura.
Virginia Gentilini, Wikimedia Italia