Learnings from the events that presented the Wikimedia to heritage professionals in Argentina, Mexico, and Chile, while testing the Add an image feature on Wikipedia
This blog post is Part I of II. Find here the Part II, with Wikimedia Mexico and Wikimedia Chile’s perspectives.
As part of the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the Newcomer experience pilot, a project developed by the Wikimedia Foundation’s Growth team, started to plan the Add an image (Anãdir una imagen in Spanish) feature. This beta component would be added to a few Wikipedia languages as a way to help new users engage more with the platform through small and easy tasks.
Specifically, this feature would make it easier to add images and captions to articles, based on topics, such as Art, Architecture, History, Chemistry, Technology, and so on, as well as regions (Africa, Central America, North America, South America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania).
But before adding this feature, the team needed to test it. That’s where the GLAM & Culture team entered the project. For us, the Add an image feature was an opportunity to not only engage new users with the visual culture of Wikimedia, but also to help improve the connection on Wikipedia between images from Wikimedia Commons and structured data from Wikidata, and consequently, enhance the appeal and readability of Wikipedia articles in Spanish.
The team was especially interested in this initiative because, since its creation, it has been engaging in conversations about visual culture and the Wikimedia projects. Recently, the team even organized the Image Description Week and two Annual Planning Conversations with Maryana Iskander about Wikimedia Commons.
The Add an image would also be an opportunity to engage with heritage professionals, particularly museum workers, especially as we believed this group was uniquely qualified to judge the selection and captioning of images on Wikipedia, since they usually work closely with visual culture.
So, in the first half of 2022, both the GLAM & Culture and Growth teams decided to organize a series of workshops together with Wikimedia Argentina, Wikimedia Mexico, and Wikimedia Chile. In a nutshell, the objectives of these events were two:
- Test the Add an image feature developed for the Newcomer experience pilot;
- Further develop the GLAM-Wiki community in Spanish-speaking Latin America by engaging heritage professionals.
To accommodate the needs of the organizing affiliates, we requested the Newcomer team to add extra filters with articles about each of the countries (Argentina, Mexico, and Chile), in addition to activating the possibility of combining topics (e.g., GLAM Argentina + art.
The experiment yielded four events between March and April 2022:
- March 7th – Test event organized by Wikimedia Argentina with ADiMRA;
- March 18th – Main event organized by Wikimedia Argentina with many heritage professionals;
- April 1st – Event organized by Wikimedia Mexico with many heritage professionals;
- April 20th – Event organized by Wikimedia Chile with many heritage professionals.
After the start of the initiative, we also noticed similarities this feature could have with the #1Lib1Ref campaign, but with images instead of references and museum professionals instead of librarians. That’s why, together with WMAR, WMMX, and WMCL, we decided to name this set of events #1Pic1Article.
Below, you will find the stories of the three affiliates and the learnings from the point of view of each local organizer:
Wikimedia Argentina’s approach
When the Wikimedia Foundation, through the GLAM team and the Growth team, contacted us to carry out #1Pic1Article in the Latin American region, the first thing I thought was: “What a great opportunity to connect those from cultural fields with Wikimedia projects!” It was a dynamic tool, with a friendly interface for people who are not strictly from the Wikimedia universe and that would surely allow a greater real connection with participants from museums.
This was an issue that was of particular interest to me, due to my museums related professional and academic background. Before working at Wikimedia Argentina, my relationship with people and heritage came through the role of facilitator in areas such as educational action and cultural mediation, that is, maintaining close contact with different audiences of museums and cultural centers, so that by activating their own prior knowledge and common senses they could achieve learning experiences around pieces of heritage.
Upon discovering the Wikimedia universe, I saw myself in some ways limited in this connection with people in a physical, face-to-face, and tangible way. But on the other hand, I discovered an enormous potential linked to the collaborative building of knowledge, a fundamental pillar that is shared with educational practices in museums: understanding that there is not a single point of view on a certain subject but that there are multiple meanings, which build narratives. Narratives that are not neutral but that take on certain ideas and values.
Latin America is a symbolically complex territory, with truly diverse representations, in many cases built by the outlook of others. It was not enough to just connect images to Wikipedia articles if we could not learn to discern, if these images represented ideas “of others”, and if we could not debate whether the images continued to endorse hegemonic stories. In other words, we had to address the debate of denaturalizing our gaze and learn to contextualize visual stories.
Cora Garmanik, a photojournalism researcher in Argentina, was fundamental in this process and I think it was a great and successful experience to have her share her expertise in these meetings. Those who work in museums are connected to visual culture and it’s easy for them to generate adequate, accessible, and understandable descriptions because they do it on a daily basis. However, as they are immersed in a place with a heavy cultural and symbolic heritage it was important that they would be able to critically address the circulation of images both within their institutions and outside of them, in this case, in the digital ecosystem. And #1Pic1Article, through the Add an image function, turned into a great opportunity to explore this aspect and put it into practice.
As in any activity where technology challenges us, we humans are the ones who have the last word in applying our criteria and our abilities to choose one thing over something else. As cultural workers – whether in museums, libraries, archives, universities, or civil organizations – the roles of research, communication, and dissemination are essential so that images do not circulate without their proper contexts and truly become allies of knowledge.
In this way, an initiative that combined a thoughtful and attentive look at the use of images and a dynamic tool to connect said images with articles, attracted interest in the Argentine cultural community, with more than 150 persons interested in participating in these meetings. We had the support of the Asociación de Directores de Museos de la República Argentina (ADiMRA) (Association of Museum Directors of the Republic of Argentina) and the área de Formación y Redes de la Dirección Nacional de Museos (Training and Networks area of the National Directorate of Museums), which promoted the participation of people from museums throughout the country, thus turning the event into a national one.
The production of the events at the regional level was led by Wikimedia Argentina together with the Wikimedia Foundation. During December, January, and February, preliminary preparations were carried out, such as contacting and confirming Cora Garmanik as a guest specialist, conducting a series of tests of the Add an Image tool together with the Growth team, which included the search for a selection of articles considered to be of real relevance to local contexts – e.g., working on articles not only about Argentina but also where Argentina is named.
We also worked on the design of a general document that could explain the relevance of this meeting for Latin American cultural references and we began conversations with the chapters of Chile and Mexico to include them in the proposal. We defined dates and hired two people to follow through on the implementation of the project. With Andy and Nicole, we began to think about the dynamics of the event, the order and duration of the presentations, and how participatory it was going to be. We agreed at all times that the important thing was to get people interested in Wikimedia projects and that to accomplish this, we had to address their perspectives, and not ours. Also, speaking in technical terms or talking about topics that were not representative of the cultural community would not get our participants involved.
The events in Argentina were the first in the region – followed by Mexico and Chile, respectively – and it was possible to test different ways of approaching the participants, where some of these approaches were more motivating than others. The splitting up into Zoom groups to use the tool simultaneously allowed for a fluid exchange between different interested parties and the organizers for we made ourselves available to assist in the process of adding images to Wikipedia. Sometimes, even encouraging the participants to choose images, even though they were not familiar with the subject, valuing the role of previous research, at the very least, reading the descriptions and categories of the original images in Wikimedia Commons, in order to be able to decide their relevance in the suggested articles. I think this empowered many people who felt they “didn’t know” or “couldn’t,” discovering an easy-to-use tool with which to apply their criteria, driven by the theoretical content shared by Cora.
Along the same lines, once the moment of working in small groups was over, a general exchange was encouraged where one person from each group told what theirs and their colleagues’ experience had been in the use of the Add an image feature. In the second event in Argentina, for example, I was with 5 other people from the field of museums, one of whom was excited to share his screen to show us how his process was getting along. In his case, an image of a Bayeux tapestry was being suggested in connection with an article on a plowing technique, which at first aroused doubts in everyone. Then, by researching the image and reading its description in English, we could see that in its fabric there was a scene represented where that specific plowing technique was used. In this way, this participant associated the image to the article and wrote a description using both the information that was already on Commons – translating it into Spanish – and the information from the article, thus generating a description that contextualized the image.
As for the exchanges after the work in small groups, very interesting comments emerged regarding the variety and quantity of topics that exist and of which not all of us have specific knowledge about, but to which, nevertheless, we can contribute with small bits of data that connect with other pieces of information. One of the participants even referred to this tool as “a ball of wool” from which it is possible to continue pulling to obtain a thread, and that thread intersects with other threads, generating a network of knowledge and learning. Furthermore, the issue of collaboration and of being seen as agents of change, of multiplication of knowledge, came up. The idea of reflecting on the use of images, of how representative they are of the topics to be discussed, and, if representative, of being very precise with their description based on the context, was also highlighted. The idea is not to overwhelm with too much information, but simply provide “small bits of data that will later form the network”, in the words of one of the participants.
The most gratifying part of the meetings was this final exchange, where the knowledge of each participant connected with that of others, revealing a motivation to improve the encyclopedia and an interest in the existing possibilities in terms of the circulation of images. But above all, reflecting an empowerment in the role of collaboratively building a visual culture that is more representative of the South, that is removed from cultural stereotypes that are foreign to the region and that can reflect narratives more in line with Latin American contexts.
I think our mission was accomplished. If there are people who feel motivated to improve Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, or any other project in order to better reflect their local history and culture, then we are on our way to promoting a more sustainable and open movement.
Find here the Part II, with Wikimedia Mexico and Wikimedia Chile’s perspectives.