MSI student advises prominent universities about Wikipedians

Michael Barera’s internship as the nation’s first Wikipedian in Residence at a presidential library may be finished, but his expertise is being sought by universities around the country.

“People are excited about the role of universities in relation to Wikipedia,” Barera said.

Barera has been contacted by representatives from Harvard and Florida State University seeking advice on putting a Wikipedian in Residence (WiR) in place on their campuses. “Harvard is more focused,” he said, adding they have digitized books they want to donate to Wikisource (“the free library”) and would like to have a WiR in place. “They were picking my brain. They knew I had experience and wanted my expertise. It depends on what an institution wants to get out of Wikipedia. Some use it as a way to drive traffic to their website.”

A former WiR at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Barera worked in-house to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of Ford-related topics and more broadly disseminate the Ford’s photographic and documentary materials. “Not everyone can visit our museum and library in person, but everyone can visit us online,” said Bettina Cousineau, exhibit designer at the Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum.

The Ohio State University representatives invited Barera for a December 6 talk, paying for his travel, food and accommodations in exchange for his WiR knowledge. “There were some really interesting takeaways for them,” he said of his comments about supporting a non-profit like Wikimedia, rather than a commercial outlet like Yahoo! (owner of Flickr).  “Based on the reaction I got, I think it was a valuable experience for them.”

Barera has posted over 3,000 photographs to Wikimedia Commons. The captivating artwork - available for free public use by citing Barera as the photographer and linking to his Creative Commons license - has been published in Popular Mechanics and Encyclopedia Britannica.  “It’s very cool when people cite me,” he said. “I can see where my photos end up. Digital content costs money to create, but costs little to share. I get to share it with the world and it doesn’t cost me anything.”

Cousineau invited the Michigan Wikipedian to take on the WiR position while the group of 11 current and former U-M students was adding digital photos from the Ford Library to relevant Wikipedia articles. “It’s technically one institution, but they are spilt geographically,” Barera said of the Ford Library, adding Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, but attended U-M. “It’s just kind of a logistical challenge to merge the organization.”

Michigan Wikipedians provided an online tutorial to assist U-M users with different Wikipedia editing tools. “We pride ourselves in being flexible and user-focused,” Barera said.  Wikipedia can be edited by anyone; however, proper sourcing is paramount and unsourced works will likely be “reverted.”  “We want to make everything verifiable, in theory,” he said.

Barera served as WiR at the Ford Library January through April 2013. “It was nice to make it a part of my academic learning experience at UMSI,” he said, adding that UMSI is the “perfect fusion” of his BA in history and his passion for free and open source projects. He plans to graduate in May with a dual-specialization MSI in preservation of information and archives and record management. “My dream is really to work with photographs or film,” he said. “I’ve never had a full-time job. That’ll be an exciting experience - being able to get in the black,” Barera said.

Posted on Monday, January 13, 2014