Digital Transformation and Data — The Wikimedia Residency at the University of Edinburgh

This presentation took place at SCURL’s ‘Libraries, Literacies & Learning’ event 23 March 2018.

Good afternoon, thanks for inviting me along today. You’ll find a longer version of my talk at

I have been working at the University of Edinburgh for just over two years now as the Wikimedian in Residence.

My background is in English and Media teaching and I’ve recently finished my Information Management MSc so libraries, literacy and learning is kind of my thing.

That’s a huge discussion right now.

It needs to be.

I’ll not dwell on the whole Facebook and Cambridge Analytica issue because that’s not what I’m here to speak to you about today but it does speak to a larger issue on what value we place on information and media literacy, what value we place on the transparency of knowledge sharing, what value we place on our students, our staff and our fellow citizens being conversant with the digital intermediaries that govern our daily lives.

Because I take the view that there is a huge & pivotal role for libraries to play in this discussion.

This challenge is not just for school librarians to prepare the next generation to be informed but for all librarians to assist the whole population.” (Abram, 2016)

So what can I tell you about the residency to date?

I can tell you that it started, and has continued, with information literacy and digital skills at its heart. Our IT director, Melissa Highton, was asked what strategies could be employed to help better meet the information literacy and digital skills needs of our staff and students at the university, and how could we better meet our commitment to sharing Open Knowledge?

Working with Wikimedia ticked all these boxes.

The residency also started with libraries.

Or one library in fact. Because we borrowed Ally Crockford, the first Wikimedian in Residence in Scotland, from the National Library of Scotland to help run our first editathon in 2015 focused on Women in Science and Scottish History; and the Edinburgh Seven in particular, the first women ever to matriculate at a British university.

Sara Thomas, here today, was also at that event.

An editathon for those who don’t know, is just a Wikipedia editing event to create and improve pages on a particular subject area. It can be done as in-person event with online resources, physical resources, stickers, periodic table cupcakes. (yes periodic table cupcakes). But it can also be done as remote online event.

Professor Allison Littlejohn came along to the event and her research discovered there was genuine formal and informal learning going on at these events.

“It’s an emotional connection… Within, I’d say, less than 2 hours of me putting her page in place it was the top hit that came back in Google when I Googled it and I just thought that’s it, that’s impact right there!”

So there was real merit in universities engaging with Wikipedia not least because of these shared missions between Wikimedia UK and the University of Edinburgh on the creation, curation and dissemination of knowledge. This made the business case once we aligned the residency with our information literacy and digital skills strategy.

Since then we have never looked back. While academia and Wikipedia have something of a chequered history, as soon as we started discussing the university taking an informed approach to Wikipedia and knowledge sharing, we found we had a lot to talk about.

And that’s what Wikipedia is about — making connections, wiki-linking from one subject to another, disappearing down the rabbit hole. And that’s what the residency has been about, delivering workshops and creating resources which allow colleagues across the whole university in all three teaching colleges, to see the connections between their work and the work of the Wikimedia projects. As such we have now created a network of Open Knowledge nodes. We find that when we work with a colleague in one discipline this can often lead to other colleagues being brought in and other disciplines. So far we have worked across all three teaching colleges with an ever-increasing number of disciplines.

Of the in-curriculum work we have done in Reproductive Biology, World Christianity, Translation Studies — all of these courses have been repeated year-on-year because of the positive reactions of staff and students. And we’re adding to these with workshops in Digital Sociology MSc, Global Health MSc, Data Science for Design MSc (students have added 3,219 accused witches to Wikidata from the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database) and we’re now discussing which year group we should work with in the Law school because facilitating the learning of research skills and the ability to communicate laws in an accessible way is absolutely something we as a university should be looking to do, and help our students to do.

So we need to talk about Wikipedia.

Not many people know that Wikipedia has a strict conflict of interest policy — you shouldn’t write about anything where you are too close to be impartial. That’s why it was so good to see Glasgow Caledonian University Library create the Wikipedia page for Shetland Library.

Supporting one another.

Paying knowledge forward for the common good.

For example, an University of Edinburgh Reproductive Biology student scrupulously researched an article on one of the most serious and most deadly forms of ovarian cancer, high grade serous carcinoma, and it has now been viewed over 28,000 times since Autumn 2016, addressing a serious knowledge gap with scholarly research. The student benefited from the practice academically and she enjoyed doing it personally. Because her scholarship lasted beyond the assignment and did something for the common good. Lots of the students see that as the main benefit of engaging with Wikipedia and are enthusiastic to help because of this.

Don’t cite Wikipedia, write Wikipedia!

Wikipedia is not end point of research. It is where you orientate yourself at the start.

Wikipedia also does not want you to cite it.

It is an encyclopaedia, a tertiary source made of articles which in turn cite from reliable published secondary sources. If you cite anything it should be these references not Wikipedia itself.

Vandalism corrected immediately on Jeremy Hunt’s page — Ruth Jenkins, Academic Support Librarian (right)

Everything on Wikipedia is out in the open, completely, ruthlessly transparent where every change is recorded in permanent links in the View History of the page so every edit can checked, challenged and corrected if need be. This is Jeremy Hunt’s page and, regardless of whether he deserved it or not, these are page vandalisms which have been immediately reverted.

Whether it is a news article, journal article or Wikipedia article — we should be evaluating what we read and deciding if the information is credible.

Libraries can help lead the way on this by providing students, staff & members of the public with guidance on taking an informed approach to using Wikipedia and other databases as our Academic Support Librarians do and sharing research & collections for the common good.

Libraries have the artefacts and the expertise. Wikipedia has the online audience.

Why is all this important?

Well because knowledge builds understanding and there is precious little of that in the world right now. And because search is the way we live now.

By Giulia Forsythe (gforsythe) (flickr) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Google and Wikipedia have a symbiotic relationship. Google depends on Wikipedia to the extent that clickthrough rates decrease by 80% if Wikipedia links are removed.

Wikipedia similarly depends on Google. 84.5% of visits are attributable to Google. Google processed 91% of searches globally in 2011 and this funnelling effect that Google has means people are often clicking on those first few links only.

So there is real agency to Wikipedia editing which our editors find inspiring — they can be a knowledge activist.

And it’s never been easier to contribute because of Wikipedia’s new WYSIWYG Visual Editor interface and its easy-to-use drop down menus — particularly citations which autogenerate from a url, DOI, Pubmed IDs or ISBN.

Pic by Matthew Rutledge (CC-BY) via Flickr.

We also need to talk about the little fun things you can do to contribute open knowledge. It doesn’t have to involve a heavy time component. You can add a link, you can add a citation, you can use your phone to upload a pic on the Wikimedia Commons Android App or create a timeline using Histropedia in seconds.

Wiki Games and tools

We also need to talk about gaps in representation and how motivating that has been for editors during the residency in addressing these gaps. And about how Wikipedia’s Content Translation tool helps share knowledge easily between languages.

Students on the Translation Studies MSc can achieve meaningful published practice before they enter the world of work. Over four semesters they have translated the best quality articles on Wikipedia (featured articles) into another language including:

The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula le Guin is now on French Wikipedia.

The Dawn of Love (painting) is now in Chinese and French.

Infrarealism (a poetic movement from Mexico) is translated from Spanish to English.

The Sami Assembly of 1917 was translated from Norwegian Bokmal to English.

The Legend of the 5 Goats is translated from Chinese into English.

Dick Turpin was translated into Japanese.

Modern Arabic literature was translated from Arabic to English.

Rōjinbi — A demonic flame that supposedly appears deep in the mountains on rainy nights was translated from Japanese to English.

and many many more.

By File:We_Can_Do_It!.jpg: J. Howard Miller, artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee derivative work: Tom Morris (This file was derived from We Can Do It!.jpg:) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We need to talk diversity and how WikiProject Women in Red is the 2nd most active project on Wikipedia (out of some 2000+ Wikiprojects), creating 1000–2000 new women role models for young and old alike every single month. Hosting Women in Red events — where we turn red-linked articles about notable women which don’t yet exist into blue clickable ones that do — helps meet the university’s commitment to Athena SWAN and there is interest keeping this going in ten disciplines for the next four years to inspire more women to enter STEM fields. (Read about the 19 women petitioners to the Chemical Society or the Eagle House suffragettes — there were hardly any pages on Wikipedia about these fabulous women until Women in Red editors sat down to write them).

We need to talk about the WikiCite project to improve referencing on Wikipedia and the Initiative for Open Citations. We need to talk altmetrics and how Crossref have identified that Wikipedia is at least a top 8 referrer of DOIs if not more.

We need to talk open access and how Strathclyde and Leeds libraries have identified their top research articles on Wikipedia and ensured they are have the open access link rather than the pay-walled link. And about how Wikipedia signals an article is open access with little coloured Open Access icons in the references to increase visibility and clickthrough.

We need to talk about Wikipedia’s sister projects, and how all these Open Knowledge projects all interlink with one another.

The interlinking of the Wikimedia projects. Public Domain pic of Robert Louis Stevenson via Wikimedia Commons

To do that let’s look at Wikisource — the hyper library.

e.g. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a travel guide, Edinburgh (1914).

This was a text recently uploaded to Wikisource from a djvu scan on the Internet Archive. The text was OCR-ed and proofread by two Wikisource users to ensure it was correct. Now it is 100% searchable HTML and the images have been cropped out so they can be shared individually as openly-licensed images on Wikimedia Commons.

As a result we now have:

  1. The illustrated text described as “to the Scot it ought to be a sort of Bible” in 100% searchable HTML on Wikisource.
  2. Illustrations shared to Wikimedia Commons for anyone to share and reuse.
  3. A new Wikipedia article created on the book with a link to these images and to the text on Wikisource. 1 click away!
  4. A link to the text on Wikisource added to the Wikipedia page for Edinburgh so that the text is surfaced on a relevant page where people can discover it.

Don’t believe me about the 100% searchable HTML? Type “moist eyebrows” into the search bar on Wikisource and see if it can find where Stevenson uses it in one of his novels. Make sure you use the speech marks so it can find the exact phrase.

We definitely need to talk about Wikidata and about creating the date literate workforce of the next ten years. The residency’s next big adventure.

In one afternoon in February, we added images of listed buildings to Wikidata, created Wikidata-driven lists of notable women in medicine, created a map of ship wrecks and added place of education data to hundreds of alumni from twenty-eight universities; which can be displayed in maps (because Wikidata has linked data on their place of birth & co-ordinate locations) and we can create timelines too.

Wikidata is the most cost effective way of sharing your open data with a global reach. It’s already built and well maintained and you can have your own read/write applications built on top of it.

Wikipedia’s newest sister project may yet overtake Wikipedia in years to come as the dominant project — because it has two distinct advantages over Wikipedia in that it is information stored as machine readable data with multilingual labels. By structuring the data you can see anomalies in the data. By using Wikidata’s multilingual labels you can immediately transform your data into any other language. By linking the data you can connect your data to and leverage from other datasets which allows you to query the direct and indirect relationships at play in a semantic web of knowledge powering Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Meeting the data literacy needs of our students

The Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region has recently secured a £1.1bn City Region deal from the UK and Scottish Governments. Out of this amount, the University of Edinburgh will receive in the region of £300 million towards making Edinburgh the ‘data capital of Europe’ through developing data-driven innovation. Data “has the potential to transform public and private organisations and drive developments that improve lives.” More specifically, the university is being trusted with the responsibility of delivering a data-literate workforce of 100,000 young people over the next ten years; a workforce equipped with the data skills necessary to meet the needs of Scotland’s growing digital economy.

The implementation of Wikidata in the curriculum therefore presents a massive opportunity for educators, researchers and data scientists alike; not least in honouring the university’s commitment to the creating, curating & dissemination of open knowledge. A Wikidata assignment allows students to develop their understanding of, and engagement with, issues such as: data completeness; data ethics; digital provenance; data analysis; data processing; as well as making practical use of a raft of tools and data visualisations.

This real-world application of teaching and learning enables insights in a variety of disciplines; be it in open science, digital humanities, cultural heritage, open government and much more besides. Wikidata is also a community-driven project so this allows students to work collaboratively and develop the online citizenship skills necessary in today’s digital economy.

North Berwick witches — the logo for the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database (Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft — Wikidata in the Classroom

At the University of Edinburgh, we supported our first Wikidata in the Classroom assignment last semester on the Data Science for Design MSc course. At the course’s Data Fair on 26th October 2017, researchers from across the university presented the 45 masters students in Design Informatics with approximately 13 datasets to choose from to work on in groups of three. Happily, two groups were enthused to import the university’s Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database into Wikidata).

This fabulous resource began life in the 1990s before being realised in 2001–2003. It had as its aim to collect, collate and record all known information about accused witches and witchcraft belief in early modern Scotland (from 1563 to 1736) in a Microsoft Access database and to create a web-based user interface for the database. Since 2003, the data has remained static in the Access database and so students at the 2018 Data Fair were invited to consider what could be done if the data were exported into Wikidata, given multilingual labels and linked to other datasets? Beyond this, what new insights & visualisations of the data could be achieved?

We now have 3219 items of data on the accused witches in Wikidata (Spanning 1563 to 1736). We also now have data on 2356 individuals involved in trying these accused witches. Finally we have 3210 witch trials themselves. This means we can link and enrich the data further by adding location data, dates, occupations, places of residence, social class, marriages, and penalties arising from the trial.

The hope is that this project will aid the students’ understanding of data literacy through the practical application of working with a real-world dataset and help shed new light on a little understood period of Scottish history. This, in turn, may help fuel discoveries by dint of surfacing this data and linking it with other related datasets across the UK, across Europe and beyond. As the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft’s website states itself Our list of people involved in the prosecution of witchcraft suspects can now be used as the basis for further inquiry and research.“

Some example use cases of Wikidata

  1. The GeneWiki project — queries. (video)
  2. The collections of the National Library of Wales. — Histropedia timeline. (video)
  3. Scholia — create on-the-fly scholarly profiles. (video)
  4. The EveryPolitician project. (video).
  5. The Sum of All paintings project — a WikiProject to get an item for every notable painting. Worklists.
  6. Crotos — a search and display engine for visual artworks powered by Wikidata and Wikimedia Commons. Filter results on Crotos to only show images that have particular things depicted e.g. images with boats.
  7. IIIF Cropper on Crotos. — crop parts of images to show only what you are interested it is depicting. e.g. kisses
  8. The WikiCite project — an initiative (and a series of events) aiming to build a bibliographic database in Wikidata to serve free knowledge. WikiProject Source MetaData is the place on Wikidata where coordination of these efforts happens.
  9. The Zika Corpus (timeline).
  10. MPs’ occupations and MPs’ place of education.

Wikimedia Commons

We need to talk open images and open licensing. And about how Wikidata is being incorporated into Wikimedia Commons in the next 2–3 years to create a Structured Commons from the largest media repository on the internet. Wikimedia Commons is a collection of 45,660,068 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute.

Structured Commons represents a game-changer for image sharing.

We need to talk about metrics for images on Commons:

If you need metrics, we have detailed metrics on pageviews, video plays and more.

Arthur’s Seat drone footage — an OER snippet from one of our MOOCs. (CC-BY, via Wikimedia Commons)

Come fly with us! Our drone video footage of Arthur’s Seat has been viewed over 1000 times since being added to the Arthur’s Seat Wikipedia page on 27 November 2017.

But we also need to talk about the ingrained revenue generation model too. If you examine the actually revenue brought in and costs associated with image sales from the beginning to end of the process and then add in how much you would normally expect to pay for the kind of marketing that Wikipedia offers for free and then add in that by sharing images to Commons that you can still retain a higher-resolution image for sale on your own site then the increased exposure, engagement and reputational gain from the move to open looks like a pretty good deal.

In terms of finding bodies to help you, there is Wikimedia UK, and a Wikipedia community ready, willing and able to help share your collections. There are staff at your institutions, digital champions, there are students, there are volunteers, friends of the library who if you said the word that you wanted to share your collections they would jump at the chance, I’m sure.

At the University of Edinburgh, we now have our own Equality Images intern opening up some of our image collections to make them more discoverable and usable with a focus on identifying role models, women in science, women in medicine, diverse groups and positive representations.

So there is lots to talk about

  • The Internet’s favourite website for information, Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website in the world and the single greatest open educational resource.
  • It has 120,000 regular contributors (of which only 3455 or so are considered ‘very active’ Wikipedians which means a village the size of Pitlochry is trying to curate the world’s knowledge).
  • 500 million visitors per month
  • 1.5 billion monthly unique devices
  • Trusted more than the BBC, ITV, the Times, the Telegraph, The Guardian and more according to Yougov survey (2014).

And in the last week, where Youtube have arguably take billions of dollars of value from Wikipedia for granted, we need to think about what value we place in having Wikipedia as the largest referenced work on the internet; free, open, and dedicated to sharing verifiable open knowledge transparently.

Wikipedia doesn’t take itself for granted, and we shouldn’t either. While it is volunteer-built and 100% donated funded, it is too important to fail now so it has created an endowment now to ensure it exists in perpetuity.

In closing, I take the view of Tim Berners-Lee:

“We need to rethink our attitude to the internet. It is not enough just to keep the web open and free because we must also keep a track of what people are building on it. Look at the systems that people are using, like the social networks and look at whether they are actually helping humanity. Are they being constructive or are they being destructive?”

In these terms, in terms of the internet we want to see and the digital landscape we want to help people navigate and engage with, I believe libraries have a huge role, the most important role to play, in supporting learners, in fuelling discovery, in driving engagement and in displaying the kind of leadership — local, national and international — in building a civic digital society we can be proud of.


Postscript — 10 Reasons to work with Wikimedia UK

Wikipedia is not the end point research, it is the beginning. It is a useful place to orientate yourself at the start of your research.

A recent study found 87.5% of students use Wikipedia for their academic work and found it “academically useful”. It is also a source of health care information for half to nearly three-quarters of physicians and more than 90 percent of medical students. (Anecdotally, reference librarians at the Mitchell Library also directed a customer to Wikipedia when asked where the best place to start finding out information about the Bermuda Triangle was).

Staff, students and members of the public are already consulting Wikipedia for pre-research purposes so why not ensure gaps in representation and inaccuracies are addressed? Because if not you then who?

Wikipedia is only ever as good as the editors who engage with it and gaps in the knowledge occur because of this. So as a postscript, here are ten reasons to engage with Wikipedia:

  1. Our attendees tell us the new Visual Editor is super easy to learn, fun and addictive.
  2. Anyone can edit Wikipedia but there are checks and balances to help revert unhelpful edits in minutes. (Only 7% of edits are considered vandalism).
  3. Wikidata the free knowledgebase of open data: Query, analyse & visualise the largest reference work on the internet. Add your research data to datasets on Wikidata.
  4. WikiCite — tidying up the citations on Wikipedia to make a consistent, queryable bibliographic repository enhancing the impact of research.
  5. Wikisource the free digital library — Quotations and images from long ago can still touch and inspire. Out of copyright texts such as digitised PhD theses can be uploaded & linked to from Wikipedia.
  6. Content Translation — because the one true international language is translation (video presentation).
  7. The gender gap is real and working with Wikipedia helps address this as part of Athena Swan initiatives. Particularly in STEM fields.
  8. Develop students’ information literacy, digital literacy & research skills through Wikipedia in the Classroom.
  9. Share your research & library collections’ material to Wikipedia the right way and open it up to a global Open Knowledge community of millions.
  10. There is Fake news out there. Engaging with Wikipedia helps develop a critical information literate approach to its usage and to other online sources of information.

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