Wikipedia: The Go-to Source for Information About Digital Preservation?

The following is a guest post from Andrea Goethals, Digital Preservation and Repository Services Manager at the Harvard University Library, with contributions from Stephen Paul Davis, Director of Columbia University Libraries Digital Program Division and Kate Zwaard, Supervisory IT Specialist, Repository Development, Library of Congress. Andrea and Kate co-chair the NDSA Standards and Practices Working Group.

When you hear about something that is new to you – where is the first place you usually go to learn more about it? If you’re like most of us, you usually find yourself reading a Wikipedia article. In fact, Wikipedia is the sixth most popular website. That was the inspiration behind the NDSA Standards and Practices Working Group’s project, started in 2012, to use Wikipedia as a platform to expose information about digital preservation standards and best practices. Since people are already going to Wikipedia for information, why not leverage it to build upon the information that is already there?

A Challenging Undertaking!

This idea proved more challenging than it first appeared. Wikipedia’s main article about digital preservation wasn’t in a state where the group could easily attach related articles on particular standards and best practices. Information about digital preservation in Wikipedia was spread out over multiple articles and important areas were completely left out while other areas were fairly detailed but out-of-date, some came from a non-library perspective, and some were poorly written or biased. In fact, the poor quality of the article hadn’t gone without notice by Wikipedia editors and there were banners at the top of the page warning readers:

Disclaimer banners at the top of the page Digital Preservation Wikipedia page.

Disclaimer banners at the top of the page Digital Preservation Wikipedia page.

Digital Preservation WikiProject

The group decided that the first step was to improve Wikipedia’s core article about digital preservation to provide a more complete scaffolding from which subsidiary articles on standards and best practices could be hung. A small group took on the task of writing an outline for reorganizing and adding to the existing Digital Preservation article and then started writing new sections including:

[The logo for WikiProject Digital Presevation

The logo for WikiProject Digital Presevation

Despite the state of the Digital Preservation article, the group recognized that Wikipedia could still be a good platform to expose a wider audience to digital preservation standards and best practices, so a “WikiProject” was set up to organize the work.

  • Definition of digital preservation
  • Challenges of digital preservation
  • Intellectual foundations of digital preservation in libraries
  • Specific tools and methodologies
  • CRL certification and assessment of digital repositories
  • Digital preservation best practices for audio, moving images and email

This was such an improvement to the quality of the Digital Preservation article that the disclaimers at the top of the article were removed.

This project couldn’t have been done without the dedication of Stephen Paul Davis and Dina Sokolova from Columbia University Libraries who provided the needed editorial oversight and wrote most of the new content. In addition, key contributions were made by Priscilla Caplan, formerly of the FCLA, Linda Tadic of the Audiovisual Archive Network and Chris Dietrich and Jason Lautenbacher, both from the U.S. Park Service.

What’s Next?  How You Can Help

Wikipedia’s digital preservation articles need ongoing oversight, but this is a responsibility that should be distributed broadly. Please take a look at the article and outline and consider contributing in your areas of expertise. If you’re looking for a leadership opportunity in digital preservation, the NDSA is looking for someone who can help encourage participation in the WikiProject and act as a liaison to the coordinating committee. If you’re interested, please contact Stephen Paul Davis at daviss@columbia.edu.

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