Wikipedia, Museum Volunteers And The New Normal

By John-James Wilson, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, World Museum, National Museums Liverpool.

Like most museums across the country, World Museum suspended its volunteer programmes shortly before the first national lockdown in March 2020. This was meant to be a short-term measure but with curators continuing to work hybridly our volunteers haven’t yet returned. Organisations like Volunteer Scotland have advised volunteers to consider if and how they can work remotely.

While some museums had existing remote volunteering activities (see great examples here and here), which saw increased participation, World Museum’s vertebrate zoology collection didn’t. An additional challenge for us has been that remote access to our collections database is limited to staff with a VDI. With the pandemic still with us for some time to come (Chris Whitty has said it will be 5 years) we have started exploring ways to engage both new and long-serving volunteers with the collection online.

During lockdown, Auckland Museum published a Wikimedia strategy citing the provocative 2018 talk by Adam Moriarty which championed the importance of collection information featuring, not solely on museum’s own webpages, but in places like GBIF and Wikipedia. This reinforced our view that we need to improve the collections’ presence in Wikipedia. Wikipedia articles are created by volunteers and can be edited by anyone with a standard web browser, potentially providing a valuable activity for remote volunteering.

Our expectation was that the process of editing a Wikipedia article is relatively easy to learn, but the challenge for volunteers could be finding reliable, citable information about the collection to add to articles. Using the Wiki Education Program & Events Dashboard we designed an edit-a-thon event where participants could find information about specimens in the museum’s bird type catalogue, find citations for original species descriptions in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and then add this basic content to a Wikipedia article. Participants would also be able to add specimen images from a collection in Wikimedia commons.

Attendance at Auckland Museum’s Wikipedia meet-ups and edit-a-thons has ranged from 5-14 participants, so we were realistic that even 1-2 participants would be a good start. We held our first edit-a-thon – Parrots and Pigeons of World Museum – on the evening of December 1st 2021 with three participants, two staying until the end and successfully editing articles. The reach of Wikipedia is impressive, our 46 images in Wikimedia commons have been used in 19 articles and had more than half a million pageviews in 2021.

Course stats from the edit-a-thon were as follows:

https://outreachdashboard.wmflabs.org/embed/course_stats/National_Museums_Liverpool/Parrots_and_Pigeons_of_World_Museum_Edit-a-thon_(December_2021)/home

We’re keen to build from this and would love to hear about the experiences of other UK natural science collections experimenting with Wikimedia and remote volunteering.

Giving Collections An Extra Life – Making Video Games That Promote Collections Engagement (For Free)

Written by Glenn Roadley, NatSCA Committee Member, Curator of Natural Science at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

(Note: this article includes interactive games. If they don’t work, your organisation may have blocked game websites through your network)

You might think that playing video games falls at the opposite end of the hobby-spectrum when compared to getting engaged with nature. But the immersion and creativity allowed often provides many of the same benefits, and nature is used as inspiration for many of the most popular video games. In this way video games can become a gateway to learning about nature in the real world – did you know that the highest grossing media franchise of all time (step aside, Marvel) started as a video game about collecting fictional animals to help a scientist with their biological recording project? You’ve probably heard of it. And the Animal Crossing franchise, a game series where a core activity involves collecting insects and fish to donate to the local museum, has sold over 70 million copies.

Games like Pokémon and Animal Crossing show that natural science collections are already on to a winner when it comes to subject matter and gaming. The collections are full of characters and stories, and games should be considered as another way to provide access to these.

The benefits of games are well-established (stress relief, improvement of memory and development of problem-solving skills are among the benefits often cited) and Learning Through Play is already a central part of how museums engage with their audiences. Many museums have used computer games to bring their interpretation to life (https://www.museumnext.com/article/how-can-games-in-museums-enhance-visitor-experience/).

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Many Hands Make Light Work

Written by Milo Phillips, Assistant Curator of Entomology at Leeds Museums and Galleries.

The past couple of years have seen a significant shift toward digital alternatives throughout the museum sector, from online exhibitions to webinars and remote conferencing, with our collections and their stories reaching a potentially global audience, more so than ever before. While much is being done to boost engagement with collections in new and exciting ways, museums on the whole have yet to harness the power of this shift when it comes to collections management.

The value of our natural science collections lies in their accessibility, in how open they are to this growing audience, from our local schools to researchers around the world and everyone in-between.

As our collections grow and our technology improves, digitization has become an important part of maintaining natural history collections. Using a citizen science approach, and bringing museum audiences on-board, we can turn collection management into a way of improving our collections, while simultaneously facilitating a deeper and more meaningful level of engagement with our objects and their stories.

Zooniverse is a free online platform built to facilitate a crowdsourced approach to large data sets and, while traditionally used by academic research groups, is an ideal solution to tackling tasks with much more efficiency than lone curators or even dedicated teams might be able to achieve. Projects can either be restricted to a specific group of users or opened up to the public for anyone to contribute their time to.

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Setting Natural Science Collections Data Free

Written by Jan Freedman (Freelance Museum Consultant).

Fossils. Rocks. Minerals. Invertebrates. Vertebrates. Plants. In the UK alone, there are an estimated 150 million natural science specimens spread across the country. These are a rich, unmatched record of biodiversity on our planet. Like a vast library, only the books are preserved specimens, and the information they contain is irreplaceable and unique to each one.

Every specimen is a record of that species, at that time, in that geographical place. And museums hold unfathomable amounts of data which can be used by researchers across the globe. We hold vast amounts of information with our specimens that can be used for research into climate change, habitat loss, biodiversity loss, pollution, food security and much more. But there is a conundrum, this data is currently locked up inside museums’ collections, how do we set them free?

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NatSCA Digital Digest – July

Compiled by Lily Nadine Wilkes, NatSCA Volunteer.

Welcome to the July edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. We are really keen to hear more about exhibition launches, conferences (live or virtual) and webinars, and new or interesting online content. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

What To See & Do

The ‘Insectarium: Fascination and Fear’ exhibition present artwork on the feelings that insects inspire in us. If you can’t make it to Aberlady, Scotland, you can view the art online here.

If you’re looking for something crafty to do there are plenty of online workshops to take part in. With the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on 14th July at 8pm participate and enjoy ‘Drawn to Nature: Conservation’. In this online event you will hear about the art of conservation before taking a chance to draw some natural history specimens. The Natural History Museum are offering making sessions where you can create a crochet dinosaur or make your own plant pot.

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