A Gathering of Wikimedians in Residence

Although the summer break means there hasn’t been much outward activity from my residency, there has been — like the swimming of a swan — plenty of activity below the surface, planning and preparing for events to come.

However, one of the highlights, in August, was when we hosted a summit of Wikimedians in Residence from around the UK, jointly with our partners, Wikimedia UK.

It’s only nine years since the world’s first Wikipedian in Residence was at the British Museum (though a blog post had floated the idea in 2006). It’s not so long since a time when I knew who every Wikimedian in Residence in the world was — indeed, I’d met most of them. There are now around a couple of hundred such posts, with examples on every continent.

New and Old Friends

We were joined by Martin Poulter (pictured), Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Oxford, based at the Bodleian Libraries. Martin has long been a friend of Coventry University, and was instrumental in encouraging the creation of the post I now occupy. Alice White, whose full time position as “Digital Editor ” at the Wellcome Collection combines 50% Wikimedian in Residence work and 50% work on their own website, also came. So did Madeleine Goodall, who recently started working as Wikimedian in Residence at the Humanist Society. Welcome to the team, Madeleine!

We were also joined by John Cummings, who has a residency at UNESCO’s Paris HQ, and divides his time between living near there and returning home to Wales to work remotely. Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, was sadly only able to join us for a short while by video link. We also received a couple of apologies from Wikimedians in Residence who sadly couldn’t attend.

Around the table with us were a number of friends and colleagues from Wikimedia UK. Wikimedia UK is the local chapter of the Wikimedia movement, who support and jointly fund a number of UK Wikimedian in Residence posts. Last but not least, Navino Evans, who works on the Histropedia project, came along.

Down to Work

We started the day with each Wikimedian in Residence giving an update of their recent projects and plans. Most of them keep a blog (or a project page on a Wikimedia project) so I won’t repeat the updates here. It was interesting to note the differences in scope and approach taken by each institution. For example Martin’s work includes a demonstration website, displaying data about astrolabes in museums all around the world, including of course those at the Ashmolean in Oxford, but we have none at Coventry and nor do Edinburgh or UNESCO! Each institution, and each Wikimedian in Residence, thus works to their strengths.

After that we were briefed by Wikimedia UK on their latest news, including them sharing copies of a new booklet, “Wikimedia UK: Partners in Open Knowledge — Understanding the impact of our Wikimedians in Residence“— my copy has already been accessioned into the collection of Coventry University’s Lanchester Library (my librarian colleagues tell me they decided on Dewey classification 303.4834, “with the information society-type books”).

Entertaining our Visitors

As hosts, it fell to us at Coventry to provide some relevant and educational entertainment. So, after lunch, we treated everyone to a guided tour of the Lanchester Archive, which was greatly enjoyed.

We ended the day with two workshops. One was by Navino, on making SPARQL queries to retrieve information from Wikidata. The other was by Martin, about another of his projects, the Collections Explorer.

Considering that being a Wikimedian in Residence is a job that did not exist a decade ago, and one done by so few people globally, it’s great to have networks such as these, and our online contacts, for peer support and to give and receive advice.

A New Wikimedian in Residence at Coventry University

We asked Andy Mabbett, our new Wikimedian in Residence, to interview himself:

Hello, who are you?

Hello, thanks for asking. I’m you. Or us. Er, that is, I’m Andy Mabbett, from Birmingham, a graduate in Computer Studies at Sheffield City Polytechnic (which tells you I’m no spring chicken; it’s been called Hallam University for some time now), a former local government web manager, and, since 2003, an avid contributor to Wikipedia. I’m also the Wikimedian in Residence at Coventry University.

The what?

Wikimedian in Residence.

What’s one of those?

It’s like a Wikipedian in Residence, but with an “m

Very funny. What does it mean?

My role is act as a two way ambassador, between the Wikimedia Community and the University.

You’re not making this easy. The what community?

Sorry, I thought you of all people knew this stuff. Wikimedia. That’s the umbrella name for the movement that runs the Wikipedias, as well as their sister projects: Wikimedia Commons, Wikidata, Wikisource, Wiktionary, and others.

I never knew there was so much in it. Hang on, you said, Wikipedias, plural?

Indeed. There’s the biggest, in English, but also Wikipedias in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Polish, Russian, Arabic, Mandarin, Japanese, Punjabi…

It’s OK, you don’t have to list them all!

…Gaelic, Welsh and Cornish. Almost three hundred in all. Oh, and one in “Simple English”, for children, learners of English and people with reading disabilities.

Yes, but what do you actually do?

The primary focus of my work will be to encourage and assist teaching staff to make use of Wikipedia, and its sister projects, as a tool for active learning, teaching and assessment, while at the same time ensuring that any changes made to those projects are beneficial to them and done within their standards.


That’s right. A student might, say, be asked to improve, or write from scratch, a Wikipedia article instead of writing an essay. That way, when they’ve finished, the work is there for the benefit of everyone else. Experience elsewhere shows that this is something students really enjoy, and find worthwhile.

Anything else?

Yes, lots. For example, I’ll help to ensure that the university’s work is reflected in Wikicite, which is an initiative within Wikidata, that is collating metadata on citable works, such as the books and papers written by our researchers and alumni.

Is that it?

No. I’ll try to encourage everyone to contribute to the Wikimedia projects, even if in small ways, like fixing typos, adding citations or donating the occasional photographs, in their own time. I’ll also be working across the university to see how we can further open up access to its work and collections, in order to contribute to the Wikimedia vision of “a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge, in their own language”.

Sounds like you might have done this before?

Oh yes. I’ve taught Wikipedia on courses at Birmingham University and the Polytechnico di Milano, and to PhD candidates from a consortium of EU universities, as well as running extracurricular events at universities all over the UK, and giving guest lectures at universities, libraries and museums on five continents. And I got an ESA astronaut to make the first ever content produced specifically for Wikipedia, not on planet Earth.

I’m impressed.

I, er, I mean you, should be. I’ve also been Wikimedian in Residence with the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Physiological Society, the History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group at Queen Mary University London (try saying that quickly!), TED talks, and at a number of museums and galleries. And with ORCID (that one is ongoing).

You deserve a prize for that.

I have some—an “honourable mention” in the Wikimedia UK ‘Wikimedian of the Year’ awards in 2014; a Fellowship of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and “Hisseden İnsan”, awarded by Üsküdar University in Istanbul.

Cool. Where can I learn more?

To start with, you can follow this blog. And the project page on Wikipedia. Or drop me an email or leave a comment below if you’d like to take part, or have an idea or question about Wikimedia projects.