Posted - 22-08-2017

Digitisation / Events / News / News and Events

The National Library of Wales at Wikimania

Just days after the National Library announced they were employing the Uk’s first, and world’s second, permanent Wikimedian I travelled to Montreal in Canada for Wikimania – the largest annual Wikipedia conference.


As the name suggests this is an exciting event, bringing together Wikipedians from all around the world, along with hundreds of ‘Wikimedians’ people involved in other Wikimedia projects such as Wikidata and Wikimedia Commons.


Before the main conference got underway I embraced my inner geek and attended the first day of the Wikimania Hackathon. As the National Library of Wales begins to open up its data to the world, we hope we will soon be hosting our own hackathons, inviting developers and programmers to develop new tools, apps and even games, powered by Welsh cultural heritage data.

So taking part in the Wikimania Hackathon was a hugely valuable experience. There were some great outcomes, from improvements to Wikipedia itself to a colour blindness simulator for digital images. So keep your eyes peeled for Welsh Hackathons soon!


Day two was the Wikipedia Medical Conference. In remote parts of the world Wikipedia is the only source of medical information for millions of people, including doctors! In a sector dominated by English language information, Wikipedia provides a platform for health related content in local dialects.


I spoke at the Medical conference about the National Library’s upcoming Wici-Iechyd (Wiki Health) project, aimed at providing free access to important health information in Welsh on Wicipedia, and I had some great discussions with the Wiki project Medicine team about how we can best achieve our goals, and about how they can support our project.


Day three marked the official start of the Wikimania conference, which was opened, as is traditional, by Jimmy Wales himself. With the recent banning of Wikipedia in Turkey, Jimmy was keen to highlight the importance of free access to impartial and accurate information.

The conference schedule was diverse with many threads running simultaneously. I took part in many workshops and informal discussion groups about Wikipedia’s relationship with the cultural sector, known as GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) in the Wikiverse.

What struck me was the range of projects taking place around the world, from volunteer projects aimed purely at improving Wikipedia content about a GLAMs collections, to long term wiki collaborations.  The National Archives and Records Administration of the United States, the only other institution with a permanent Wikimedian on their staff, has agreed to share all their digital content with Wikimedia on an open licence. They have already uploaded 130,000 images and frequently run events and outreach programmes aimed at making use of these images, and improving Wikipedia generally.


As the conference progressed I was surprised by the number of volunteers and Wikimedians who now look to Wales, and to the National Library of Wales as role model and an inspiration when running their own projects. This was particularly true of those working with small or minority languages.


Our success in engaging the Library, volunteer communities, the Welsh government and partner organisations with the Welsh language Wikipedia has been noticed by many, and I had some fantastic conversations with Wikimedians from Russia, Finland, Estonia, Brittany, and more, about how we can learn from each other to ensure our languages are able to thrive on Wikipedia and other online environments.

I presented a poster session on the Wikimedia UK residency at the National Library and there was plenty of interest in the work we carried out, and how we achieved our outcomes.

As with last year’s Wikimania, Wikidata sessions were hugely popular. This massive linked open data resource is growing rapidly and offers huge potential for GLAMS to share and develop open data for their collections.  Many GLAMS, including the National Library of Wales are already sharing data with Wikidata, but we heard from Beat Estermann of E-Government Institute of the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland that Wikidata is now being used to enrich library catalogues, and I think this method of drawing open data into core library metadata offers some exciting opportunities.


Another big theme of the conference was the planned development of Wikimedia Commons, the website which hosts millions of freely licenced images used on Wikipedia and beyond. The metadata behind these images will be converted to structured (linked) data making it far easier to search, analyse and visualize this massive media archive.


The National Library of Wales has innovated in this area, with the help of it’s Wikidata visiting scholar,  by converting detailed image metadata to Wikidata, a very similar data structure to the proposed Commons data, and I have been invited to advise the development team as the new website takes shape.


Despite the dominance of the English Wikipedia, the Wiki movement is truly global, and that was reflected clearly at Wikimania. What is exciting is that the National Library of Wales is at the forefront of this movement, employing new tactics, technologies and techniques to make sure Wales is properly represented online and to ensure that the Welsh language Wicipedia continues to grow and to build upon its status as the most viewed Welsh language website on the web.


Jason Evans


National Wikimedian

This post is also available in: Welsh

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One response

Great blog, Jason! Lots of food for thought in opening up a new chapter for Wales.

“…the National Library of Wales is at the forefront of this movement, employing new tactics, technologies and techniques to make sure Wales is properly represented online…”

Wales has a long history of innovation in digital media, both in print and online. Welsh Water is believed to be first to plot a digital map of Wales, and a small almost forgotten department in Aberystwyth at the time enabled Welsh Government to get to grips with the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak by using geospatial data to plot fresh incidents on a digital map within minutes of their occurrence.

Meanwhile, in the private sector seven years earlier, the national tourism newspaper for Wales had made its Internet debut from a farmhouse in Trawsfynydd four years before Google emerged from its garage in California. It was a world-first for Wales and another first when in 2000 the newspaper launched its online mapping platform for Wales five years before launch of Google Maps.

At this point, Wales was poised to take a world lead in online geospatial technology, moving the focus from mapping to geographic information. But UK civil service intervention in web marketing for tourism blocked opportunities for the early pioneers to realise their investments to fund further innovation.

Wales’ loss became California’s gain, breeding the deeply flawed intermediary marketing model for US-based online travel agents. The irony is that Ed Parsons, Google’s Geospatial Technologist – largely responsible for the development of Google Maps – was previously Chief Technology Officer for the 200-year-old Ordnance Survey in the UK and wont to spend his holidays in Wales.

But what goes round comes round and Wales has a new opportunity to capitalise on its accumulated digital know-how by deploying open, linked geotemporal data technology to mobilise one of its biggest assets in the new knowledge economy: rich, cultural content from the National Library of Wales and other authoritative repositories.

Coincidentally, it’s nigh on thirty years since publication in 1988 of the seminal Study of the Social, Cultural and Linguistic Impact of Tourism in and upon Wales and Dafydd Wigley’s Tourism in Wales report to the Welsh Affairs Committee a year earlier. It’s unfortunate that much of this fell on the deaf ears of UK government at the time with hardly a nod to to Welsh language and culture.

Traces of this are still visible today in the relationship between VisitBritain and Visit Wales in term of both content and use of technology. It’s significant, then, that Wales is only the second country in the world alongside the USA to have a full time Wikimedian in Residence (WiR) at its National Library to help write a new chapter on Wales’ position in the world. Opportunity knocks!

This time, however, the civil service needs to stand back and let competition drive the innovation Wales needs to retain its lead, and instead apply its resources to destination and destination information management to develop the Wales brand. The Lle Geo-portal for Wales is an excellent example of what the civil service is capable of in this respect.

Terry Jackson

Commented September 17, 2017 / 21:08:57




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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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