The Smithsonian: A Partnership to Improve Gender Representation Online
From Ewan McAndrew on October 28th, 2019
The American Women’s History Initiative (AWHI), which launched under the Smithsonian’s strategic goal of “Reaching 1 billion people with a digital-first strategy” in late 2017, is the institution’s most comprehensive undertaking to research, document, collect, and share the stories of American women. One of AWHI’s key goals is to produce more digital resources and collections that tell the story of women from multiple cultural backgrounds, as well as individuals along the spectrum of female identification. Smithsonian collections span history, art, culture, technology, and science, and the methods and standards for describing them are as diverse as the museums, research centers, libraries, and archives in its care, so even answering the question of what the Smithsonian holds is complicated.
After 172 years of collecting, the challenge the Smithsonian faces is daunting; with the call from Congress to survey its 155 million collections for women’s history stories, how can it understand how women have shaped American History when only 150,000 of the over 40 million digital records are explicitly tagged with women-related topics? Sadly the picture for diverse women, transgender, and lesbian women is even less complete. When areas for improvement are identified, how can they advance and enrich how women and girls represented in digital collections at-scale? Finally, how can the Smithsonian share improved records and resources to influence the gender imbalance we see online, especially in spaces like Wikipedia? The Smithsonian’s Digital and Audience Development team is piloting a three-pronged approach which will employ digital curatorships, crowdsourcing, and machine learning. A digital curator will assess current digital resources and collection records and develop new biographies related to women in history to fill in the gaps. In partnership with the Smithsonian’s Office of Research Computing Lab, a data science research fellow will visualize current representation across the Smithsonian, and will experiment with machine learning to see if resources can be improved at-scale. With AWHI’s new Wikimedian-in-Residence for Gender Equity/Open Knowledge Coordinator as well as the Smithsonian’s own crowdsourcing platforms, the team seeks to diversify the crowdsourcing tasks to improve and share these developing resources.
Specifically in the Wikimedia landscape, our approach is diverse as well:
- AWHI’s Wikimedian in Residence for Gender Equity is identifying strategies to build and diversify the Smithsonian’s community of volunteers. Additionally, she is building awareness within the Smithsonian about Wikipedia’s gender gap and creating avenues for knowledge and images from collections to be added to Wikipedia / Wikimedia have been initially successful.
- The project team is forming strategic partnerships with other GLAM organizations and gender equity WikiProjects to catalyze a sector-wide focus on developing and sharing new resources on women's history internationally.
- The project team with consultation from Wikimedia DC is developing and testing micro-crowdsourcing tasks in Wikipedia and Wikidata to lower barriers-to-entry for new volunteers, and evaluate if these activities increase participation from communities with less free time and Wikipedia-savvy. (similar to #1Lib1Ref, previous experiments at the Smithsonian, and the Wiki Art Depiction Explorer project underway with Wikimedia DC)
- Finally as the Smithsonian amasses new collection records and digital resources at scale, they will test out methods for sharing these records at scale with Wikidata.
This presentation will address our common problems as a Movement and an organization in the goal of better representation of women and girls on open access sites and how we are addressing these issues internally at scale. Why Wikimedia and gender equity fits into the Smithsonian’s strategic landscape as an integral piece of our digital future will serve as a foundational component of this co-led talk.
Some critical issues include:
- Volunteer and community organizing within the GLAM space
- How Wikimedia fits in GLAM strategy as trusted digital resources
- Uncovering women's history within cultural heritage organizations
- Developing a Wikimedia strategic landscape within GLAMs - especially around gender equity
Partnerships (SDG 9, 17) with GLAM institutions around the world are the best way to reduce inequality and access to knowledge (SDG 4, 5, 10) that currently exist not only in the world, but within our own movement.
At the end of the session, the following will have been achieved: Attendees will:
- Understand the Smithsonian's new American Women's History Initiative, Wikimedia projects currently underway within that effort, and ways to get involved
- Learn best practices for digital strategies in the GLAM space
- How the Smithsonian is creating volunteer networks and engagement around the gender gap and Wikimedia
- Strategies for microcrowdsourcing campaigns around women's history that offer low barrier entry for new contributors
- Goals and strategy for a first year residency at a wide reaching GLAM institution
- Kelly Doyle, Wikimedian-in-Residence for Gender Equity/Open Knowledge Coordinator, Smithsonian Institution
- Effie Kapsalis, Senior Digital Program Officer, Smithsonian Institution