Breaking New Ground Again

In May 2011, Dominic McDevitt-Parks joined the National Archives as our first Wikipedian-In-Residence.  This put the National Archives at the forefront of many cultural institutions in partnering with the Wikimedia community.

Working for the National Archives as a part-time student intern, our Wikipedian led ground-breaking efforts for the agency. His automated-upload project provided 100,000 digital images of NARA’s records on the Wikimedia Commons for use in Wikipedia articles. He coordinated and hosted Wikimedia crowdsourcing projects that included digitization and transcription of records. He acted as a bridge between NARA and the Wikimedia community, bringing Wikipedians into the Archives, and ensuring that NARA staff attended and presented at the 2012 Wikimania Conference, as well as hosting local gatherings of Wikimedians at the National Archives.

The results?  The top 4,000 Wikipedia articles that include NARA digital copies are on track to receive one billion views in 2013.  That’s why it is important to work with the Wikimedia community, they share a common mission with the Archives, to provide world class access.

Dominic’s work with us at that time generated a great deal of buzz, including the following:

After a brief hiatus, our Wikipedian is returning in late September. Dominic will join the Office of Innovation as a full-time, permanent employee of the National Archives. We are the first GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) institution that is providing a permanent position assigned to focus full-time on Wikipedia initiatives – again we are breaking new ground.

Dominic’s work will be to expand visibility and access to NARA’s digital copies in Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Commons. He will work with staff from across the agency to not only create and edit Wikipedia articles relevant to our records, but also to add links from our catalog records to pertinent Wikipedia articles, as a regular step in our description process.  He will develop best practices for our staff engagement with the Wikipedia community. In short, he will continue to drive access to the National Archives’ records, which is, after all, at the heart of our mission.


Welcome home Dominic McDevitt-Parks, Wikipedian for the National Archives

8 thoughts on “Breaking New Ground Again

  1. Despite NARA’s involvement with Wikipedia (along with the support of the AHA and other scholars), this “encyclopedia” will still have a stigma attached to it. Unlike traditional print encyclopedias that go through rigorous editing and fact-checking, Wikipedia does not. Although McDevitt-Parks will edit and revise information as any Wikipedian does, anyone with a Wiki account can change that information. Unfortunately, Wikipedia does not have author information or a vetting process. Wikipedia should still be looked at as a quick source for where to go – as a student I only went to Wikipedia to look at the source information for the entries. I very rarely read the entries – all of my professors were adamant about not using Wikipedia as a source. Until there is a better accountability process Wikipedia should still be taken lightly.

  2. Three quick points:
    1) The irony of a pseudonymous commenter lamenting the lack of author information on Wikipedia is apparently lost on “Historian”.
    2) He or she should read any of the easily accessible articles comparing Wikipedia’s accuracy rates with print encyclopedias.
    3) Rigorously citing sources is a pillar of Wikipedia’s practice and what makes it so valuable, even to “Historian”.

  3. I am looking forward to having him on staff. i think he can help us identify possible new users and constituencies who are interested in the records of our Government (but don’t really know it).

    Just as the virtual genealogy fair was a success – I loved Bill Mayer’s quote in NextGov – I think Dominic will bring necessary creativity and innovation to NARA by helping us increase our digital visibility.

  4. Hi Historian,

    The issues you have raised are not new, of course, and I am very sensitive to your concerns. When I talk to people, both within NARA and generally, my purpose is not to force Wikipedia on them, or even to defend its reliability (though I agree with Ed, unsurprisingly). We’re not engaged in a project to promote or vouch for Wikipedia.

    Instead, my main goal is for us to utilize Wikipedia because it is a much higher profile platform than any cultural institution’s own website. You said yourself that as a student you went to Wikipedia to look at source information. That’s great, and our hope is that you would find links to useful National Archives records or resources cited in Wikipedia articles more often. Of course, most Wikipedia users do read Wikipedia articles. The one objective fact no one can debate is that Wikipedia is the most popular information source, and we know from various metrics that that is true even when it comes to the notable records that NARA itself holds—more people learn about the Declaration of Independence from Wikipedian than NARA. Our mission as an institution is to make records available for access and to educate the public, not simply to create a high-quality walled garden on Whether we start from the position that Wikipedia is reliable or terrible, improving it—and enriching the public’s knowledge-seeking experience—is still mission-fulfilling activity (and, in a way, if we do think it’s terrible it’s more incumbent upon us as information professionals to try to make it better, since Wikipedia empowers the public to do so).

    Another important aspect to consider here is that it’s not entirely true that Wikipedia has no author information or vetting process. Wikipedia is, very much unlike other popular social media channels, also mission-driven. While there is a low barrier to contribution, its community has built up a host of policies, procedures, and conventions to achieve the goal of an encyclopedia. And every edit to every Wikipedia article is recorded, along with the editor (user name) who made the edit. A little bit of Wikipedia savvy goes a long way, since understanding its review processes and how to communicate and collaborate with its community members is essential for success. If anyone in the world can edit Wikipedia, I think that it’s generally a good idea if the subject matter experts are exercising that right, too, or it hurts everyone.

    Thanks for your comments. I look forward to continuing this dialogue, both within NARA and the profession as a whole.


  5. Wikipedia is my best-loved and most-used web site. Thanks for making NARA available. One day it will be viewed by the billions.

  6. I, too, am a historian, and I do more than use Wikipedia to scan the sources although that is part of my use. Even in my own field of history, I’m hardly an expert on every era and every arcane corner of the field. As a crowd sourced knowledge site, Wikipedia enables me to get a quick overview of how those who provide input there view arcane topics in and outside my field about which I know little or not enough. In that sense, it serves as a gateway or a guide to future research. I do not cite its articles in my own work. But I don’t mind admitting that sometimes looking through a Wikipedia article enables me to course correct, to stop, abandon, or turn and start further research on a subject with which I am not familiar.
    There are many ways to look at this, but I believe that NARA is right to engage at Wikipedia. I’m one of many people who turn to the crowdsourced knowledge site. It makes sense for NARA to go where so many people gather. The agency shouldn’t stay within traditional boundaries—and has not in recent years. That’s not to say change has been, is, or will be easy. It involves trial and error. Especially during a hiring freeze, there are workforce and managerial challenges for the agency and other cultural heritage organizations.
    I’m a historian and a former NARA archivist. I thought over the weekend about whether or not McDevitt-Parks will succeed in a meaningful sense. That remains to be seen, there are some complications and his path won’t be easy. I took on some of the issues in “Success as a Pathfinder in Archivesland,” a post at my own blog about the new hire and what I believe can help him succeed: .

  7. With all due respect, the comments of both self-identified historians demonstrate the problem that among some professionals there still is a lack of knowledge about Wikipedia, WikiMedia, Wikipedia standards and practices, the Wikipedia community (particularly the GLAM sub-community), and how much NARA has already successfully leveraged their relationship with Wikipedia.

    This comment: “I thought over the weekend about whether or not McDevitt-Parks will succeed in a meaningful sense. That remains to be seen …” is a curious second-guessing of the Archivist’s decision to establish the new position. In his blog post, the Archivist states that since 2011 Mr. McDevitt-Parks has been doing work on behalf of NARA and that: “The top 4,000 Wikipedian articles that include NARA digital copies are on track to receive one billion views in 2013.” That sums up rather nicely whether or not his work with Wikipedia on behalf of NARA has been successful thus far. For an organization that has identified online access as a key part of its mission, that is a pretty meaningful metric.

  8. @reader: I have noted your reference to historians (a profession which encompasses people with varied and complex obligations who are employed in a range of jobs in the academy and by the federal government) as representing a “problem.” However, I do not apply your reaction to supporters of Wikimedia (among whom I number myself) as a whole, of course. All I can learn from it is how you see the matter.

    As to workforce issues, I would encourage you to click on the link in my September 23 comment and to read my longform blog post on whether or not Dominic McDevitt-Parks will succeed in a *meaningful* sense.” Metrics play no part in what I discuss there and online access, while an important objective for NARA, is incidental to how I discuss success.

    Although there is a complicated freeze exemption process at NARA, I do not second guess its results in my posted comment here or in the post to which I linked yesterday. My comments are forward looking, not retrospective, and aim to help McDevitt-Parks and all on the largerr NARA team.

    I would be happy to continue the conversation at my blog; comments (anonymous or not) from all are welcome!

Comments are closed.