Wikipedia in the “Scale” of Online Museum Publishing

During last weekend’s Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon (which I attended at MoMA) the Editors’ Tutorial presentation stated “all materials in Wikipedia must be attributed to a reliable, published source.”  What exactly makes a source reliable, the audience asked? The editors’ team conferred and decided gallery websites weren’t objective enough, resources the Museum was providing would be a good start, and if contributors weren’t sure about a source, they could ask one of the museum staff members for help.

Since I’ve been looking at the differences between museum-created-publications and museum-sanctioned-publications, this raised questions. Is a museum-sponsored edit-a-thon article “museum-created”, “museum-sanctioned”, both or neither?  How does directly involving museum staff members alter the nature of the articles, if at all?

Orit Gat, (who was also a speaker at the Art+Feminism event) defines museum-created-publications by dividing them into two categories: the first category perpetuates the institution’s mission through published formal research and the second category has a separate, complimentary identity as a behind-the-scenes look at the institution.  Of those two, museum staff contributing to Wikipedia would be more similar to the first category, since the contributing staff are amalgamating published, formal research. But contributing to a non-museum website using materials from the official MoMA library seemed different.  Is it another category?  Lori Byrd Phillips addressed this by coining the phrase open authority. “Opening up authority,” she explains, “within a global platform can increase points of view and establish a more complete representation of knowledge.” Her example of Wikipedia is as follows:

“In fact, the Wikipedia articles themselves can be viewed as a sort of authority in flux, where the best version of the moment is presented for view while details are continually negotiated behind the scenes. In this temple it is understood that no narrative is definitive, neutrality is the goal but bias is inherent, and interpretation is continuously improved through an abundance of perspectives.”

In relation to Gat’s groupings, does open authority fit within the categories of museum publishing or is it separate?  Thinking about the Art+Feminism Edit-a-thon, when museum staffers contributed to a Wikipedia entry, is that article a type of museum publication? What about an article that had staff and non-staff contributions? Or an article written during the edit-a-thon that used the museum’s published resources, but didn’t involve their staff? Does a staff member have the responsibility to drive the museum’s mission on a non-museum platform, if Wikipedia is a type of museum publishing?

Not sure what I think of it yet, but it circles back to my main question: How is the museum identifying and behaving in web culture?

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Author: Blaire Moskowitz

Doctoral candidate, museum professional, artist.

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