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'Ask a librarian'—connecting Wikimedians with the National Library of Australia; watch 'Cracking Wikipedia'

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The National Library of Australia, which is now running a new research librarian service linked from relevant English Wikipedia talkpages.

Editors of Australian-related topics on the English Wikipedia may have noticed an odd addition if they viewed the article's talk pages. For example, on Talk:Darwin, Northern Territory, they might be drawn in by the question mark, nested within what is often a sea of WikiProject templates: "Need help improving this article? Ask a librarian at the National Library of Australia, or the Northern Territory Library."

Just what is this?

It's the newest development in GLAM-Wiki. The National Library of Australia (NLA), the largest reference library in the country, is collaborating with WikiProject Australia on the English Wikipedia to "make authoritative information about Australia available to the world". The initiative has been led by Wikimedian Liam Wyatt—the Library's social media coordinator—and Renee Wilson, one of the institution's reference librarians, who now coordinates the ask a librarian service. Liam has brought his experience of WMF sites to the NLA, and has been responsible for marketing and communication surrounding the program.

Wyatt said "it's a great precedent for the library community here (and also internationally) to see Wikimedians as a potential usergroup of their services that they really want to engage with. After all—answering a reference enquiry from one person helps that person, but answering a Wikipedian helps thousands!"

The partnership will give Wikipedia editors of any nationality the chance to use the library's research services on articles related to Australia; the arrangement is that a research librarian can spend up to one hour on the questions asked of them. While many GLAM-Wiki efforts have focused on uploading new content and editing articles related to the institutions involved, this project will break new ground by connecting Wikimedians with the NLA's research librarians. Instead of new content, Wikimedians will be provided with verifiable information backed up with reliable sources from the library's holdings.

Liam Wyatt as Wikipedia Fellow, bringing GLAM to the Gulf state of Qatar in 2013
We asked Wyatt about the library's intentions. He stressed the centrality of search and verification to the professional motivation of librarians: "if there’s anyone who loves a well-structured footnote better than Wikipedians it’s reference librarians, so ... we wanted to find a way to work together that was mutually beneficial and in accordance with our respective missions."

He said the library has collaborated with the Wikimedia movement before, most recently in uploading a scan of a letter by Jane Austen to memorialise one of the recently deceased Adrianne Wadewitz's favorite subjects. Their Trove collection of digitised newspapers can give fully formatted Wikipedia citations; librarians from the State Library of New South Wales have been creating Wikipedia articles on the newspapers in the archive.

How did it come about? "We were very careful to allow the Australian Wikipedians' noticeboard to come to its own consensus about this project, recognising that large proportions of external links are often seen as spam. We also spent a lot of time internally to the organisation thinking about what kind of information Wikimedians might ask for, building contingency plans in case we get too many questions, and informing our partner libraries across the country—whose equivalent Ask a librarian service is also linked (when applicable to the subject of the article)—so they knew what was happening."

Could other institutions from other countries replicate this model? "Having a reference desk—and the ability to ask questions by computer—is a standard and very important free service that every reference library offers. It's possible that other libraries might also wish to work with their local community to be involved in a similar way. One of the big questions for us was to have an appropriate scope—therefore these links only appear on articles that have the Wikiproject Australia template in the English Wikipedia. Perhaps in language editions where the country border and the language community have a strong overlap it would make sense for links to appear on all articles, or for a dedicated reference desk to be set up on-wiki, but not on the English Wikipedia."

Editors interested in participating should be aware of the library's privacy statement and policy, which do not allow the editor's name or article being worked on to be released by the library (unless they are asked in a public forum; public inquiries on their Facebook page, for instance, are responded to via the same medium). In short, Wyatt stated that "we won't publish information about an individual or their question that could enable the person to be identified, without seeking permission."

Wyatt will soon take leave from the National Library to take up a role in Bologna, Italy, as the GLAM-Wiki coordinator for Europeana; this internet platform—a "meta-GLAM", in Wyatt's words—gives users access to "millions of books, paintings, films, museum objects and archival records that have been digitised throughout Europe", according to its Wikipedia article. Wyatt told us that it has a long history of working with GLAM projects across Europe—including, to take just two small examples, the uploading of images of the Mona Lisa and recordings of Mozart's music. His primary task will be to support the development, integration, and usage of the GLAMwiki toolset project on Commons.

In brief

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Wow, the librarian connection arrangement seems very cool! It will be interesting to see how well it functions. Candleabracadabra (talk) 21:29, 17 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]

I should point out that the "Ask a librarian" links are not limited to the National Library only. Depending on the content of the article, they also refer users to the relevant state libraries, which can often be better placed to assist than the NLA for local enquiries. See Talk:Welsby, Queensland, for an example. Lankiveil (speak to me) 02:43, 18 May 2014 (UTC).[reply]
It's worth noting that in the "terms and conditions", the State Library of Queensland explicitly excludes foreigners and even non-Queenslanders from this service:
State Library staff are unable to:
• carry out research for interstate enquirers unless the material is only available in Queensland - please refer to your State Library or equivalent.
Yet the link is advertised to Wikipedia editors worldwide on this and thousands of other talk pages without mentioning this restriction.
Regards, HaeB (talk) 03:31, 18 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Indeed they do, but why would someone from outside of Queensland contact a Queensland library for advice on non-Queensland related topics anyway? Lankiveil (speak to me) 05:51, 18 May 2014 (UTC).[reply]
Sure, but read the above quote again - the terms and conditions don't make such a distinction between Queensland-related topic and non-Queensland related topics. One has to conclude that all requests from editors not residing in the state will be rejected, even if they are about the subject of the article on whose talk page the service is advertised. (Except for the rare case when the request is specifically about a document where it is known in advance that the only existing copies are located within the state's boundaries, which would seem to exclude most reliable, published sources.) Regards, HaeB (talk) 07:04, 18 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Hi HaeB, I've notified the State Library of Queensland about your concern and they have passed me this response:
Thanks for drawing our attention to these comments. We're sorry the message on our website could be interpreted to mean that non-Queenslanders are barred from our Ask Us service – that certainly is not the case. The service is actually provided for:
  • All Queensland residents
  • Anyone wishing to access information relating to the jurisdiction of the Library
  • Anyone wishing to access information which is unique to our collections
These service guidelines are common across all the state and territory libraries. The intention is to direct people to their own state institution, unless the information they seek is unavailable there, in which case we are more than happy to take enquiries from anywhere in the world. We’ll amend the wording on our webpage urgently.
I'll post here again when the text is changed. Sincerely, Wittylama 06:45, 20 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for looking into this, Liam! That sounds great, hope it will be fixed soon.
It seems indeed that the State Library of Queensland is correct in pointing out that other state libraries have similarly problematic clauses (of course, I mean problematic in the context of mass-linking them on a global website; not telling the library what do to in general).
For example, the service of the State Library of New South Wales (advertised on e.g. Talk:Sydney) likewise excludes patrons from outside the state[1]:
"If you are from interstate or overseas
Direct your enquiries to your own library, unless the information or resources can only be found in our Library, such as original letters, diaries and paintings." (which, again, would seem to exclude most reliable, published sources)
Regards, HaeB (talk) 08:25, 20 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Just to add to what Liam has said, I just want to point out that the SLQ link only appears on the talkpages of Queensland-related articles, so you're not going to see the irrelevant link all over the place. I would also point out that, for Queensland topics (ie: the ones that the link appears on), SLQ's status as a legal deposit library and collector of rare materials pertaining to the state through the John Oxley Library means that they are a rich source of reliable sources on Queensland history. When it comes to older sources, which are handy for topics like 19th century biographies and ghost towns, I've found their collections to be quite useful indeed. Lankiveil (speak to me) 13:55, 20 May 2014 (UTC).[reply]
I know that the SLQ link isn't shown on all 127,000 or so Australia-related talk pages like the NLA link, only on Queensland-related ones. But that's still more than 8,000 links, if I'm not mistaken.
And of course nobody questions that it's a fine library. Rather it's about avoiding "making the library and the editors unhappy (waste time on making an enquiry that is not responded to)", in the words of an editor (Queensland-based, no less) who already raised this concern when the project was proposed on the Australian Wikipedians' notice board in February.
Regards, HaeB (talk) 14:32, 20 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Since I am the Queensland-based editor in question, my comments were about process, about proceeding with this addition to the talk page without first consulting the libraries involved. In the case of the State Library of Queensland, we have subsequently discussed this with them and they were comfortable with it (they are a very Wikimedia-friendly library and have donated over 50,000 historical out-of-copyright images of Queensland subject matter to Commons). I never thought they would be opposed to the idea in principle, but thought they might want some input into the wording possibly wrt to their terms of service. Kerry (talk) 21:33, 20 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
HaeB I've just been advised by the SLQ staff that they have now updated their terms and conditions page which now provides more detail, and hopefully clarifies who they are able to do research for. Sincerely, Wittylama 05:07, 21 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Excellent work, Liam! Hope the State Library of New South Wales will follow suit. FWIW, the (also linked) State Library of South Australia already states similarly that their service is open to "anyone wishing to access information relating to the jurisdiction of this Library", although they exclude "extended research assistance to people interstate or overseas asking for information that is readily available in their own state, territory or country" [2]. Regards, HaeB (talk) 16:03, 21 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Hi HaeB, I'm from the State Library of New South Wales Glamwiki project (our project page). We are adopting the National & State Libraries Australasia service guidelines for information requests (otherwise known as the Ask a Librarian service; see the guidelines in full) which includes answering research queries relating to our jurisdiction. You'll see changes to the information our website after our internal processes have been finalised. Rubicon49bce (talk) 00:53, 3 June 2014 (UTC)[reply]


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