"Our experience with Wikimedians has brought collaborative principles of Wikipedia to our work with archival curation": an interview with the coordinator of the GLAM-Wiki initiative with the Brazilian National Archives
"I am from the Brazilian National Archives, and we are moving to Wikipedia and Commons to share images of documents preserved in our collection . . . What should we do?" This message was left on the "Talk to Us" page on Wikipedia in Portuguese, on October 16, 2017. The editor was Arquivonacionalbrasil. As I responded to the user's talk page, I soon realized I was chatting with the director of one of the largest GLAM institutions in Brazil, Diego Barbosa da Silva.
The launching moment of the GLAM-Wiki initiative with the Brazilian National Archives, a success case of partnership between a cultural institution and Wikimedia projects, was rather unexpected. Wikimedians are normally first movers in these partnerships. The vision that led Diego Barbosa da Silva reach out to Wikimedians and the development of the GLAM-Wiki initiative are topics of the following interview.
A striking feature of this GLAM-Wiki initiative is the very high use rate of images, reaching 20-25 million views per month, Diego Barbosa da Silva claims. He also notes how impactful this initiative has been for the team at the National Archives, as through the interaction with Wikimedians team members have taken up to their daily work routine some principles of Wikimedia projects, particularly collaborative curation and description.
Unfortunately, the team that was responsible for the GLAM-Wiki initiative has been dismantled in the National Archives, in the context of recent changes in the Brazilian government. According to Diego Barbosa da Silva, this was "a great administrative misconception", as it fails to recognize the social importance of disseminating cultural collection on Wikimedia projects. Wikimedians from Brazil have mobilized to revert the dismantling of the team.
Answers were posted on a shared document in Portuguese on February 14.
Could you please describe your roles and responsibilities in the context of the GLAMWiki Initiative with the Brazilian National Archives?
The Brazilian National Archives GLAM-Wiki project began when I was in the General Director of the National Archives, in 2017. During this period we made several changes in the institution in all areas, spanning from documentation management, preservation and technical processing to accessibility and dissemination. In the scope of the latter, it is worth highlighting the creation of new work teams such as Heritage Education and Social Media Dissemination, which was responsible for elaborating content to spread the collection of the National Archives in institutional pages and profiles --most of which had just been created--, including Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, MixCloud, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube, as well as for coordinating within the realm of the National Archives the GLAM-Wiki project we had launched. After my term as the General Director, and due to my great interest in making the collection available quickly and accessible to many people on Wikipedia, I decided to join the Social Media Dissemination team. I became responsible for selecting the collection that will be made available, checking the metadata, sending them to be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and in the spare time I still have enjoyed editing Wikipedia, mostly active in contributing to entries where the images we have uploaded were used.
The first move to launch the partnership with the Wikimedia community came from your side. This is unusual, as normally Wikimedians are the first movers. What motivated you to get involved with the Wikimedia projects? What were the expectations?
The National Archives has had for 23 years the same General Director, and this has prevented more dynamic actions. When I became general director in 2017, in a very unusual way, I tried in the short time I had to produce a large number of changes. The National Archives had turned itself onward for several years, whereas other organizations such as the National Library and the Casa de Rui Barbosa Foundation had implemented important projects, respectively the Brasiliana Fotográfica and the coordination of the archives from within the National Council of Cultural Policy. We have tried, therefore, to put into practice many projects and to resume others that were forgotten so that the National Archives could better fulfill its mission. We evaluated that we should put more emphasis precisely in the area of dissemination, but without abandoning the other areas of the institution. Dissemination would become strategic, since it would broaden the impact of the National Archives, contributing to social acknowledgment of the organization. In doing so we sought to attract more government resources to ensure preservation of the collection and to improve archival management. The latter is responsible for improving how we classify and curate documents of the Federal Government and for making sure we are able to have a lasting impact. That's why we have invested in publicizing the National Archives and so we took the initiative to work with social media and Wikimedia Commons was an obvious pick as, in addition to expanding the number of users, we sought to diversify, reaching the most varied age groups, regions of the country and the world, and social classes. The National Archives needed to project itself nationally and the best way to leave Rio de Janeiro, where our headquarters are, was to expand the availability of its collection on the Internet. We also envisioned that having our collection on Wikimedia Commons would have a real impact on the quality of Brazilian education, as the availability of content also meant the use on Wikipedia, which we know is the largest hub of knowledge of humanity.
Could you please describe what the Brazilian National Archives are, and why do you think this institution and Wikimedia projects belong together?
The National Archives was created in 1838, by Decree No. 2, from January 2, signed by Pedro de Araújo Lima. It was envisioned in the first Brazilian Constitution, in 1824. Nowadays, it has two offices, Rio de Janeiro and Brasília, and keeps millions of textual documents (which if stacked would be 55 kilometers long); 1,740 million photographs and negatives; 200 photographic albums, 4 thousand cartoon books, 3 thousand posters, a thousand postcards, 600 drawings and engravings, thousands of maps, films and audio-visual and sound records on a wide range of media.
We have observed over time that archival institutions were much more important than what we had imagined --especially in a world in which information is power. Archives could therefore become key to improve the efficiency of public management, for instance, saving time for research on public policies and supporting government decisions. Furthermore, archives can play a role in empowering social demands over the state, that is, become a channel through which people request documents on the provision of public services, for instance education, health, safety or housing, assisting the fight against corruption. More recently, we have noted that archival institutions could fulfill other roles such as provoking emotions in people by placing them before a document that would connect them to something in their life, providing critical reflection on problems of the country and society and collaborating with educational institutions, in the same direction that museums and libraries do.
This new role for archival institutions would only be possible if we guaranteed access to the collection. The GLAM project was an important new way of bringing our collection to the world.
Could you please describe how this partnership started?
The partnership began with this desire to expand the access to and dissemination of the collection as I said. It was also a moment we had decided to overcome our previous state of inertia. The National Archives, until the enactment of the Archives Law (Law n. 8.159 / 1991), was responsible for preserving and organizing the documentation of the Federal Legislative and Judicial Branches. After 1991, each of these branches has gained autonomy to manage its own files. Because of this legal framework, we have become the institution responsible for preserving, for instance, the Golden Law, a document that inhabits the imagination of every Brazilian. Many employees of ours believe this is the most important document we have in our collection. Nevertheless, few people know that it is preserved by the National Archives. If you go to the Imperial Museum in Petrópolis, there is a copy, on display, but the National Archives is not mentioned. This is repeated in various institutions and textbooks. Wikipedia was not different. An editor had made available the Golden Law document on Wikimedia Commons from a website of Fundação Getúlio Vargas. This fact bothered us, since the reference to the National Archives was once again erased. Without knowing much of the guidelines and rules of Wikimedia projects, we decided we would make the document available in high resolution with proper metadata and use it on Wikipedia. This was rather inappropriate. Anyway, after releasing the Golden Law, we saw we could make available other important documents related to key historical events: Inconfidência Mineira, Ragamuffin War, Pernambucan revolt… It was at this point we found out about GLAM projects and got in touch to try to make this initiative more formal. This is making a long story shorter, as the key ingredient is our employees' loe for the institution and their desire to contribute as they can to the development of our society through knowledge and education.
Could you please describe how this partnership evolved?
Our initiative has reached a new level when we partnered up with Wikimedia in Brazil. This group reacted to our contact attempts and had experience with GLAM projects, especially with the Museu Paulista. We were delighted and decided to follow a similar path. Over time, we expanded the number of uploads and the number of access on Wikipedia to topics pertaining to the collection of the National Archives.
The GLAMWiki Initiative with the Brazilian National Archives had led in December 2018 to the upload of around 9,000 files to Wikimedia Commons. Could you please describe what these files are?
Firstly, we began to make available collections related to great events in Brazilian history, such as all full versions of our Constitutions and the trial of Tiradentes. The fact that these documents were provided after having gone through curation within the National Archives was extremely important so that we could get millions of access on Wikipedia in a short time. After surveying these important documents, we thought that we could provide old pictures of various cities across the country and share portraits of political personalities. Our understanding was that many entries of representatives, senators, state secretaries and first ladies had no image and we had them in our collection, especially from 1940 to 1980, in the National Agency Fund. Then, we thought that we could do the same with personalities in general, with the photos of the Correio da Manhã Fund. The latter uploads did not lead to as many views as we had had with the important documents, but it was quite gratifying to see artists from the 1940s and 1950s gaining faces and having their memory preserved. This is the function of the National Archives. After that, and motivated by the growing denial of the Military Dictatorship in the Brazilian society, we began to provide a portion of our censorship collection as well as photographs of artist and student demonstrations and subsequent repression.
A striking feature of this GLAMWiki Initiative is a very high rate use rate in Wikimedia projects. In December 2018, around 72% of files uploaded were used in at least one page on the projects. There were 25 million views of these files in the same month, according to the tool GLAMorgan. Why do you think this initiative has had such a wide impact?
Reasons are at least threefold. Firstly, it relates to the nature of the National Archives. The institution keeps and preserves most of the documents of Brazilian history, and many of them are unique documents. Secondly, it relates to the nature of archival institutions in general. Unlike museums and libraries, which are often thematic or chronological, archival institutions hold a wide range of collections, from a wide variety of backgrounds, typologies, themes, periods, origins and places of production. There are unique public documents, but also private documents, collections donated by historically relevant personalities. Lastly, I believe the pre-curatorial done by members of the Social Media Dissemination Team of the National Archives contributed to fill quickly knowledge gaps and put files to use.
Could you please describe the work flow of the GLAMWiki Initiative within the Brazilian National Archives? How many people are involved, and what do they do?
We were four in the Social Media Dissemination Team, the team that was responsible for disseminating content on social media, including Wikimedia projects. In this team, two people held a master degree and two held a PhD degree. We worked primarily as collection curators, selecting documents to disseminate and elaborate texts in different languages depending on social media. Instagram, for example, had a less formal language and we even tried to play some games in order to provide new experiences for our users. We worked collectively and reviewed each other's work. Unfortunately, however, our team was extinguished and incorporated into the National Archives Communications Department, which for us was a great administrative misconception, because we do not do corporate communication. We were doing collection curation and dissemination. Some social media, like Instagram and Flickr, were even framed as disseminating our collection exclusively, not corporate communications. Moreover, the number of employees working to digitize our collection was cut down by half, which has a direct impact on how much content we can share. I understand the importance of other areas of an archival institution such as document management and technical processing, but I believe that the greater the dissemination the more attention of society we will call and consequently the more public resources we will be able to get for bringing new collections in, describe and digitize them.
Our team has worked on Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, MixCloud, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. In all of them we made the collection of the National Archives available. These platforms are different, with different presentations and proposals. Through Instagram and Facebook we were able to send images and texts about our collection to thousands of people at a single, precise moment. It is like climbing on the top of a building, releasing many leaflets and letting the wind carry them. People will be at home, going to and from work, in a doctor's office or anywhere else and receive via our social media some document from our collection in their feed and they will laugh, get excited, remember something from their childhood or simply know something they did not know. Other platforms like Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia rely on a search form. Users find our documents when they want to search for something. As for access, we have no doubt that Wikipedia is by far the largest. We currently reach 20 to 25 million views per month, only with Wikipedia, and many of these views are students looking for entries for school work. This demonstrates just how socially important this project is. Another positive point is that with Wikimedia Commons our documents are in Google's search, which also greatly increases our visibility.
Could you please describe the role Wikimedians play in the GLAMWiki Initiative with the Brazilian National Archives?
They play a key role. They include content we release in entries --and we have counted content of ours in more than 90 languages! They have also contributed to improving the social service provided by the National Archives. They also act in what we call a collaborative description, which is when the user assists memory institutions in identifying people in a photo or in the transcription of documents, for example. This work has helped us a lot because our collection is huge, and to some extent our experience with Wikimedians has brought collaborative principles of Wikipedia to our work with archival curation, at the National Archives itself, improving continuously the service we offer to our society.
What are your expectations for this GLAMWiki Initiative for the short and long-term?
In the short term, I hope that the current directors of the National Archives will step back in their position to extinguish the Social Media Dissemination Team and reduce the number of employees that work with it, so that we can make more content available on Wikimedia Commons and other social media . My long-term expectation is that as much of the collection of the National Archives as possible is available on Wikimedia Commons, as national archives from other countries have done, including the Netherlands and the United States. Archival institutions merely preserve collections, and do not own these collections. They belong to all mankind that should be free to make use of them. And when more collections are available on the internet we are moving closer to this mission.
What would you recommend for GLAMs, particularly from the Global South, which are interested in launching GLAMWiki initiatives?
I recommend investing in GLAM projects and making collections available on Wikimedia Commons. We know of the financial, structural constraints. There are also fears of contributing collection in platforms that are not public. It should be noted that Wikimedia Commons has not replaced and will not replace our database and our rules of archival description. We do not see it as a permanent repository of the digitized collection, but as a great way of disseminating our collection and making these documents available on the internet.
As for the resources, we may not have great investment capacity to digitize the entire collection, like the wealthiest countries, but people should know of the amazing impact our collections can have on the collection construction of knowledge. Moreover, these are collections that often only we, the countries of the Global South, have, that tell our version of history and not the version of the colonizers.
If you were to choose one case that encapsulates what this GLAMWiki Initiative is all about, what case would it be?
What strikes me most is the number of views. As I have said, in the National Archives many believe our most important document is the Golden Law. But Wikipedia made us realize that many other documents arise an incredible curiosity, such as the picture of Chico Buarque and Tom Jobim at the International Song Festival of 1968; the photograph of Jânio Quadros decorating Che Guevara with the Order of the Southern Cross, in 1961; a portrait of Carlos Drummond de Andrade, in 1970; a map on FEB's actions in World War II; a photograph of Indira Gandhi's visit to Brazil in 1968; the AI-5, of 1968; and a photograph of the first female electors of Brazil, of 1928. These are all documents with hundreds of thousands of views every month. As for the Golden Law now we can easily find on Google the reference to the National Archives, and via Wikimedia Commons we see one of the most important documents reach out new levels of visibility and use, including direct references in the 2018 carnival, as it was the topic of one of the parades, by Paraíso do Tuiuti.
Previous posts on the Brazilian National Archives: