Too often one hears in class that Wikipedia is unreliable. True, there are hundreds upon hundreds of entries within Wikipedia that contain false information, and therefore, exclude Wikipedia as a reliable source. Its primary use is often associated with quick searches or as an aid in creating preliminary bibliographies for future projects. But what if people, including historians, have been using Wikipedia incorrectly? Wikipedia is more than just a source for easily accessible information for the masses. For historians it can be a source for authentic primary and secondary documents from all over the globe, thanks to GLAM-Wiki.
GLAM-Wiki is an under-utilized resource not only for historians, but researchers of all fields. What exactly is GLAM? It’s a collaboration between Wikipedia and a long list of galleries, libraries, archives, and museums from throughout the world who utilize their resources and documents to create new Wikipedia articles and modify existing ones. By collaborating with institutions that house valuable resources, Wikipedia aims to improve the overall reliability of the information it displays to millions of users each day. But how exactly can historians benefit from this?
The various institutions that collaborate with Wikipedia wish to publicize and propagate the valuable resources they have to offer. In other words, instead of having documents and artefacts sit and gather dust on shelves and in the back rooms, various institutions have decided to upload scans and pictures of documents onto Wikipedia, allowing everyday users free access to their resources. By doing so, researchers – including historians – have access to authentic documents at the tips of their fingers despite the fact that the documents are physically in a different city, country, or continent.
However, there are several shortcomings that must be discussed. First, there is no standard format for GLAM project pages. As all historians know, research is a tedious task. While the Wikipedia theme permeates throughout all of the webpages, the lack of a standard format for GLAM project pages makes it difficult to navigate them. One institution’s project page may be (and most often is) different from another’s. As a result, the tedious task of researching becomes even more difficult due to the lack of uniformity. Second, in order for institutions to upload archival documents, they must do so onto Wikimedia Commons, the media webpage for Wikipedia. By doing so, this only adds to the complexity of navigating the GLAM project pages. Third, while many institutions do upload their archives and collections, there are several that do not. As a result, there are GLAM project pages that more resemble an advertisement for the institution, which is discouraging for further use of GLAM resources.
Personally having interned at the Józef Piłsudski Institute of America and worked on their GLAM project page, I’ve realized how Wikipedia and the GLAM initiative can serve as an aid for historians in their research, especially for History undergraduate and graduate students who are limited by travel prospects, time, and funding. By collaborating with academic and educational institutions from all over the world, Wikipedia is evidently aiming to legitimize itself as a source for reliable and credible information. However, there is one last shortcoming that must be addressed. Despite the long list of institutions that contribute and collaborate with the GLAM initiative, the actual quantity of archival documents and artefacts uploaded and publicized is still limited to: 1) which institutions are willing to participate in the initiative, 2) what the institutions have to offer, and 3) what they are willing to offer. As a result, GLAM cannot substitute physically being and doing research within the institution, for the time being. While GLAM continues to grow year by year, the vast majority of the work is done by volunteers, and while GLAM project funding is available from Wikipedia, most of the funding and work must be initiated by the institutions themselves, something most institutions are financially incapable of doing. As a result, the quantity of information uploaded via GLAM is limited. Nonetheless, the information provided thanks to the GLAM initiative is important for academic historians and students of history because of its global accessibility, as well as Wikipedia because of the institutions that legitimize its reliability and credibility.