Ford Presidential Library Hires a 'Wikipedian in Residence'

Jay Jackson, U. of Michigan

Michael Barera
January 28, 2013

When Michael Barera began frequently editing Wikipedia content in 2007, he made his edits under the user name TFCforever, a reference to his favorite soccer team, the Toronto Football Club.

Some five years later, Mr. Barera, now a master's student at the University of Michigan School of Information, has a new user name (his own) and a new internship title to go with it: "Wikipedian in residence" at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

The library, housed at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor's north campus, is the first presidential library in the United States to hire a Wikipedian in residence.

It's a position that now exists at several institutions, including the National Archives and the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, with the British Museum being widely cited as the first place to hire a Wikipedian in residence, in 2010. Until he learned of that hire, Mr. Barera says, he had never thought of editing Wikipedia in-house at an archive, library, or museum.

"This was a Smithsonian-level, incredible institution, so right off the bat it gave the position a legitimacy," Mr. Barera says. "And I thought, 'Wow, this is a possibility.'"

One of Mr. Barera's main efforts has been uploading images to Wiki­media Commons, an online data­base of more than 15 million files that are free to use. Of the 2,100 of his own images he has added to the database, he says, nearly 200 are in use on Wikipedia.

"This is stuff I created just for the heck of it, something as simple as I wanted a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge, but then it's shared and other people are benefiting from it," Mr. Barera says.

In 2012, Mr. Barera found like-minded students when he joined the Michigan Wikipedians, a club that was the first of its kind at an American university. Then, last fall, Mr. Barera and the Michigan Wikipedians attended a Wikimedia Foundation seminar where he met Bettina Cousineau, the exhibit specialist at the Ford Library and Museum.

The master's student soon began volunteering at the library, finding Wikipedia articles about President Ford for the library and museum's staff to fact-check, among other tasks. That led to his internship as the library's Wikipedian in residence, which began in January.

His job is to foster and maintain a relationship between the library and the Wikipedia community. Mr. Barera says he has seen institutions in the past—like the German archives Bundesarchiv and Deutsche Fotothek—start similar positive connections with Wiki­pedia before, only to see the affiliation fizzle out over time.

"They kind of soured at the end," he says. "I don't want that to happen at the Ford library."