This week's blog from SLIC's Wikimedian in Residence Delphine Dallison reflects on the Celtic Knot 2018 conference in Wales, which looked at how Celtic and Indigenous languages can engage with Wikipedia.
Last week, thanks to Wikimedia UK, I had the opportunity to attend the Celtic Knot 2018 conference organised by Jason Evans, Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales. The Celtic Knot conference was first hosted in 2017 at the University of Edinburgh, by Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew and was the first Wikipedia Language conference organised in collaboration with Wikimedia UK to support Celtic and Indigenous languages. The conference attracted speakers, Wikimedians and language activists from Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Ireland and Brittany, but also attracted other minority language communities from Norway, the Basque country and Catalonia to name a few. Spurred on by its success, these communities have now come back together a year on for a two-day event to share their progress and reflect on their successes and sometimes failures.
Scotland as a country has a rich tapestry of minority languages such as Doric and Shetlandic as well as, of course, two which have their own Wikipedia, the Scottish Gaelic Uicipeid (14,719 articles and 19,255 users) and the Scots Wikipædia (52,332 articles and 50,893 users). Reflecting on this rich diversity led me to ponder the role of public libraries in preserving the cultural heritage of these languages and whether the Wikimedia projects can help provide tools and a structure for those efforts. To start that conversation, I thought I might share here some of the learning I acquired throughout the conference.
Robin Owain, From 1,000 to 100,000 articles - milestones of the Welsh Wikipedia – by Jason Evans CC.BY.SA
The conference first kicked off with a presentation by Robin Owain, Wales Manager for Wikimedia UK, who gave us an overview of the history of the Welsh Wicipedia with his presentation From 1,000 to 100,000 articles - milestones of the Welsh Wikipedia. Robin first got involved with the Welsh Wicipedia at a stage where it was already established, but with a small inward facing community of editors. Robin was instrumental in leading a strategy that helped grow that community of editors by reaching out to Welsh speaking groups in a number of experimental approaches. Thanks to those efforts, Welsh Wicipedia now hosts 100,766 articles and 50,175 users. Welsh Wicipedia has had a number of firsts, including the creation of Jason Evans’ post as the first National Wikimedian in Residence, based at the National Library of Wales and Monmouthpedia, the first Wikipedia GLAM project to cover a whole town, which also led Monmouth to be awarded the status of the first "world's first Wikipedia town". Robin highlighted that the National Library of Wales’ proactive stance towards releasing their digital content under an open license on Wikipedia has been a major contributing factor to the growth of Welsh Wicipedia and this was further evidenced by the closing remarks of Linda Tomos, National Librarian at NLW, at the end of the conference. In recent times, NLW have released 4800 portraits from their Welsh Portrait Collection and with the help of Simon Cobb, (first) Wikidata visiting scholar, they were able to greatly enrich the metadata on Wikimedia Commons and in their own catalogue by linking the metadata to Wikidata items. Another major contributing factor is the fact that any Welsh language project funded via Welsh government initiatives are required to share their outputs under an open license, which unlike projects funded by other funding bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, is not restricted to non-commercial use. Robin was keen to stress that non-commercial licenses are restrictive licenses that prevent rich heritage materials from being shared in projects promoting open culture such as Wikipedia and its sister projects and we need to continue advocating against the use of that CC license especially in underrepresented cultures, which already have enough obstacles to overcome.
The next speaker, in stark contrast, was Mark Trevethan, Cornish Language Strategy Lead, presenting on Cornish language and Wikipedia - finding ways to make Wikipedia work for a small language community. Mark attended the 2017 Celtic Knot conference and it was his first introduction to the work Wikimedia is undertaking to support minority languages worldwide. Since then, he has worked to position the use of Cornish Wikipedya (3,810 articles and 9,779 users) as one of the supporting infrastructures for the Cornish language strategy. As one of the smaller fledgling Wikipedias, working on Cornish Wikipedya is not without its challenges. The Cornish language only has a community of between 1,000-2,000 speakers, mostly scattered and with very few mother tongue speakers. It was only given official recognition status in 2003 and Cornish language initiatives currently receive no government funding. A lot of community effort in the past has been invested in spelling wars, which can often get personal in a small community. However, they have now adopted a stable written convention and in 2008 a new online Cornish dictionary became available online. Achieving official recognition status and the rise of new technologies has been a turning point for the Cornish language, allowing them to take a more pro-active stance rather than focusing on protecting the status quo and this has been reflected in the growth of younger Cornish language speakers. Mark now wants to capitalize on the advantages afforded by new technologies by investing the Cornish communities’ efforts on growing the Cornish Wikipedya, which can not only ensure the long-term preservation of the culture, but also expose it to a more global audience. Some of the challenges encountered in this endeavour are choosing what priorities to focus on. Do you focus on adding content about Cornish culture or do you work on translating or creating articles from the 1,000 essential articles list for Wikipedia? Do you prescribe what articles the community should work on or do you follow the community’s interests? How do you balance the workload between article creation and the adminship work required to maintain the Wiki infrastructure and prevent vandalism? Bearing in mind that all these tasks are undertaken on a voluntary basis, in a small community already at high risk of volunteer fatigue. These challenges were a recurring theme during discussions with other minority language Wikipedias such as the Northern Sami Wikipediai and the Irish Vicipéid throughout the conference.
Celtic Knot 2018 unconference sessions - by Jason Evans CC-BY-SA
Along with these inspirational stories, the conference speakers were also able to offer a wide range of practical solutions they have been investigating in order to grow the content on their individual Wikipedias. The Basque Wikipediara and the Irish Vicipéid have both been leading Wikipedia Education initiatives with their local minority language universities with great success, leading to a large number of articles being created. Welsh Wicipedia have also been investigating some outreach in education with a focus on upper secondary school students with project WiciMôn. Aaron Morris introduced the project which is based in Anglesey and aims to get STEM articles translated or created on Welsh Wikipedia. Aaron has been working in collaboration with the Welsh Joint Education Committee and submitted a brief integrating the use of Wikipedia in class assignments as part of the Welsh Baccalaureate. The brief was accepted in December and Aaron is now working on rolling out the first pilot with Anglesey schools. Prior to reaching that stage, Aaron has also investigated a number of other strategies working with schools, two of which particularly stood out in his presentation. The first was a project exploring the diversity of content which you can upload to Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons, the encyclopaedia’s repository of media content. Aaron worked with school groups to record the names of all the Welsh towns and uploaded them to Wikipedia in order to help visitors as well as TV/radio presenters learn the correct pronunciation in future. These types of multimedia projects can be essential to preserving endangered languages as witnessed by Subhashish Panigrahi who presented remotely via video on How to create a digital archive for indigenous languages and not let them die. Aaron also incorporated intergenerational collaborations into his project in partnership with the Llangefni library, where students who had already honed their skills on Wikipedia were able to help older generations add their knowledge of the local area to the Welsh Wicipedia. These types of social editing sessions can be hugely productive and easy to replicate if you have the appropriate training resources on hand. Gwenno Griffith from Wici Caerdydd shared with us her experience of running monthly social drop-in Welsh Wicipedia editing session, for which she recently received funding from the Welsh government to roll out across the diverse strands of community in Cardiff.
Finally, technology was a major strand throughout the conference with a particular focus on Wikidata, Wikipedia’s opensource, multilingual repository of linked structured data which now underpins all the content on Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons and their sister projects. Wikidata works on a system of triples with items, properties and values each requiring labels. These labels can be translated into any language hosted on the Wikimedia projects and the more labels are translated the more data can be available across these languages (see statistics for labels per language on Wikidata). Nicolas Vigneron from the Breton Wikipedia demonstrated the Transl-a-thon tool, which allows anyone with a Wikipedia account to go and look up labels that are missing in the language of their choice and translate them directly in Wikidata. The more of these labels are translated, the more you can draw on Wikidata to backfill some of the gaps in minority language Wikipedias where sufficient manpower is always an issue. Pau Cabot from the Catalan Viquipèdia demonstrated how you could create workflows to automatically generate infoboxes on Wikipedia pages using the translated data from Wikidata. Wherever the translated labels were missing, it would revert back to one of the larger Wikipedia projects such as Spanish or English, but the automatic infoboxes are each equipped with an easy edit tool allowing Wikipedia users to translate the data directly in Wikipedia. Another exciting tool was the ArticlePlaceholder with a demo from Hady Elsahar. The ArticlePlaceholder aims to replace stub articles on minority language Wikipedias by generating information based on sets of Wikidata triples to describe the topic and some automatic bot generated text. The advantage of using this data driven tool is that unlike stub articles, it will remain up to date with any new information or data it is fed from the other language Wikipedias.
All of these new developments are very exciting when we consider the future of the Gaelic Uicipeid and Scots Wikipaedia and there was a real sense at the conference that this knowledge sharing was a gateway for future innovation which would continue to drive the preservation of these rich and precious cultural assets. If any of your local public libraries hold Gaelic or Scots collections which they would like to contribute to Wikipedia or if you’re interested in doing work with minority language communities, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.