The Longest Now

Apprentices and Wikisourcerors
Thursday August 06th 2009, 8:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As with being a Wikipedian, being a Wikisourceror is a mindset, a view of the world: a compulsion to make source materials freely available for cleaning up, review, annotation and translation, a sense of how they would be used in other educational works.

I have this bug, for databases and for books.  But I haven’t indulged it much — I have contributed sporadically to Wikisource, mainly tiny works in English and Nahuatl, but nothing significant.  The largest work I’ve gotten copyright release for, the Whole Earth Catalog, I haven’t managed to digitize.  So I am still an apprentice, and can not speak definitively about what it means to be a wikisourceror.  But I want to share a story about someone I met who clearly has this spirit, and has gotten his students to work together on wiki-style projects to make their classroom work available to the rest of the world.

Greg Crane is a Classicist.  He oversees a major digital classics project at Tufts, and works as scribe and researcher, poring over, transcribing, translating, cross-referencing, annotating and discussing Greek, Latin, and Arabic texts from antiquity.  Two months ago he organized a “Wikipedia portal workshop” with Maura Marx of the Open Knowledge Commons to discuss how to make the digital scans of public domain works, available through the Million Book Project, more useful to Wikipedia.  Mathias was invited to present, and I joined the discussion.

Greg makes some strong points about public collaboration on source materials being a natural extension of academic research — but one that hasn’t been realized through cramped private work areas and a narrow view of who should be able to participate in such work.  Despite this, undergraduate and graduate classics students have been doing detailed work for a long time, many of them wishing they could work on a ‘real’ project that would be reused, not just an assignment.  [The same could be said about most fields, I reckon.]

Combining this broad collection of apprentice scholars with broad tasks that seem difficult for any small group to accomplish is rewarding for everyone involved.  This isn’t “using people’s shirk-y time” for a productive end – it means providing a learning environment in which the work you do to practice your art is available and vaulable to others who might chip in.

I transcribed the day-long workshop.  Some good ideas and quotes came out of it – worth a browse, though it’s long.

Some of the ideas surfaced on the wikisource and openlibrary mailing lists in a recent thread (1, 2).

And Greg and Maura visited the Wikimedia offices earlier this week (I happened to be there later that day); I’ll be interested to see what comes of those conversations as well.

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