3 ways cultural institutions can make women visible online

20 March 2018

Every March, Wikipedia (the most popular free culture project on the Internet) is the protagonist of several projects and initiatives around women. Wikipedia’s well-known gender gap is addressed in several different ways, with edit-a-thons, contests and campaigns happening around the world. One of these initiatives is #VisibleWikiWomen, a challenge to illustrate Wikipedia with images of relevant women that are not yet visible in the free encyclopedia. But this is a challenge not only for regular Wikipedians. It is a challenge that also calls for cultural institutions. That is why we want to invite people and projects in the field of culture to participate.

It is estimated that only 20% of women’s biographies on Wikipedia have a photo or illustration. But adding images to articles is not so simple, because all images on Wikipedia must have a free license or be in the public domain, and these are not conditions met by most images circulating on the Internet. In addition, many valuable images are not shared online, or are not digitized at all, and the subject or creators of the image often remain unknown.

Cultural institutions can help solve these difficulties by giving free access to their archives and collections so that they can be reused in Wikipedia. There are at least three options to collaborate:

Black Lunch Table x Art+Feminism edit-a-thon at Triangle Art Association. Photographer Kearra Amaya Gopee shoots artist Cicely Carew. Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA.

1) Release photos of activities and events of the institution in which women who have or who could have an article on Wikipedia, such as writers, musicians, artists, curators, lecturers, etc. participate. These photos must have a free license (Creative Commons BY, BY-SA or CC0) that allows its use in Wikipedia. A simple way to do this is to create a collection of photos on Flickr, which allows you to select the right license, even as a configuration for the entire account (so you do not have to choose it every time you upload a new photo). An example of this practice can be seen in the photos of the Centro Cultural de España in Montevideo, or in those published by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Egyption falaha 1880. Oxford Photography Archive. Author Unknown, CC0 1.0 Universal, via Wikimedia Commons,

2) Digitize and upload historical images in the public domain, both portraits of relevant women who are not yet on Wikipedia, and images of works created by women. Books, photographic archives and art galleries contain an immense amount of content that no longer has copyright restrictions, since the terms of protection have expired. These materials can be freely digitized, but scanning is a big effort and sometimes you have to choose where to start. Prioritizing relevant but not very well known women allows the public to discover and value their contributions. An example of this practice is the Women of distinction: remarkable in works and invincible in character collection from the New York Public Library.

3) Upload already digitized materials to the Internet. On many occasions, cultural institutions have digitized materials, but for different reasons they are not available on the Internet. This is a good opportunity to release those materials. Once made available, it is essential to describe each work to make clear the women portrayed, the authors of the images and the copyright information. In some cases, institutions do not have a website that is adequate to upload the works, so they choose to use their accounts in social media. We’d encourage you instead to use open repositories such as Wikimedia Commons or Internet Archive, where you can make a complete record of all content, including information about copyright and other important metadata. In addition, while in social networks the images are compressed, which affects their quality, platforms like Wikimedia and Internet Archive allow you to host images at full size without loss of quality. Another argument in favor of these repositories is that they do not restrict access to the public in any way or add advertising, since they are 100% non-profit projects.

To participate in the #VisibleWikiWomen Challenge, the images must be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons with the category VisibleWikiWomen that groups them all. There is a resource kit with step-by-step guidance. When it comes to a large collection of images, the task may take a long time, but maybe this is a good opportunity to contact local Wikimedians who can help through user groups or local associations. You can also ask for help online, sharing the collections on social networks with the hashtag #VisibleWikiWomen to inform others that the images are available. Finally, you can directly contact the team of Whose Knowledge?, to get more help and talk about these and other ways to make women more visible in Wikipedia.

Originally published in Ártica.

Related Posts

Author Profile