Guide for Cultural and Memory Institutions to make women visible on Wikipedia

“For me, this is the definition of a museum: a site of conscience; a space of consciousness; a source of strength; a supply of care; a sense of place. It is not what it is but what it has the capacity to be, what we need it to be… What it can be, given occasion and opportunity.”

Alissandra Cummins (Director, Barbados Museum and Historical Society, former Chair of the UNESCO Executive Board)


What is this guide?
What is Wikimedia Commons?
What is Open GLAM?

Choosing your images

Step 1: Select an initial batch of images
Step 2: Establish the copyright status

Making your institution visible on Wikimedia Commons

Step 1: Create an Account
Step 2: Create a User Page

Uploading images from your collection

Step 0: Upload just a few images
Step 1: Prepare your multi-image collection for a batch upload
Step 2: Create a spreadsheet for batch upload
Step 3: Fill in data about each image
Step 4: Upload the images
Step 5: Congratulate yourself and do a happy dance
Optional: Adding value to your institutional contributions

Related Resources


What is this guide?

Do you work in a cultural institution that has digital images of or about women? Are you interested in using the power of digital heritage to make women more visible online?

This guide has been created especially to support you and your institution to join and participate in #VisibleWikiWomen – a global campaign to increase the number of freely-licensed images of notable women on Wikipedia and the broader internet.

Less than a quarter of all Wikipedia biographies represent women, and we estimate that less than 20% of those articles of important women have pictures. Half a billion people read Wikipedia every month, and it is one of the most visited websites in the world, so gaps in Wikipedia have a huge impact on the broader internet.

To change this reality, every year we partner with women’s and feminist organizations, media groups, cultural and memory institutions, and Wikipedians around the world to address women’s invisibility online. Join us to contribute!

Cultural and Memory Institutions are important allies of the #VisibleWikiWomen campaign. Your institution doesn’t need to have a huge collection of digital images to share, and you don’t need to have previously participated in Wikimedia projects. You can begin by simply sharing the images you have available. We hope this guide will support you to do so.

What is Wikimedia Commons?

Our campaign happens on Wikimedia Commons – the free and open media repository where media files, including all images used on Wikipedia, are stored.

All images uploaded to Wikimedia Commons must have a free and open license, or be in the public domain (more about this later). Most images on the Internet don’t meet these conditions. Cultural and Memory institutions can help by making the images they have in their collections available on Wikimedia Commons under an open license!

Once a woman’s portrait is uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, that image can be used to illustrate her Wikipedia biography by any volunteer who writes or edits Wikipedia. All they have to do is search for the woman’s name, select a good image, and add it to the encyclopedia article.

What is Open GLAM?

GLAM is an acronym for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. Open access to cultural archives, collections and data is called “Open GLAM”. The idea behind Open GLAM is to promote the openness of digital heritage. This is beneficial both for cultural institutions and for society. For institutions, Open GLAM increases public awareness, visibility and discoverability of their collections. It creates new opportunities for their audiences to engage and enrich cultural heritage. For society, having access to these collections improves education, research, social and cultural participation in general.

#VisibleWikiWomen is an example of this. The availability of open content about women in a popular website, like Wikipedia, can increase the online visibility of notable women from the past and the present. At the same time, it gives more visibility to those institutions that share their content under a free and open license.

Choosing your images

Thanks for being open to sharing your images as part of #VisibleWikiWomen!

Step 1: Select an initial batch of images

Your institution might have a lot of images to share. We recommend first establishing some criteria or priorities, while also balancing your own available resources and time.

Here are some criteria you may find useful to consider:

  • Focusing on images of notable women that aren’t yet widely available: it’s extra wonderful if we can illustrate a woman’s Wikipedia biography for the first time, or add a better image.
  • Focusing on marginalized women: black, brown, indigenous and transgender women are often the most invisible online, with the greatest need for images.
  • The copyright status of the material: images uploaded to Wikimedia Commons need to either have a free license or be in the public domain (we will guide you through this in the next step).
  • The availability of digital files: it’s easiest to begin if you already have the image in digital format. If you have the means or resources available to digitize images in your physical collection, we would love to have them on Commons too.
  • The quality of the images: we recommend uploading high resolution images if they are available at your institution. Good quality = better visibility!
  • The availability of data on the image’s subject: in order to make this woman most visible, it’s best if you can identify her by providing her name and a brief description.
  • Re-use existing highlights: if your institution already has highlighted collections or digital exhibits about notable or underrepresented women, this can be a great place to start.

Step 2: Establish the copyright status

As a cultural and memory institution, you probably steward many materials created by different authors, including anonymous authors. You may not own the copyright of those materials or have the necessary permissions to share the material beyond the walls of your institution. Copyright limits what you can do with those works, and may not allow you to share an image online.

How can you know if a work is under copyright, or can be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons? See if you can answer yes to any one of the following questions:

  • Is the work in the “public domain?”
  • Does your institution have permission from the copyright holders?
  • Is your institution the copyright owner?
Is the work in the “public domain?”

Copyright is granted to authors of original works for a limited period of time, after which works enter the “public domain”. Each country establishes their own laws for how long this term lasts. To know if the work is in the public domain you usually need to know a) who is the author/maker and b) when did the author/maker die.

To understand if you can upload your photo to Wikimedia Commons, often rules from the United States apply, because of where this website is hosted. Look at the three scenarios below. If the image you want to share fits one of these, you can upload it to Wikimedia Commons:

  • The photo was published for the first time in the United States more than 95 years ago.
  • The photo was published for the first time outside the United States more than 95 years ago, and the creator died more than 70 years ago.
  • The painting reproduced was created by an artist who died more than 70 years ago.

Beyond these three scenarios, you can use this comprehensive guide on US copyright terms if you are dealing with more specific, complex cases.

Finally, copyright terms might vary, depending on the country where the work was originally published and the type of work. For example, in Egypt, non-creative photographic or audiovisual works published prior to 1981 are in the public domain. This is the case for this picture of the visual artist Inji Aflatoun, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by the Women and Memory Forum from Giza, Egypt. The portrait of Inji Aflatoun meets the specific conditions of public domain in Egypt, and is marked with a special tag on Wikimedia Commons: {{PD Egypt}}

You can check here to see if there is a similar tag that might apply to your country.

If you’re still confused or unsure about a particular image, please email us at visiblewikiwomen[at]whoseknowledge[dot]org. We will be glad to help!

Does your institution have permission from the copyright holders?

If you have images that someone else created (which means that they own the rights to that image), and they aren’t yet in the public domain, you’ll need to show that you have permission to release it under a free license.

Maybe you already have the permission. Check if the author or the copyright holder has given your institution a content license for a wide range of uses, including:

  • to share and reuse;
  • to modify and remix into a new creative work;
  • to use for any purpose, including commercial use.

If you have permission via one of the Creative Commons licenses below, you can share the image on Commons:

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike logo

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike

Creative Commons Attribution logo

Creative Commons Attribution

Creative Commons CC0 logo

Creative Commons CC0

There are other valid equivalents to these Creative Commons licenses. For example: this photo of the Argentinian journalist Lila Pastoriza, is under a custom license that only requires attribution to the original source. It’s not a Creative Commons license, but equivalent. You can check if there is a similar copyright tag that may apply to your images here.

If the works you would like to share don’t have that kind of content license, you can still try to get permission by asking the copyright holder.



See our guide “Getting and giving consent for images on Wikipedia” for more information.


Is your institution the copyright owner?

Finally, you might have some images created by your institution; e.g. women’s portraits taken during a cultural or social event in your venue, by employees or commissioned photographers. In these cases, the institution itself is the copyright owner, and can upload the images to Wikimedia Commons, releasing them under a free and open license.

Last but not least, if your institution is part of the Federal Government of the USA, all the works created by the institution employees must be in the public domain by law. That’s why Wikimedia Commons stores this lovely NASA photo of the astronaut Cady Coleman wearing spatial gloves.

And remember: If you’re still confused or unsure about a particular copyright situation of your content, please email us at visiblewikiwomen[at]whoseknowledge[dot]org.

Making your institution visible on Wikimedia Commons

Step 1: Create an Account

By creating an account for your institution on Wikimedia Commons, you will become part of an online community (just like on social media). It is important for the community to know in which way your institution contributes and how your account is managed.

You could choose to have one account that represents the institution itself, or create individual accounts for the employees who will represent the institution. An institutional account makes it more transparent that it’s you as the institution, uploading the images, with a list of employees who are doing the work (you’ll see an example below). Either way, you’ll need to decide on a username and should then also create a User Page.

Start here to create your account on Wikimedia Commons.

Step 2: Create a User Page

Now that you have an account and are logged in, click on your username at the top of the page.


username at the top of the page screenshot


Add whatever information you like, and finish with Publish page. You can come back at any time and make changes.

This is an example of a User Page that represents the Swiss National Library on Wikimedia Commons. This page was created in the context of a GLAM project. Since the account is managed by a team of employees, their names are also shown on the page. This form of account makes the Wikimedia community happy, because it values transparency.


Swiss National Library on Wikimedia Commons screenshot


In the following example, you can see the Wikipedia User Page of Kelly Doyle, an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. This page has a brief description about the context of her activity editing for the Smithsonian Institution. Because conflict of interest is something the Wikimedia community particularly worries about, once again transparency is the key here.


Wikipedia User Page of Kelly Doyle screenshot

Uploading images from your collection

After selecting the images, checking the copyright status, and creating your user account, you are ready to upload your collection to the #VisibleWikiWomen campaign on Wikimedia Commons. Yay!

Step 0: Upload just a few images

If you have a handful of images ready to share, the quick and easy way to do it is via our #VisibleWikiWomen campaign page, which has a simple upload wizard:

But if you have a bigger stack of images, that method isn’t practical. So below is a more pragmatic way to do larger jobs.



See our guide “How to upload images to make women more visible on Wikipedia and the internet” for step-by-step info.


Step 1: Prepare your multi-image collection for a batch upload

Pattypan logo

To share a batch of images on Wikimedia Commons, you’ll want to do a batch upload. We recommend an alternative tool called Pattypan: an easy-to-use batch uploader for small GLAM projects.

With Pattypan you can upload media files to Wikimedia Commons from offline storage or stable URLs, and include metadata for each file from a spreadsheet.

Before uploading you’ll need to:

  • Install Pattypan (Java is required).
  • Create a Wikimedia Commons account.
  • Have your image files stored in either one folder on your hard disk, or online (e.g. in your institutional digital repository).
  • Have some relevant data about the images ready (Pattypan will create a spreadsheet with fields for this data).

Step 2: Create a spreadsheet for batch upload

In this step, a spreadsheet will be created into the folder that contains your images. This spreadsheet will have one row per image file, and a set of columns to describe each image with fields like author, date, source, etc.

1. Run Pattypan on your computer.

2. Click Generate Spreadsheet and navigate to the folder on your computer containing the images.

3. Choose a metadata template. For #VisibleWikiWomen usually you will choose {{Photograph}} or {{Artwork}}

4. Choose columns for the spreadsheet: select the fields (Field names) of the chosen metadata template, which you would like to include in the file descriptions (e.g. date, dimensions, institution, source, etc.)

5. After selecting your chosen fields, click Create File. The spreadsheet will be created in the same folder in which your images are held.

Step 3: Fill in data about each image

In this step, you need to open the spreadsheet created in the previous step, and fill it with the relevant data about each single image. It’s crucial here to add the copyright information and the VisibleWikiWomen category.

6. Click Open to open the generated spreadsheet.

7. Fill in the fields (Author, title, and all your chosen fields) with appropriate information.

8. A column for the target categories on Wikimedia Commons has also been added. In this column, add the VisibleWikiWomen category for the current year or a new VisibleWikiWomen category for your institutional uploads under this campaign (see the infobox below).

9. The License field must be filled in using a wikicode for the appropriate Copyright tag. For instance: {{CC-BY-SA-4.0}}

10. Click File –> Save. Work on the spreadsheet outside of Pattypan, massaging your metadata for entry in the column fields.

Step 4: Upload the images

Your files and data are now ready to be uploaded! In this step, you will run Pattypan, select the spreadsheet, check for error notifications and proceed to upload all your files at once.

11. Go to Pattypan start screen and click Validate and upload.

12. Navigate to the folder on the computer containing the spreadsheet (and images) and select the prepared spreadsheet. Check for error notifications (empty fields, other errors).

13. Login with your Wikimedia Commons username and password. Click Upload to upload all items and descriptions to Wikimedia Commons.

For more information about Pattypan, see here:


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An important field on your spreadsheet: the VisibleWikiWomen category

Remember to add the category for this year’s campaign – VisibleWikiWomen_YEAR. If you would also like to add a specific category for your collection, you can use your institution’s name or the collection’s title. For example, add the category Files provided by (your institution name). This will allow people to see all your images in one page without mixing them with the rest of images of the campaign.


Step 5: Congratulate yourself and do a happy dance

You’ve just made women more visible online! Thank you for contributing!

Optional: Adding value to your institutional contributions

Once you have uploaded your collections, what’s next? Here are some additional things you can do:

  • Create a Gallery page to show a selection of works and collections uploaded by your institution. See how other GLAM institutions do that here.
  • Illustrate Wikipedia articles with the images provided by your institution. Search for a woman’s biography on Wikipedia and add images from Commons to make them more visible
  • Organize events like edit-a-thons at your venue, inviting people to upload images, write and improve women biographies.

Related Resources



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