16 June 2022
Working With Wikidata and Wikimedia Commons: Poetry Pamphlets and Lotus Sutra Manuscripts
Greetings! I’m Xiaoyan Yang, from Beijing, China, an MSc student at University College London. It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to do a four-week placement at the British Library and Wikimedia UK under the supervision of Lucy Hinnie, Wikimedian in Residence, and Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator, Contemporary British Collections. I mainly focused on the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets Project and Lotus Sutra Project, and the collaboration between the Library and Wikimedia.
What interested you in applying for a placement at the Library?
This kind of placement, in world-famous cultural institutions such as the Library and Wikimedia is a brand-new experience for me. Because my undergraduate major is economic statistics, most of my internships in the past were in commercial and Internet technology companies. The driving force of my interest in digital humanities research, especially related data, knowledge graph, and visualization, is to better combine information technologies with cultural resources, in order to reach a wider audience, and promote the transmission of cultural and historical memory in a more accessible way.
Libraries are institutions for the preservation and dissemination of knowledge for the public, and the British Library is one of the largest and best libraries in the world without doubt. It has long been a leader and innovator in resource protection and digitization. The International Dunhuang Project (IDP) initiated by the British Library is now one of the most representative transnational collaborative projects of digital humanistic resources in the field. I applied for a placement opportunity hoping to learn more about the usage of digital resources in real projects and the process of collaboration from the initial design to the following arrangement. I also wanted to have the chance to get involved in the practice of linked data, to accumulate experience, and find the direction of future improvements.
I would like to thank Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert for her kind introduction to the British Library's Asian and African Digitization projects, especially the IDP, which has enabled me to learn more about the librarian-led practices in this area. At the same time, I was very happy to sit in on the weekly meetings of the Digital Scholarship Team during this placement, which allowed me to observe how collaboration between different departments are carried out and managed in a large cultural resource organization like the British Library.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned?
In short, it is so easy to contribute knowledge at Wikimedia. In this placement, one of my very first tasks was to upload information about winning and shortlisted poems of the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets for each year from 2009 to the latest, 2021, to Wikidata. The first step was to check whether this poem and its author and publisher already existed in Wikidata. If not, I created an item page for it. Before I started, I thought the process would be very complicated, but after I started following the manual, I found it was actually really easy. I just need to click "Create a new Item".
I always remember that the first item of people that I created was Sarah Jackson, one of the shortlist winners of this award in 2009. The unique QID was automatically generated as Q111940266. With such a simple operation, anyone can contribute to the vast knowledge world of Wiki. Many people who I have never met may read this item page in the future, a page created and perfected by me at this moment. This feeling is magical and full of achievement for me. Also, there are many useful guides, examples and batch loading tools such as Quickstatements that help the users to start editing with joy. Useful guides include the Wikidata help pages for Quickstatements and material from the University of Edinburgh.
How do you hope to use your skills going forward?
My current dissertation research focuses on the regional classic Chinese poetry in the Hexi Corridor. This particular geographical area is deeply bound up with the Silk Road in history and has inspired and attracted many poets to visit and write. My project aims to build a proper ontology and knowledge map, then combining with GIS visualization display and text analysis, to explore the historical, geographic, political and cultural changes in this area, from the perspective of time and space. Wikidata provides a standard way to undertake this work.
Thanks to Dr Martin Poulter’s wonderful training and Stuart Prior’s kind instructions, I quickly picked up some practical skills on Wiki queries construction. The layout design of the timeline and geographical visualization tools offered by Wiki query inspired me to improve my skills in this field more in the future. What’s more, although I haven’t had a chance to experience Wikibase yet, I am very interested in it now, thanks to Dr Lucy Hinnie and Dr Graham Jevon’s introduction, I will definitely try it in future.
Would you like to share some Wiki advice with us?
Wiki is very self-learning friendly: on the Help page various manuals and examples are presented, all of which are very good learning resources. I will keep learning and exploring in the future.
I do want to share my feelings and a little experience with Wikidata. In the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets Project, all the properties used to describe poets, poems and publishers can be easily found in the existing Wikidata property list. However, in the second Lotus Sutra Project, I encountered more difficulties. For example, it is difficult to find suitable items and properties to represent paragraphs of scrolls’ text content and binding design on Wikidata, and this information is more suitable to be represented on WikiCommons at present.
However, as I learn more and more other Wikidata examples, I understand more and more about Wikidata and the purpose of these restrictions. Maintaining concise structured data and accurate correlation is one of the main purposes of Wikidata. It encourages reuse of existing properties as well as imposing more qualifications on long text descriptions. Therefore, this feature of Wikidata needs to be taken into account from the outset when designing metadata frameworks for data uploading.
In the end, I would like to sincerely thank my direct supervisor Lucy for her kind guidance, help, encouragement and affirmation, as well as the British Library and Wikimedia platform. I have received so much warm help and gained so much valuable practical experience, and I am also very happy and honored that by using my knowledge and technology I can make a small contribution to linked data. I will always cherish the wonderful memories here and continue to explore the potential of digital humanities in the future.