The Power of Parallel Description: Wikidata and Archival Discovery


This paper proposes the use of Wikidata in archival description workflows to create linked data that can improve discovery of our collections and expand contextual information around the entities they represent. Wikidata offers an opportunity for opening up archival description to a public forum. We suggest that, rather than approach it as a means to drive traffic to our individual finding aids, archivists use it as a platform to transform information about entities already represented in our archival description into open data. In turn, other communities can engage with these contributions to enhance, redescribe, or replace oppressive or harmful language—with all of the potential for collaboration, as well as conflict, that this can entail. Community description is a fundamental departure from traditional descriptive practice. It may significantly shift descriptive work for archivists, and it requires engaging with the Wikidata community to understand the methods and purpose of the infrastructure. With so much to consider when assessing whether an archives should use Wikidata, the paper is supplemented by an actionable list of 50 items that archivists can consider to get started.

The Lighting the Way Handbook: Case Studies, Guidelines, and Emergent Futures for Archival Discovery and Delivery

Part of Lighting the Way: Illuminating the future of discovery and delivery for archives (IMLS LG-35-19-0012-19). With Kelli Babcock, Regine Heberlein, Anna Björnsson McCormick, Elizabeth Russey Roke, and Greta Kuriger Suiter.

Ruth Kitchin Tillman
Sally W. Kalin Early Career Librarian for Technological Innovations

Card-carrying quilter. Mennonite. Writer. Worker.