McDevitt-Park, who's earning a Master's degree in history and archive management, is one of several new Wikipedians-in-residence working within cultural institutions around the world in collaboration with the digital encyclopedia. The initiative, first conceived by Wikimedia Cultural Partnerships fellow Liam Wyatt in 2010, was focused in the disconnect between "significant" collections in public museums and the "notable" entries on Wikipedia.
By partnering with Wikipedia, the National Archives is creating unprecedented access to high-resolution prints and scans of primary documents that were originally limited to special-order copies or confined to reproductions available in a pricey catalog.
"Part of the idea behind the collaboration is to create projects around donation," says McDevitt-Parks. "With Wikipedia, we want to put up collections of high-res images and get them in articles, where thousands upon thousands of people will see them."
Among his first major projects: tackling an archive of several hundred photographs by Ansel Adams, commissioned by the National Parks Service. "There are 200 to 220 Ansel Adams photographs in the National Archives records, because Adams was commissioned in the 1940s to take photos of national parks, but they were never really fully available to the public," says McDevitt-Parks. "They were available if you wanted to go to College Park [Maryland, home of the National Archives] and dig through old files."
McDevitt-Parks, rather than serving purely as an archivist, is organizationally situated in the National Archive's communications and social media team. The institution wants to make as much of its content available to the widest audience, with the hopes that the sudden availability of primary sources will lead to a tidal wave of interest by regular readers. Ideally, the newly opened archives will mean a sudden diffusion of primary documents into Wikipedia's knowledge ecosystem, driven by Wikipedia's devoted pool of editors and relying on the encyclopedia's preexisting system of peer review.
McDevitt-Parks is in the process of developing an editing challenge around the Archives' "Today's Documents" feature, which spotlights prints or texts that were previously blocked off from regular readership, to encourage hardcore Wikipedians to pounce on newly available resources. The benefits for such a project are readily apparent: Until last week, a thorough history of desegregation in the U.S. Marines didn't exist in Wikipedia's knowledge ecosystem. The topic wasn't totally ignored, but simply split among related entries; a devoted, focused article never existed solely in its own right.
"Someone already took a primary document -- a portrait of the first African-American marine after desegregation -- and wrote a lengthy article about desegregation in the military," says McDevitt-Parks. "That article, within a day or two of its creation, was showcased on Wikipedia's main page in the 'Did You Know?' section, which features little blurbs from newly created, good content. The article was showcased on the main page next to the Archives' image. The document got something like 10 million hits in a single day. That's important for the National Archives. It's a way of making things more discoverable."