Art Information Commons

Wikidata Authority Project

April 2020 - Ongoing
With the onset of the pandemic, we had to figure out ways to continue meaningful work during spending freezes, staff loss, and slowdown in day-to-day activities as we transitioned to working remotely. In April 2020, the Library & Archives completed an Ethical Cataloging Statement. It includes a set of enduring commitments to address the inequities that have led artists from marginalized groups to be misrepresented, overlooked, or forgotten in our collections. These commitments address content in the department’s own digital resources and finding aids.

We then worked to ensure the digital visibility of underrepresented artists in the museum’s collection in external resources such as Wikidata. The team launched a project using Wikidata, the Library of Congress’s NACO Authority File, and the Getty’s ULAN database, prioritizing Black artists in the collection, with input and guidance from the museum’s Advocates for Black Representation group.

Using Wikidata as a publishing platform allows us to create or edit authority records for individuals. It captures basic demographic information like birth dates, occupations, and field of work. It allows us to more concretely establish relationships between artists and the institutions that steward their work. To that end, we have started adding PMA constituent ID numbers from TMS to the records we edit, as well as links to any artworks shown on our website.

Unlike Wikipedia entries, which focus on narrative and interpretation, authority records establish a standardized version of an artist’s name; provide contextual information; and serve as access points for searches in our catalog, Worldcat, and other systems. In essence, name authorities help us know that we are all talking about the same person.

This kind of work isn’t new to librarianship. Here at the museum library, our Technical Services staff were trained and certified in 2018 to be able to suggest additions to the Library of Congress’s Name Authority Cooperative (NACO) program, creating records as needed for artists and scholars represented in our Library resources.

To kickstart the additions of Black artists to Wikidata, Alexa Vallejo, Cataloging and Metadata Services Specialist and Bree Midavaine, Taxonomist, created a research spreadsheet that tracked the information required by NACO, Getty, and Wikidata. They researched and completed the spreadsheet before submitting the names to each authority community.

Alexa began by adding information to Wikidata on artists who identify as African American and/or Black in the museum’s collection. Alexa then submitted over 50 artist names to NACO of Black artists not formerly part of Library of Congress Name Authority Records. Alexa also added 55 Black artist names to Getty’s Union List of Artist Names (ULAN), which are currently available for all institutions using the Library of Congress and Getty authorities in their library records.

To further the work on making underrepresented artist information more publicly available and complete, we wanted to go beyond just adding the artist names and identities to these authority records. When Dr. Synatra Smith, a CLIR/DLF Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for African American Studies, joined the project, she conducted in-depth research to augment each artists’ Wikidata page.

Wikidata also requires a digitally accessible reference URL to accompany each piece of information entered on the site. Synatra connected her digital source links as reference URLs for each entry. For analog sources, we needed to brainstorm a way to connect such information to a reference URL. The team decided to create a blog that now lives on our LibGuide platform to aggregate research from analog sources into a narrative format accessible to the public. Synatra began posting on the museum’s LibGuide page for Black History Month, publishing a blog each week on a Black artist in the museum’s collection, including names such as Alma Thomas, Roland Ayers, Betye Saar, and Horace Pippin. She will continue to post weekly throughout the year.

The Art Information Commons at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been made possible by the Mellon Foundation.