The Wikimedian On a Mission to Connect Everything

From her home in Wellington City, New Zealand, Siobhan Leachman is devoted to doing what she can to make it easier for the public to access information about scientific discoveries. In particular, she wants to highlight the contributions of women in science.

Wikimedian Siobhan Leachman, taken at the 2019 Wellington Botanic Garden BioBlitz. Source

Leachman is a volunteer Wikimedian, digital curator, and citizen scientist. She uses open content to create open content. Her mission in life: To connect everything. And in doing so, she relies on the Internet Archive—and adds to its resources. 

The Wayback Machine is vital to Leachman’s work, which focuses on putting reference citations in Wikidata or Wikipedia. If she comes across a broken link in her research, the Wayback Machine is her go-to source to recover it. As Leachman edits an article and inserts the digital URLs, she also saves her work through the Internet Archive for others. 

“It’s part of my workflow and just takes a couple of minutes,” she said of sharing the references she finds with the Wayback Machine. “It means the information is there in perpetuity. Five years down the road, what I was using as a reference is still there—rather than worrying about the link disappearing into the ether.”

Leachman got started as a digital volunteer for the Smithsonian transcribing journals. “I just fell in love with doing it,” she said. “I’d end up going down these research rabbit holes, finding out about the people and I’d want to know more.”  

In her research, Leachman has gravitated to natural history, learning about different species and wanting to preserve knowledge about New Zealand’s biodiversity. She reviewed diaries of scientists collecting specimens and was spurred to do more research about their lives. 

Leachman uncovered many women who had made contributions, but whose stories were not chronicled. One  of the scientists she’s researched is Winifred Chase, an American who participated in a botanical expedition to the South Pacific in 1909 with two other women. Leachman helped trace lantern slides created by Chase on the journey to New Zealand, which she incorporated into her Wikipedia entry on Chase’s life.

To complete the profiles of the scientists she’s researching, Leachman tracks down information about their lives and work through genealogy sites, as well as year books and natural history society journals found in the Internet Archive and borrowed via her Internet Archive account. “It’s absolutely thrilling. I love the stories,” she said of her research. “It’s as if you are reaching across time.” Leachman pieces together details and writes articles about female scientists, and in doing so, has become an advocate for open access.

“I’m keen on showing that women have contributed to science forever. It’s just not well documented,” said Leachman, who found many of the subjects she’s covered were amateur botanists or entomologists. “They’ve done a lot of work, but it’s like me—unpaid, a hobby. But they still contributed to science.”

Although some did not have university qualifications, women played a role over the years, said Leachman, and it’s important they get the recognition they deserve.

She often links her findings to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries working together to digitize the natural history literature held in their collections and make it freely available online. The Internet Archive partners with BHL and its member libraries by providing digitization, storage and access for scanned books.

Closer to home, the New Zealand National Library recently faced a dilemma about what to do with low-circulating physical material it no longer had the space to store. Leachman applauded the Library’s initial plans to donate 600,000 excess books to the Internet Archive, but laments the announcement this week that the donation is on pause. Once digitized, the books would have been accessible to anyone through Controlled Digital Lending, and could have been linked to Wikipedia. In Leachman’s view, the donation and digitization of these books would greatly improve access to the knowledge held within these publications for the benefit of all—not just New Zealanders, but for the world. She is hopeful that this hiatus will be short-lived and that the National Library will soon be sending those books to the Internet Archive for the good of all.

Added Leachman: “The Internet Archive rocks my world. I just love it. It’s so easy to get what you need. I just think it’s amazing.”

2 thoughts on “The Wikimedian On a Mission to Connect Everything

  1. Paul Boddie

    It’s worth reading that announcement to see the cowardly mischaracterisation of the Internet Archive by content industry organisations. I participate in an online community centred on the products of a company that was effectively dismantled by corporate opportunists. In that dismantling bonanza, where a bunch of people went on to make big money, all the supposedly valueless commercial and cultural artefacts that weren’t of interest to those people were cast aside (literally, as far as various physical assets were concerned), and there was subsequently the usual uncertainty as to who might own what of the different assets that may or may not have been sold off in the run up to the bonanza. That opened the door to various other opportunists who to this day claim ownership of some of these assets, despite no proof ever being given.

    It takes a well-resourced organisation to see off those who go round and threaten others over supposed misuse of content. Most independent content providers don’t want to face legal action and will take content down when faced with the flimsiest and most speculative of claims. And there is an entire industry devoted to speculative content ownership claims where one could justifiably claim that many such claims are not made in good faith at all: that is, they might actually be fraudulent. Meanwhile, decent people who actually care about cultural history are targeted for doing the preservation work that the various profiteers never bothered with themselves.

    When the content industry throws inappropriate terms around to describe others, maybe they should consider that it is the copyright profiteers and opportunists – the take-down and shake-down operators – who are the ones exhibiting certain traits associated with their favourite derogatory label they like to apply indiscriminately to everyone else.

    1. Brent Rossiter

      YEAH,… just what that guy Paul said. Went to school longer than me tho I think,
      But yeah, I agree hole-hartedly. just like he sez about stuff n that.. and yeah. me too eh.

      After 2nd read.. Wow. Yes, got it Paul. That sounds really bad, I get it, and understand your obvious frustration/annoyance/anger whatever you’d wish to call it.!
      Wee bit of trouble deciphering exactly what happened, but I can assume, by a fair guess.

      The – “valueless commercial and cultural artifacts” – was the part that hit with me.
      Valueless to corporate raiders sure, but I’m sure there was great value there to many.
      I really don’t like that $$$ tops everything, when what exactly is $$$ … it’s nothing,!
      A Fraction of fractional numbers pulled from the air pretty much. Nah, not cool. Sorry to hear what must be so so common.

      Ok, now after a 2nd read of the original article, I’m now probably as much or more angry than you now Paul.
      What’s she doing? Hey, I’m a New Zealander too! But down in Christchurch, Canterbury South Island. So.. uhhh, What’s she think she’s “Givng Away”? N.Z’s history by the sounds. Well, ok, I’d trust the internet archive I guess, but you can’t or shouldn’t digitize then Bin them! If you do accept them that is. Hey, i was a regular visitor to our central library. Until the 2010-2011 Earthquakes. City shut down for, it seemed like years. BUT, despite a few twisted shelves, the building (and others) that held very fond memories , survived fine, structurally sound. Yet along comes corporate $$$ and all these perfectly fine buildings, (the library I’d been visiting since 1983) HAD TO GO… Lookout city, you’re getting a gigantic Convention Centre. Pardon me for the language in my mind right now.
      Gone now, long gone. This is a city I was born in, in’67. Now I no longer recognize it, the buildings nor the people.
      No, our history is meaning less and less. There’s no one reason or answer, but still…
      This country aint that small. If We? as a Nation, cant safely and sucurely store 600,000 books, then well. Perhaps Jacinda should quit the cash bribe tactic and maybe begin to love her country and APPRECIATE it’s past. It’s history, good and bad. Because it’s all bad according to her. Obsessed with apologizing to any oppressed or marginalized she can find, arranging special rights, extra recognitions protections and privileges that we do not get.
      I can only assume it’s the White privilege argument. It’s a big thing now. It can’t end good.

      I’d best call it a night. I’m getting a little antsy if that’s the right word.

      Brent Rossiter,
      ChCh, N.Z.

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