Do you GLAM?


GLAM is an acronym that stands for: Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. The designation applies to institutions that have something in common - they are repositories of human cultural heritage.

Although there are institutions that bring together museums, archives, libraries, etc., providing them with financial or logistical support -- such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services (ILMS) in Washington, DC, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in the UK and the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority -- these institutions do not claim to belong to GLAM nor do they use this acronym.

What, therefore, is GLAM? It is the idea that the institutions whose mission it is to collect cultural treasures will benefit from making these resources widely available. The idea of GLAM can be best illustrated by two initiatives, OpenGLAM and GLAM-Wiki.


OpenGLAM is an initiative of the Open Knowledge Foundation aimed at promoting open access to the digital resources held by galleries, libraries, archives and museums.

At first glance it would seem that the objectives and business models of archives and museums are very different. While archives and libraries usually share their resources free of charge, even if these resources are copyrighted, galleries and museums often charge admission fees for access to the original objects, even if their copyright had long since expired. In reality, however, due to the phenomenal  pace of the digital revolution, both will have to adapt to the open access business model. OpenGLAM is an organization that tries to ease this transition.

The problem of the "Yellow Milkmaid" (see below) is an excellent illustration of how a change in mindset will be necessary to overcome the prejudices ingrained at many for-fee institutions. In fact, many institution are beginning to embrace the change. In September 2013 the number of cultural objects made publicly available in digital form through Europeana, the platform for European digitized culture, exceeded 20 million. Here are some examples:

The Yellow Milkmaid

"The Milkmaid" is one of the most famous paintings by Johannes Vermeer in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The museum found more than 10,000 copies of the image on the Internet, mostly of poor quality with distorted colors (a predominance of yellowness). Visitors to the museum could not believe that the original looked so different and thought that the postcards in the museum shop were not faithful reproductions of the original. As a result of this discovery museum decided to make available high-quality digital copies to use for all, arguing  that "The opening of our data is the best defense against the problem of the Yellow Milkmaid


A detailed examination of this issue, along with a discussion of the risks, solutions and the necessary changes in the business model is presented in the scientific work The Problem of the Yellow Milkmaid - A Business Model Perspective on Open Metadata. Following a discussion at a 2011 workshop at The Hague with participation  of many GLAM institutions in the world, the authors of the article wrote:

“Overall, the conclusion of the workshop participants was that the benefits of open sharing and open distribution would outweigh the risks. In most cases the advantages of increased visibility and relevance will be reaped in the short term. In other cases, for example where there is a risk of loss of income, the advantages will come in the longer run and short-term fixes will have to be found. All of this requires a collective change of mindset, courage to take some necessary risks and a strong commitment to the mandate of the cultural heritage sector, which is to enable society to realise the full value of the cultural legacy that is held in the public realm”

Anthropology of Bronislaw Malinowski

OpenGLAM’s associated journal The Public Domain Review, publishes articles written by scholars, writers, archivists and artists, about the most interesting materials that are, or have recently been placed, into the public domain. The leading article in the January issue was a review of the work of the father of modern anthropology, Bronislaw Malinowski. The article author, Michael V. Young reveals the personal crisis of the Polish anthropologist at the end of his first trip to the Trobriand Islands. Written in Polish and completed in 1918, his personal diary is, according to the the author of the article, “the most infamous, most nakedly honest document in the annals of social anthropology.” The diary, together with his numerous works has recently became openly accessible for students and the curious to explore.


OpenGLAM Conference in Warsaw

The first OpenGLAM conference took place in Warsaw on October 11-12,  2013. It was organized by Wikimedia Poland in cooperation with Centrum Cyfrowe projekt:Polska - an organization promoting open culture in Poland, and the National Gallery “Zachęta”. Only two years earlier Warsaw hosted the  global launch of the OpenGLAM initiative. The two-day conference brought together many representatives of the GLAM sector in Poland and around the world. The main topics of the conference were: The GLAM Institutions Projects, Wikiprojects, Open Cultural Education and the Law -- especially the legal aspects of digitization, public domain, of sharing of sharing resources of cultural institutions.


Wikipedia and its sister projects (such as Wikimedia Commons) are natural partners of GLAM. Wikipedia gets millions of pageviews daily, is written in more than 250 languages and contains more than 20 million articles. From scientists to pupils, everyone uses Wikipedia. In turn, the institutions of the GLAM sector contain countless cultural resources. GLAM-Wiki initiative aims at helping the cultural institutions share their resources with the world by through high-impact collaboration alongside experienced Wikipedia editors. Such cooperation is an unparalleled opportunity for the custodians of our cultural heritage reaching out to new audiences.

GLAM - Wiki pursues its objectives through various projects, including

  • Partnerships with GLAM institutions that place their electronic resources (those in the public domain) in Wikipedia to use for everyone.
  • Wikiprojects, programs focused on specific organization or topic, aimed at broadening the participation of institutions in Wikipedia.
  • Wikipedian-in-Residence programs - in which an Intern wikipedia editor serves as a liaison between the organization and the Wikimedia community, works together with the institution’s staff on digitization and the organization of resources that may be available in Wikipedia, and performs many other tasks.
  • GLAM Wiki Outreach - a program to support GLAM initiatives contains tips and resources for institutions that are beginning an affiliation with Wikipedia.

The Piłsudski Institute participates actively in the Wikipedia projects. The partnership with the Wikimedia Commons, thanks to the help of an experienced Wikipedian and the administrator or Wikimeda Commons, Jarek Tuszyński, has added over 500 documents from the collection of Józef Piłsudski to Wikipedia. These documents are being linked to by an increasing number of other articles. The Pilsudski Institute’s GLAM Wikiproject is the meeting point of the volunteers who write Wikipedia articles on topics related to the Institute and the Institute - based resources. Our newly appointed Wikipedian-in-Resident, Piotr Puchalski, assisted by the Metropolitan Library Council wikipedian Dorothy Howard, organize the work of volunteers, and complements and improves historical articles in Wikipedia.

The era of the Internet has brought about a significant change in the  way cultural resources are used,  resulting in massive enlargement of the number of active participants in the world. This change requires a radical change in the way of thinking for the GLAM institutions and all of us. Everybody can help by taking part in the Wikipedia projects or by working within your GLAM institution. Do you GLAM?

Marek Zieliński, February 26, 2014

Explore more blog items: