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Renate Holzschuh-Hofer, Foto: Bettina Neubauer-Pregl

Interview

Renate Holzschuh-Hofer
Director of the Public Relations Unit in the Federal Monuments Office

Passion is a rare plant and readily thrives where one would not straightaway expect it to: for example as the mainspring of a number of employees in the Austrian public administration or as the binding element between an agency and an online community. Renate Holzschuh-Hofer is a woman who knows what she is talking about when she describes to us how her passion for Austria's cultural heritage shapes both her work in the Federal Monuments office and her joint work with the Wikimedia community.

What makes monuments so exciting and special for you and for so many of our Wikipedians?

One aspect that makes the work with monuments, in other words with our material cultural heritage, so exciting is the multifaceted network of interrelationships between the present and the past. There is no object that does not have stored stories and history - that can relate to individual fate and likewise to a great historical context. The work on monuments, whether research, inventorying, documentation or monument conservation, enables us to extract these stories and to render them visible. Needless to say, the objects with their stories reach into our present day world and form a large part of the world we live in and thereby our quality of life. That, in my opinion, is what so many Wikipedians find so fascinating in the work with monuments. Here we have a common basis between the Federal Monuments Office and Wikipedia.

A healthy portion of enthusiasm and passion for the common cause has made our collaboration to date successful. Which other factors were decisive for you in our collaboration?

To begin with here I should like to agree: enthusiasm and passion are factors that help one to overcome many hurdles and which represent a strongly binding element for a flourishing collaboration, which we can doubtless now look back upon after more than five years together. What in my mind was furthermore crucial is the commitment to factual work, the high quality standards of both parties and the fact that both organizations are not geared to monetary profit making. The courage and carefree attitude of the individuals involved, to establish something new and good for the cultural heritage, despite the familiar clichés and prejudices that existed for both organizations and which still exist, was however decisive.

What makes Wikimedia Austria a good partner when its about the digitalization of our cultural heritage?

All of my colleagues at the Federal Monuments Office who worked directly together with the Austrian Wikimedians and who continue this collaboration, whether the photographic and data logging of the protected historical monuments in Wikipedia, the special category of the photographic competition Wiki Loves Monuments on the national monuments day, or the digitalization of the Federal Monuments Office historical book collection, are greatly impressed by the precision of the work in Wikipedia, the high standard of factual communication, the desire for a free exchange of knowledge and, above all, by the enormous commitment to the cause and the willingness to give up a lot of free time for it. Having obtained a behind-the-scenes look at Wikipedia, we at the Federal Monuments Office have great respect for their voluntary selfless work, with the objective of establishing free access to knowledge. The digitalization of our cultural heritage is decisive for its placement in the public domain. To do this on a large scale would not have been possible with only the resources of the Federal Monuments Office and a part of this has now been taken over by Wikimedia. For me personally, Wikipedia plays a responsible and frequently still much underestimated role as an important and powerful countermovement to the unrestricted greed for profits that is unfortunately the yardstick today, and to the compulsion in the global society to throwaway consumption.

We have tried out a lot of new things over the years: Wiki Loves Monuments, Day of Monuments, Edit-a-thons to Monument Articles in Wikipedia amongst many other things. What was your personal highlight in the collaboration to date?

I would rather not answer like that because the areas of our collaboration not named would then be unjustly relegated, so to speak, to the second row. I remember all of our joint campaigns and events with much pleasure, the journey to Berlin for the presentation of the Zedler prize with live streaming in the internet, the long jury sittings for the photographic competitions, our prize presentation events on the premises of the Federal Monuments Office, our joint appearance at Monumento in Salzburg, the Edit-a-thon in our house in the Ancestral Hall, the tours of the Hofburg attics, our joint folder, the friendships that developed - all in all the silent, unspectacular growth of the collaboration. But a collaboration such as we got off the ground is the future! Many people still do not understand this yet, or are caught up by their prejudices. The only thing that helps here is to wait with patience, optimism and persistence. A confirmation of the positive forward-looking sense of our collaboration can already be recognized in the fact that efforts are already being made in other countries based on our model, for example in Slovakia, involving collaboration between the authorities and Wikipedia.