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Projekte/Wikipedian in Residence VfGH/Josef Pauser

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Dr. Josef Pauser, Foto: Miloš Vec

Interview

Dr. Josef Pauser
Head of the Library of the Austrian Constitutional Court

Nowadays, when people think of the Austrian Constitutional Court (VfGH), many of them think primarily of the recent decisions made there regarding the repetition of the presidential elections. But to us in the Wikiverse, the VfGH continues to be above all a place for pioneers of thought who wish to communicate their work - that is so important to our society - to a broader public in a contemporary way. Dr. Josef Pauser has therefore adapted the Wikipedian in Residence model, so far practised only by classic memory institutions (museums, archives, etc.), to his organisation. As a result, the Austrian Wikipedian and prospective lawyer, Thomas Planinger, spent two months at the VfGH - imparting his expertise on free knowledge there and then sharing his experience and resources regarding the VfGH in the Wikipedia community.

Dr. Pauser, what makes Wikipedia a good partner for your work?

These days, Wikipedia is usually the first source of information in any research. In view of this, it is crucial for the data presented there to be convincing not only in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality. Taking the Austrian Constitutional Court as an example: Regular citizens do not generally have a current textbook of Austrian constitutional law at home that they could refer to when the VfGH comes up in the media or in a conversation. So today, people look it up quickly on the internet using their smartphones and may end up on our website, but it's more likely that they will end up on Wikipedia first. The access statistics on the occasion of the widely known presidential election procedure clearly demonstrate the public's need for information.

What do you consider were the most interesting insights and experiences in your collaboration with your Wikipedian in Residence?

It was very impressive to experience that Thomas Planinger, our Wikipedian in Residence, turned out to be someone who "burns" for Wikipedia in the true sense of the word. In our project I even had to slow him down sometimes to make sure we stuck with achievable goals for our initially brief project period.
Oddly enough, the project itself sort of emerged from nowhere and without knowing it, it was actually Thomas Planinger himself who initiated it. While I was already familiar with the idea of a "Wikipedian in Residence" from the library and archive sector, at first, translating that idea to a high court was not on my radar at all. As a student of commercial law at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, our colleague, Mr. Planinger, had been on a tour of our building in 2014, and being a Wikipedian he immediately investigated whether our Justices had a Wikipedia entry. Since this was not the case for all of them, he made it his business to close that gap, which he announced via Twitter and hashtag #vfgh once the task was completed.
The tweet that started it all
At the time, I happened to read that Tweet and take favourable notice. At the beginning of this year, I had a question related to Wikipedia, I remembered that tweet and was able to send the author an e-mail via Wikipedia. During a personal meeting, the idea of having a Wikipedian in Residence at the Federal Constitutional Court developed quite spontaneously and almost instinctively, and was immediately supported by the Administrative Director of the VfGH. And now, close to the end of the second project month, we can already say that this was a great project, that absolutely ... but go ahead and read the next question for this.

What long-term effects do you expect from this project? Are there plans for a long-term cooperation?

The project has already had good effects and I expect them to persist. On the one hand, it has changed the attitude of some of the employees at the court. Of course they had been using Wikipedia, but they had no idea what goes on in the background. With our Wikipedian, many were able to, not only look behind the scenes at Wikipedia for the first time, but also to see how editing is approached, and hopefully to overcome some of the shyness that may have been keeping them from becoming active themselves. On the other hand of course, this project has helped us to create free public access to a lot of information regarding the court, thus also improving our representation on Wikipedia. In the longer term, we very much hope to be able to resume this project next year. There are plenty of ideas for additional presentable contents.

Many readers of Wikipedia are unaware that there is a community of authors, photographers and coders or Wikimedia associations behind this website who support them in their work. How would you describe the community and the cooperation with this community to these people in a nutshell?

Actually, I had no more than rudimentary knowledge of this myself; now of course, my perception has become a little clearer. The cooperation can only be described as very friendly and appreciative on a personal level and extremely professional on a factual level.