How a volunteer, stay-at-home mum is helping share Kiwi biodiversity with the world through Creative Commons licensing
When Siobhan Leachman – a trained lawyer – returned home to New Zealand following a five-year OE in London with her boyfriend, she never imagined that her career would eventually involve an obsession with moths.
Leachman – who has worked everywhere from the Ministry of Housing to managing a fine wine department – is today a volunteer ‘citizen scientist’ for a variety of groups, including Wikimedia, the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the USA-based Smithsonian Institution.
Her self-appointed and largely self-driven task is to diligently collate and share online previously siloed information and images of New Zealand flora and fauna, especially endemic and endangered species. Lately, her focus has been on New Zealand’s endemic moths.
“There are approximately 1800 endemic moths in New Zealand, and I’m currently going through the list, creating or expanding Wikipedia articles about each one as I go, so this will be a work in progress for a while.”
So, how did this unusual career direction unfold for Siobhan?
“When my partner and I moved back to New Zealand, the plan was to settle down, get married and have kids. Once we had accomplished all that – including two wonderful children – I felt a bit bored so started looking for a fresh challenge,” she says.
Siobhan’s sister, Victoria Leachman, who works as the Rights Manager at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, suggested she consider volunteering for the Smithsonian Transcription Centre – a web site that utilises ‘digital volunteers’ to make historical documents and biodiversity data from around the world more accessible to the general public.
Siobhan’s natural passion for the environment, inspired by living next to the Zealandia urban eco-sanctuary near the outer Wellington suburb of Brooklyn, was a key motivator for her efforts and she was soon hooked on contributing to the crowd-sourced, collaborative Smithsonian project.
“It turned out to be absolutely fascinating work, and things exploded for me from there. I started learning to edit Wikipedia pages and very quickly started to wonder why wasn’t there more content about New Zealand on there? I decided I would set out to try and change that.”
So began Siobhan’s quest to upload more of Godzone to the Internet, and Creative Commons licensing played no small part in making that happen. She started with Auckland Museum, who she says have an ‘open by default’ policy on most of their content.
“Auckland Museum does a great job of photographing New Zealand’s endangered species, but I found there were not corresponding articles for many of these species on Wikipedia. As most of the Museum’s content is CC licensed, it’s a simple enough process to access the images and information and load them into the Wikimedia Commons, but there are literally thousands of images, so creating a unique page for each one does take time.”
Siobhan’s next approach was Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research, whom she discovered had a major repository of biodiversity data, especially endemic and endangered species. They started releasing their image database with CC licensing applied to it, so she started uploading their information as well.
“Editing Wikipedia requires that the information created is licensed under the CC BY SA license. Images uploaded must be open and reusable, licensed under the either the CC0, CC ‘Attribution’ or CC ‘Attribution Share Alike’ designation. After I publish a new Wikipedia article about a species, Google ingests it automatically and can reuse it with the openly licensed images.
“When I do my own photography, I license them as CC0. If I upload them into Wikicommons I upload them under the same license, so people can use them however they want. It becomes a virtuous circle of content and information.
“Creative Commons licenses are essentially the lifeblood of all my efforts. I use the CC licenses as a guide for what projects I contribute my time to,” she says. The more open the license the more likely she is to donate her time.
Today, Siobhan contributes to a wide variety of digital GLAM and Citizen Science crowdsourcing projects including Wikidata, iNaturalist, Zooniverse and DigiVol with the Atlas of Living Australia – and from all indications she has the energy to continue doing so for a long while yet.
“I am gradually working through the New Zealand Department of Conservation Threat classification lists updating and creating articles on those New Zealand plants, animals and fungi that are listed as threatened, at risk or data deficient. I’m using Department of Conservation documents as a basis for this work.”
Considering her citizen science contributions have been referenced around the world by media including the Wall Street Journal, NBC news and Al Jazeera English, Siobhan is clearly making an impact through her dedication to this painstaking volunteer work, powered by Creative Commons licensing.
“It’s an incredibly satisfying thing to make these relatively small bits of New Zealand available to the world, and so encourage efforts to ensure their preservation. Kiwis everywhere should do it more. There’s nothing stopping anyone becoming a Wikipedia editor. Just go in and do it!”
For more information about Siobhan’s Wikipedia initiatives, visit her user page at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Ambrosia10