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Archives Outside - For people who love, use and manage archives

Crowdsourcing for Archives and Libraries

Following on from the theme of Rose Holley’s  Making our Digital Nation  talk at Mosman Council, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some more sources on Crowdsourcing and what it can do for Archives and Libraries. The possibilities are inspiring!

What is Crowdsourcing ?

How can it be used by Libraries and Archives?

The following articles discuss Crowdsourcing, outline current projects engaging members of the public with Libraries and Archives and highlight some exciting opportunities for the future.

Crowdsourcing: How and Why should Libraries do it? , Rose Holley – National library of Australia, DLIB Magazine, March/April2010

Crowdsourcing has not been attempted on any significant scale by libraries to date, but could prove to be the most useful tool a library can have in the future. If the facts known about crowdsourcing and the tips outlined in this article are applied any crowdsourcing project that is ‘for the common good’ and initiated by a non-profit making organisation such as a library is likely to be successful. If the public are given a high level of trust and responsibility they will respond with loyalty and commitment as has been demonstrated in the crowdsourcing sites discussed. There is huge potential for libraries to harness digital volunteers. Libraries need to give up ‘power and control’ thinking and look to freedom instead. Harriet Rubin, business publisher and author talking about success says “Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash”17.

 Involving archive users in digitising archival collections, Harriet Deacon, The Archival Platform

Volunteers can never replace expert archival digitisation, inventorying, metadata entry and so on within archives, but the reality is that archive infrastructures are not coping with the volume of work, even in wealthy countries. There is perhaps for this reason an increasing emphasis on the use of volunteers by relatively well-funded archives in the western world, following on the revolutionary success of projects like Wikipedia.

Fantastic volunteer scanning project with National Archives – great example of crowdsourcing (and interesting remarks from Mr Ferriero, Kate T.,  ArchivesNext (well what will come next?)

The purpose of the group is to organize volunteers to create digital copies of NARA’s video holdings on DVD so that the digital copies can up uploaded to the Internet Archive and the PublicResource.Org YouTube channel and shared with the public at no charge. You can find more details here. This is an extension of the successful effort led by Carl Malamud to have the public purchase all the NARA DVDs being sold on Amazon so that they could be digitized and uploaded for free public use (which you may remember from a post back in December).

The bigger picture – Crowdsourcing in other fields

Searching just about any online source for articles relating to Crowdsourcing brings up many, many hits.  Here are a few samples with useful advice:

Nice and nasty does it: Shirky the “net guru” on what the future holds , Decca Aitkenhead (Clay Shirky Interview, Sydney Morning Herald 5 July2010)

Just as the invention of the printing press transformed society, the internet’s capacity for “an unlimited amount of zero-cost reproduction of any digital item by anyone who owns a computer” has removed the barrier to universal participation, and revealed that human beings would rather be creating and sharing than passively consuming what a privileged elite think they should watch.

Liam Wyatt: Hoxne Challenge 

Yesterday was the “Hoxne Challenge” – an attempt to see what can be achieved if a Museum and Wikipedians work together on a specific topic in a focused effort. This culminated on Friday with an on-site tour and intensive collaboration session between Wikipedians and the relevant experts at the British Museum.

 Ross Dawson: Six tools to kickstart you crowdsourcing strategy,

Best-selling author and globally recognised futurist Ross Dawson discusses the development of crowdsourcing – and the tools you need to tap this valuable resource.

List of Crowdsourcing projects

Wikipedia has compiled a list of some of the most recent examples of Crowdsourcing,


Category: Digital 2.0
  • Iain Stuart says:

    I wonder whether the issue is that crowdsourcing is a technique or an approach rather than something you have to do as an Archive. You need an issue/problem to which crowsourcing is an appropriate strategy or technique for addressing that issue. Archives cannot just say “we are going to have crowdsourcing” an appropriate issue needs to be found.

    Certainly some Wikipedia ideas come to mind (despite the patronising view of Wikipedia given in the You Tube video). Perhaps using the Archives to help Wikipedians improve entries relating to the history of NSW might be a suitable approach. There are other groups such as the RAHS or LRRSA that might work with an archive to crowdsource on a particular specific issue (eg. identifying a series of photos).

    There are two issues though that I think need to be considered (based on my experience in particular running volunteer programs on archaeological excavations): authority and discipline.

    Ultimately somebody needs to be able to say – this is right and this is wrong – to come to a decision rather than rely on the collective feelings of a crowd. Wikipedia dealt with this by upgrading its editors.

    There is also a need for discipline particularly in doing work that is best done systematically and with care.

    Anyway some thoughts,


    July 7, 2010 at 10:36 am
  • Fiona Sullivan says:

    Some great thoughts Iain thanks. I agree finding a constructive way to harness Crowdsourcing so that it supports core business for Archives rather than crowdsourcing for crowdsourcings sake is the key.

    Any sort of project will require internal resourcing and oversight from the Archive no matter how helpful the crowd and thats not something that always readily available.

    Identifying the right sort of project is trickier than it might appear!

    July 7, 2010 at 11:47 am
  • Wolf Thomas says:

    I think the Wikimedia -project of the German Federal archives is a bit of crowdsourcing . You will find a decription here on page 158: (sadly in German, only with an English abstract).

    July 7, 2010 at 12:29 pm
  • Fiona Sullivan says:

    Definitely an example of a very large crowdsourcing project and an interesting partnership! Thanks for the link.

    July 7, 2010 at 2:04 pm
  • Michelle says:

    The V and A is using crowdsourcing in its image archive. Viewers are presented with a number of versions of an image and asked to select the most useful/clear image.

    This type of user involvement doesn’t fall victim one of the biggest issues used against crowdsourcing (and one which I don’t necessarily agree with) – that of lack of expert knowledge.

    Depending on how this project goes, it might be extended to other forms of metadata as well.

    It’s a job which might not be done otherwise due to budget/time constraints, but one which can vastly improve the user experience.

    Cleveland Museum of Art has allowed users to add various forms of metadata to their image collections for a number of years now.


    July 7, 2010 at 4:31 pm
  • Fiona Sullivan says:

    Thanks for pointing out those sites Michelle, they look very interesting:

    V&A – Beta Crowdsourcing Search the Collections
    Cleveland Museum of Art Launches Innovative Website

    While State Records’ experience of seeking advice on the web is limited, there certainly doesn’t seem to be a shortage of expertise which would seem to support your thoughts.

    July 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm
  • Iain Stuart says:

    If you really wanted to follow in the footsteps of the National Library what about scanning the NSW Government Gazettes and putting them on line for correction and searching (which is different from what the State Library of Victoria has done – theirs are in PDF and difficult to search).

    Why the Government Gazette, because so much of the work of Government is recorded in the Government Gazette and it could then be a useful guide into where in the records to look. Thus such a project would serve the needs of the community, researchers, help State Records and preserve the increasingly fragile original copies.



    July 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm
  • wragge says:

    There’s another useful list of crowdsourcing projects on Melissa Terras’s blog:

    July 19, 2010 at 9:59 am
  • Fiona Sullivan says:

    @Iain Stuart – I believe the State Library of NSW is currently in the process of copying the NSW Government Gazettes. I’ll try and find out what the scope of that project is.

    Thanks for the link to that post @wragge , for an Archives Crowdsourcing manuscript translation has a lot of potential.

    July 29, 2010 at 12:27 pm