Monday, 10 November 2014



Many archives—and museums too, like the Brooklyn Museum*—are crowdsourcing their activities. Could this indicate that archives and museums are now sharing their authority with those that patronize their institutions? Or, is this simply a ploy to make you think they are-- a ruse to get you to work for them for free?

I’m going to choose to give museums and archives the benefit of the doubt and consider this an interesting way to a) increase awareness of institutions and collections and b) make more material available online. 

For instance, I recently came across the University of Iowa’s DIY History transcription project. The intent is to have willing victims decipher olde tyme handwriting so that they can make full-text digital copies available. I gave it a go to see what it was like—willing indeed. I chose to transcribe letters that fell under the “Pioneer Lives” category because I’m just into that. My task of choice was the Bartholomew Family Letters, 1852-1893.

1867-07-02 Page 1
The particular letter I transcribed (seen above) was written in 1867 by the J.P. Foster Real Estate Office to Mr. B. A. Bartholomew. I'm usually quite into this kind of thing--I even listened to some fiddle/folk/banjo music while I did this, to get in the mood--but whoooeee that handwriting is  difficult to read, and this letter wasn't all that interesting--just money and contract matters. Well, I suppose that's probably what you can expect with pioneer life. I bet the WWI or WWII diaries were more interesting, or THE COOKBOOKS.

So all in all, not the most exciting experience. However I liked the program, pretty easy to use and the whole website is pretty good looking, which is something that I can't say for all the projects I've listed. 

Here are some other projects (check out zooniverse for more):

1. The Old Weather Project – “Help scientists recover Arctic and worldwide weather observations made by United States ships since the mid-19th century by transcribing ships' logs.”
2.What’s the Score at the Bodleian? – “By describing these images, you will not only be helping to provide access to this valuable but hitherto 'hidden' collection, you will also be facilitating future research into popular music of the period and the wider social function which it performed during the Victorian age.”

3. NYPL Labs at New York Public Library – “NYPL Labs is an experimental design and technology team working to expand the range of interaction, interpretation, and reuse of library collections and data.” One such project is Building Inspector : “Building Inspector is a mobile-friendly web app for improving information extracted from 19th century New York City insurance atlases.”


4. The Smithsonian Transcription Center – “Become a Smithsonian Digital Volunteer and unlock our stories as you transcribe our collections.” There is the Bumblebee Project, where you get to describe bee species!

5. Notes from Nature a collaborative effort of multiple institutions - "We have thousands of specimen images, labels and ledgers from museum collections and the biologists who maintain those us transcribe that data and make it available for further use in biodiversity and conservation research."

6. Ancient Lives at the University of Oxford - YOU GET TO TRANSCRIBE GRECO-ROMAN PAPYRI FROM EGYPT

*The Brooklyn Museum's projects Tag! You're It and Freeze Tag have now ended but users can still tag objects in the online collection.

1 comment:

  1. I'm torn in two very different directions about this.
    1. COOL!! What a great way to get visitors to participate, and feel like they are a part of the museum. Also a great way for backlogged collections staff to get a break.
    2. How useful are the descriptions from people who are not trained? I was even looking at the bumblebee one thinking that that is out of my league. Will these the transcriptions be checked for accuracy? (if they are, that kind of seems to defeat the purpose, in my opinion) Can you trust the general public to do a good job? Is anything better than nothing?

    I'm not sure what the answer is, but my first reaction was that it was a neat way to get visitors to take some ownership of their museums. What better way to get people to care than to have them participate? Thanks for bringing this up Alex!