Strategies for Crowdsourcing
Nicole Saylor, Head, Digital Library Services, University of Iowa Libraries
Jen Wolfe, Metadata Librarian, University of Iowa Libraries
rowdsourcing—soliciting the public’s help to perform a task—is a
creative way to garner a workforce to help transcribe, annotate,
and rectify archival materials. Social media tools are making
this possible on the necessary scale, something prohibitively expensive by
conventional means. This public engagement not only results in free labor for
libraries, but it allows users to interact with library materials in a whole new
way. Citizen contributors can follow the stories revealed by historic documents.
Some become invested in those stories or motivated by furthering the mission of
research by enhancing access to important historic documents.
While the crowdsourced contributions are free, the projects are by no means
without cost, especially in regards to staff time. At the University of Iowa (UI),
the Digital Library department reluctantly turned down an initial request from
curators to develop a crowdsourcing initiative for transcribing Civil War diaries,
citing a lack of sufficient programming expertise. That decision was revisited,
however, thanks to creative thinking on the part of key staff members, and the
UI’s Civil War Diaries and Letters Transcription Project (http://digital.lib.
uiowa.edu/cwd/) was launched in the spring of 2011. Six months later the effort
is, by many measures, a certified success. Early response was so enthusiastic it
crashed the Digital Library server, and today a devoted stable of transcribers
continues to contribute to the project.
Inspired by international and non-library efforts, libraries in the US are
experimenting with a range of crowdsourcing tools. At one end of the spectrum
are projects that use free and cloud-based solutions, such as the North Carolina
State Library Family History project,1 which seeks user-generated transcriptions
DECEMBER 2011 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC