Category Archives: C. Brown

Digital Archives and Crowdsourcing

In the age of technology, most people are used to having information at their fingertips. More and more digital archives are emerging on the internet.  They are using the public through crowdsourcing in order to mass transcribe and edit documents, records, and pictures. These digital archives sites are beneficial to the public that are unable to travel to the physical location of these documents.  Crowdsourcing is useful because it gets the public involved and the institutions do not have to pay people to transcribe or edit the sources. If done correctly and administrated properly, digital archives and crowdsourcing can be tremendously useful for the public. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Crowdsourcing can be seen as a tool that allows a mass number of the public to edit and transcribe sources that otherwise would not be able to be done. The problem occurs when the public does not correctly edit or over edits a source. Information can be lost with editing or can be overlooked with not enough editing. By tagging a document, it makes it easier for the public to find. If a member of the public does not correctly tag an item or uses different wording to tag it, then it can make it even more difficult for the public to find. Also, sometimes the public does not understand the importance of some of the sources. There could be something of extreme significance overlooked. The purpose of digital archives is that they allow the public to see sources that otherwise they would possibly not see. If the public cannot find the sources that they need than the purpose is unmet.

The Martha Berry Digital Archives are a collection of articles, letters, and pictures that pertain to Martha Berry and the Berry Schools.  The site is user friendly and gives the user options of searching and editing the sources. When editing the scanned documents, the user can tag key words to the source and locate where the source originated from. The archival site allows a summary of the document, but does not allow the user to fully transcribe the document.  Documents can be edited multiple times by other users until the digital archives administrator closes the document from edits.

Another site is the National Archives’ Citizens Archivist Dashboard. This site allows the public to contribute to some of the digitized National Archives’ records, documents, and pictures. This site can be limiting to the user. It looks user friendly at first, but when the public wants to begin editing or tagging the sources, the process is difficult. The directions seem simple and yet hard when the user tries to actually follow them. This is a good site to use if the public was searching for documents for pictures of certain time periods or events. Since it is the National Archives, many people have used this site and have provided great editing for the sources. Its popularity also means that the user is more likely editing what someone else has already edited.

The New York Public Library’s What’s on the Menu? Site has historical restaurant menus. The public helps by transcribing all of the dishes from the menus. Over a million dishes have been transcribed from over 17,000 menus. There are descriptions of the dishes and even recipes for the public.  The site is user and public friendly but the administration of the site is lacking. Either the project is done or the administrators cannot keep up with the amount of contributors because there are no more menus to transcribe at this time. Overall, the site is great for those who are searching for a certain dish or menu from a restaurant.

The University of Iowa Libraries’ DIY History digital archives site is an assortment of diaries from the civil war, correspondence about the transcontinental railroad, diaries about women and the prairie life.  This is one of the most user friendly sites that I visited. There are still plenty of items needed to be edited and the directions are clear and understandable.  The administration is actively monitoring the site because many of the documents are considered “complete”. In this site, unlike Martha Berry Digital Archives, the editor can fully transcribe the text. The public can still review others’ edits, but there more “complete” documents than “needs review” documents. This site was just as easy to navigate as the Martha Berry Digital Archives site, but it is harder to search for certain documents because there are no tags on the DIY History site.