Crowdsourcing and Citizen Archivist Program

Written on: May 19, 2011 | 3 Comments

At the National Archives, we’re always trying to think of new ways to make our historical records more accessible to the public.  We have only a small fraction of our 10 billion records online, so it’s clear we’ve got to get creative.

It’s vital that we learn how other institutions address this challenge.  One approach we’re seeing is for institutions to engage citizens in crowdsourcing or microvolunteering projects.  These projects leverage the enthusiasm and willingness of online volunteers to transcribe or geotag historical records online.

Yesterday, we hosted a public program in the McGowan Theater called “Are You In? Citizen Archivists, Crowdsourcing, and Open Government.  We heard about three innovative projects:

Jessica Zelt (North American Bird Phenology Program), Matthew Knutzen (New York Public Library), Darla Adams (Ancestry.com), and Meredith Stewart (National Archives, moderator)

I encourage you to watch the video of the full program below.

Try your hand at these and other types of crowdsourcing projects and let us know what types of projects you would like to see the National Archives develop in the future.

3 Responses to “Crowdsourcing and Citizen Archivist Program”

  1. Kelly Woestman said:

    Crowdsourcing is simply the only way to go to ever have hope of “getting on top” of the constantly increasing documents and data that need to be under NARA’s guidance. We discussed this at the 1940 Census event in September 2010 at Archives II. It is normal that many are skeptical but until Congress gives NARA unlimited resources and funding, the only option is crowdsourcing. Open government leaders like Carl Malamud provide leadership in this arena.

    Everyone needs to contribute to the discussion of how we EVALUATE sources made available through crowdsourcing. Professional archivists will continue to play a critical role in ensuring that specific documents and data are appropriately vetted and made available to the larger public. But they cannot do it all.

    A real world example? On-site projects by elementary students have provided the rest of us with important cemetery records across the nation that otherwise would simply not be available. Simple data projects? Yes. Contributing to our larger body of knowledge? Certainly.

    All of us will have to continue to learn to manage the information avalanches that face us daily. Crowdsourcing is a definite way to ensure that more important information is provided for the future.


    (May 19, 2011 at 8:52 pm)

  2. Taneya said:

    Thank you for sharing this program online. It was interesting to watch and I would definitely like to see NARA facilitate citizen archiving projects.


    (May 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm)

  3. Shane Landrum said:

    As a professional historian, I’d really like to see the National Archives reach out to scholars who use particular record groups and want to crowdsource finding aids and/or digital editions of those RGs.

    I’ve already shot images of much of RG 102 for my own research but will have to do a lot of infrastructure work to put those online with a crowdsourced-transcription infrastructure like Scripto. If NARA would provide some of that infrastructure and serve as an official hub for scholars interested in leading crowdsourcing projects, I’d be one of the first to volunteer. (Plus, I only use parts of RG 102; other historians use other parts. Give us an easy way to put our reference-quality photos together into an archive everyone can use.)


    (June 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm)