The Participatory Digital Library: A Crowdsourcing Case Study at the University of Iowa Libraries

Session Type: Presentation/Panel

Session Description:
State-funded universities are increasingly focused on public engagement, with the primacy of the print-based scholarly monograph making way for outreach initiatives and a more accessible return on investment for taxpayers. Archivists are seeking to build participatory archives, collaborating with the public to better promote collections, attract new donors, and increase descriptive access. Some institutions are seeking to meet both these goals through crowdsourcing collections – inviting the public to engage with cultural heritage materials by tagging, transcribing, and otherwise contributing content to digital libraries. Harnessing this free labor, however, requires no small amount of paid labor from digital library departments scrambling to implement the projects’ new technologies, new workflows, and new staff roles.

The University of Iowa Libraries launched its crowdsourcing initiative, The Civil War Diaries & Letters Transcription Project, as an experiment in the spring of 2011. With little funding, even less programming expertise, and a tight deadline (the Civil War sesquicentennial celebrations), the UI developed a makeshift solution involving emailed user submissions and manual labor on the part of library staff. Over one year and 13,000 submissions later, our tireless volunteer transcriptionists are still going strong, while staff members have grown more than a little weary of the project’s inefficiencies.

This fall, the Libraries plans to launch D.I.Y. History, a re-branding of our crowdsourcing efforts that will feature new content from the UI’s culinary manuscript collections and the Iowa Women’s Archives. Powering the expansion are streamlined scanning workflows, new strategies for increasing user engagement through social media tools, and – last but not least – the implementation of Scripto, Omeka’s open-source software for crowdsourcing documentary transcription. Join us as we share our experiences and examine lessons learned in launching and sustaining a successful crowdsourcing initiative.

Session Leaders:
Matthew Butler, University of Iowa Libraries
Jen Wolfe, University of Iowa Libraries

Session Notes:
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