In September 2021 year I was delighted to be nominated for a Hidden REF award. The Hidden REF is a project that celebrates the work of people who are vital to the success of research, but who may go unrecognised by traditional academic criteria for research outputs.
I'm sharing a copy of the nomination for LibCrowds, the platform and community on which In the Spotlight, a project crowdsourcing the transcription of historical playbills, was built:
LibCrowds is a platform dedicated to hosting crowdsourcing projects aimed at enhancing access to British Library collections. Since launching in 2015, it has hosted 171 projects, drawing in 265,000 contributions from nearly 3,000 registered volunteers, and many more anonymous individuals. The crowdsourcing projects greatly enhance the discoverability of library collections.
Our community of volunteers have contributed to projects such as: Georeferencer‚ providing more accurate, diverse metadata about digitised historic maps; In the Spotlight‚ transcribing 18th-19th century playbills (making them more findable and searchable); Convert-a-Card‚ retro-converting printed card catalogues into electronic records, particularly improving access to Chinese and Indonesian collections.
The platform is carefully designed for productivity; it's easy to use and interact with images. However, engagement with collections is also a key outcome. LibCrowds has built a strong community. Our surveys indicate that most contributors participate because it's enjoyable, and some take a personal interest in the subject matter. They can discuss discoveries with others through a forum, and can easily share images via social media.
LibCrowds has enabled important research findings. For instance, the playbills project has allowed research on plays which were previously important but which waned in popularity, and has revealed details about marginalised groups including women and Black actors. We are aware of multiple doctoral students working on aspects of theatrical history and researchers in several universities that have used the transcribed collections in their publications.
The scholarly and professional literature recognises LibCrowds to be an extremely valuable case study of a successful crowdsourcing project. It's referenced in dozens of articles and conference papers. Recently, insights from LibCrowds have been integral to the planning of research in the Library and Turing Institute's Living with Machines project, using crowdsourcing to engage the public with data science methods and produce effective and timely results about 19th century newspapers.