November: I was invited to the Archives nationales de France conference 'Crowdsourcing et patrimoine culturel écrit', where I spoke on Crowdsourcing as connection: a constant star over a sea of change / Établir des connexions : un invariant des projets de crowdsourcing par Mia Ridge, British Library, Royaume-Uni
In December I gave an online keynote on 'Citizen Science as Public History?' for the conference 'When publics co-produce history in museums: skills, methodologies and impact of participation' at The Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH), University of Luxembourg.
I've been working on structures for online workshops for people working on crowdsourcing and other digital participation projects for museums, libraries and archives for over a decade now, learning from each institution I work with. I thought I'd share one of the slide decks I'm currently using.
The deck is labelled 'Coming up with and developing crowdsourcing ideas'. In a workshop or class on crowdsourcing it usually comes after sessions that explain the whats and whys of crowdsourcing in cultural heritage. It's designed to get people quickly working on practical ideas, anticipating issues and ensuring that their projects will fit into their specific institutional context.
The prompts currently include: What does success look like? Which audiences are interested? Why? What could you learn from trying this? Which collections are involved? Links to mission? Pros? Cons? How could you ensure data quality? Costs (staff, tech)? Dependencies / assumptions? What problem does it address? Questions, concerns? What volunteer skills, experience needed? What will they learn? What tech, data is needed?
You can develop your own prompts based on the attributes that are important to you. The Collective Wisdom Handbook is a useful guide to figuring out what's important to you, from data quality to integration with existing workflows.
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.
My chapter is 'The contributions of family and local historians to British history online'. My abstract:
Community history projects across Britain have collected and created images, indexes and transcriptions of historical documents ranging from newspaper articles and photographs, to wills and biographical records. Based on analysis of community- and institutionally-led participatory history sites, and interviews with family and local historians, this chapter discusses common models for projects in which community historians cooperated to create digital resources. For decades, family and local historians have organised or contributed to projects to collect, digitise and publish historical sources about British history. What drives amateur historians to voluntarily spend their time digitising cultural heritage? How do they cooperatively or collaboratively create resources? And what challenges do they face?
My opening page:
IN 1987, THE Family History Department of the Church of the Latter Day Saints began a project with the British Genealogical Records Users Committee to transcribe and index the 1881 British census. Some community history societies were already creating indexes for the 1851 census, so they were well placed to take on another census project. Several tons of photocopies were distributed to almost 100 family history societies for double transcription and checking; later, a multi-million-dollar mainframe computer created indexes from the results (Young, 1996, 1998a; Tice, 1990). This ‘co-operative indexing’ took eight years – the process of assigning parts for transcription alone occupied 43 months – and while the project was very well received, in 1998 it was concluded that ‘a national project of this scope has proved too labour intensive, time consuming and expensive’ to be repeated (Young, 1998b). However, many years later, the US 1940 census was indexed in just four months by over 160,000 volunteers (1940 US Census Community Project, 2012), and co-operative historical projects flourish.
This example illustrates the long history of co-operative transcription and indexing projects, the significant contribution they made to the work of other historians and the vital role of community history organizations and volunteers in participatory heritage projects. The difference between the reach and efficiency of projects initiated in the 1980s and the 2010s also highlights the role of networked technologies in enabling wider participation in cooperative digitization projects. This chapter examines the important contributions of community historians to participatory heritage, discussing how family and local historians have voluntarily organized or contributed to projects to collect, digitize and publish historical sources about British history. This insight into grassroots projects may be useful for staff in cultural heritage institutions who encounter or seek to work with community historians.
The questions addressed in this chapter are drawn from research which sought to understand the impact of participatory digital history projects on users. This research involved reviewing a corpus of over 400 digital history projects, analysing those that aimed to collect, create or enhance records about historical materials. The corpus included both community- and institutionally led participatory history sites. Points of analysis included ‘microcopy’ (small pieces of text such as slogans, instructions and navigation) and the visible affordances, or website interface features, that encourage, allow or disable various participatory functions.
Mia Ridge is a Digital Curator in the British Library’s Digital Scholarship team. She has a PhD in digital humanities (2015, Department of History, Open University) entitled Making Digital History: the impact of digitality on public participation and scholarly practices in historical research. Previously, she conducted human-computer interaction-based research on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage.