Harnessing crowdsourcing for archives, or two examples of “passionate amateurs”

Back in January I had a post about “passionate amateurs” as the future of archival description that attracted a lot of good discussion. Lately I’ve run across two examples that I thought were worth sharing.

The first was shared by Michele Combs on the A&A listserv, citing a CNN news report–more than 800 online volunteers are contributing to transcribing more than 6 million handwritten Migration Observer note cards that document historical data captured by bird watchers, beginning in the 1880s.

Today, those records are being processed and placed into a modern database for analysis. This information will be used, along with recently collected arrival times of migrant birds, in conjunction with historical weather data to show how migration is affected by climate change. The information from this analysis will provide critical information on bird distribution, migration timing and migration pathways and how they are changing. There is no other program that has the depth of information that can help us understand the effect that global climate change has on bird populations across the country.

For more information, check out the North American Bird Phenology Program site. Maybe you’ll even want to volunteer and transcribe a few cards yourself.

You can find the second example on Flickr—the efforts of PhotosNormandie. I’m hampered a bit in explaining this because of the limits of my high-school French, but as I understand it, all of these photos and their metadata are available on Flickr because of the volunteer efforts of two people with the talent and the interest to make it possible–Patrick Peccatte and Michel Le Querrec. Patrick and Michel harvested the photos and the data from the web site Archives Normandie, 1939-45. (The photos originally came from the US National Archives and the Library and Archives Canada, and so presumably are free from copyright restrictions.) Patrick and Michel then loaded the data into Flickr and created tags for them, thus making the information much more widely discoverable to people interested in historical photographs.

I’ve communicated with Patrick, and he sent me links to two resources on the project (in French):

A recent and short article in “Documentaliste – Sciences de l’information“:

A slideshow:

The slideshow is a detailed explanation of the project–including (I think) the statistic that the Flickr account has had over 830,000 views since being deployed in January 2007. This is a truly fantastic project, and I’d love to see someone with a better understanding of French work with Patrick and Michel to give it more publicity here in the US. (If anyone is interested–let me know and I’ll work with you to get it published!)

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