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Smart Libraries Q&A: Crowdsourcing digital collections

Smart Libraries Newsletter [March 2018]


Our library has begun a project to capture photos of the community through Scan Day events, helping local agencies, like the Fire Department, scan and index their photo/negative collections. We would also be interested in using crowdsourcing as part of our program. Can you suggest some ideas or resources use crowdsourcing to extend or enhance our photo collection? We are aware of Res- Carta but would be interested in additional options or ideas.

The development of a digital collection includes several components. These include the technical platform that will manage the digital files and associated metadata, the creation or collection of the digital objects, and producing metadata to describe each object. ResCarta is one of the several technical options available to host and manage collections of digital content items.

The creation of the digital objects will take place through some kind of scanning or digitizing operation or by ingesting those created digitally. Many libraries, such as yours, will scan their photographs, negatives, or other physical items to create digital files. Any photos of recent vintage are likely to be created through digital cameras or smartphones. These born digital photographs don't need to be scanned but can be ingested directly into the digital collection.

Describing the objects in a digital collection will usually require much more time and effort than the more technical work of scanning or importing the digital files. Capturing information such as the date of the image, its location, buildings shown, any people shown in the image, or events represented is essential to providing the ability to browse or search the collection. In many cases, much of this information is not readily available for historic photos. Librarians may be able to track down some data through historic research, but this can be a time-consuming process. Some projects have used an approach called crowdsourcing to gather additional information about historic photographs. The general idea involves displaying the photographs publicly and inviting the general public to contribute any information that they may recognize. Crowdsourcing can lead to better identification of dates, places, and people. Even when not definitive, these leads can help the library track down information that may otherwise remain obscure.

The Library of Congress, for example, helped launch the Flickr Commons project in 2008, where it uploaded thousands of historic photographs and invited the public to contribute tags to help describe them. The number of organizations participating in Flickr Commons has since expanded (see https:// Other organizations with historic photographic collections can join, but the photos must be free of copyright restrictions so that they can be displayed openly.

The key factor to using crowdsourcing successfully relates to broad and easy access to increase the possibility that they will be seen by individuals that might recognize elements in the photographs. There might be ways to use social media to expose photographs to targeted communities likely to be familiar with the places and people pictured. In addition to photo-oriented services such as Flickr, a library might use its social media presence, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts, to selectively post photos and invite its community members to contribute any information they recognize. The more that the library can expose the materials to groups of individuals interested in and knowledgeable about the subject matter, the more data it is likely to see contributions of tags and data to help it describe the collection. As these communities learn about and engage with the photos made available, individuals may also be interested in offering photos from their own personal collections for inclusion in the project.

These approaches may be useful to help a library expand and enhance a digital collection of historic photos. But don't expect a landslide of information. In most cases, the volume of contributions will be modest and considerable research will still be required to describe collections of historic photos. Any data received through crowdsourcing is helpful, but it's important to have realistic expectations regarding its impact on describing a collection.

View Citation
Publication Year:2018
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 38 Number 03
Issue:March 2018
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:23345
Last Update:2023-01-25 10:55:51
Date Created:2018-03-26 07:37:00