User Contributions to Cultural Heritage Collections and Experience

Written by Dr. Youngok Choi


Libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) are actively using social media tools in their various initiatives and projects to offer users an opportunity to engage with and contribute to their collections and information services. Such initiatives are known as crowdsourcing projects ever since Jeff Howe (2006) coined the term. Several examples of successful projects in LAMs have been introduced (Holley, 2010; Oomen & Aroyo, 2011). As crowdsourcing proves its potential in cultural heritage contexts through repeated success, more cultural organizations are exploring its possibilities in various digital projects.

At Archives 2013, the joint annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists and the Council of State Archivists, which took place from August 11-17 in New Orleans, Louisiana, researchers and professionals presented various crowd-sourced digital projects of cultural heritage collections including FamilySearch and the Citizen Archivist Initiative (Session 404  Incentivizing Volunteer Workforces for Crowd-sourced Projects)

Among those projects at the session, one project I found very creative and transformative was DIY History at the University of Iowa ( Ms. Colleen Theisen, an outreach and instruction librarian at University of Iowa, spoke about the project. According to her, the University of Iowa Libraries launched a low-tech transcription crowdsourcing project for Civil War diaries and letters in 2011. Volunteers transcribed all 16,000 pages in just over a year. Later, the project was renamed DIY History featuring a variety of documents including handwritten cookbooks and pioneer-era letters and diaries. Currently, more than 35,000 pages of manuscript diaries, letters, recipes and telegrams in DIY History have been transcribed and proofread by contributors ( What is more interesting is that using their historic record of cookbooks, the University sponsored a historic recipes contest in the Iowa State Fair At the fair, the community experienced and tasted 18th– or 19th century cooking. This crowdsourced project is exemplary of using social media tools to open up cultural heritage hidden collections to the community to engage with and contribute to cultural memory.

More resources on crowdsourcing projects in cultural heritage

A series of blog postings on crowdsourcing by Trevor Owens

Blog site and postings by Mia Ridge (a PhD candidate at Open University)


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