Even if you aren’t a t-rex with hopelessly short arms, chances are you have other limitations that might prevent you from being able to create the kind of historical event project that it truly deserves to honor its significance. And how could you unless you were there? Chances are, if you’ve been tasked with creating a digital collection for something as important as a war, you might not have lived through it and are only curating materials and details as best you can to piece historical facts together as best you can. Some museums and historical societies have taken to crowdsourcing as a means of combining firsthand viewpoints, primary sources such as letters and diaries provided by survivors or loved ones, and even sound clips into projects to bring them alive and help viewers better bond with and relate to the events that they are sharing with the public.
Crowdsourcing has numerous advantages. As mentioned above, the personal stories and documents, such as letters and diaries, give a human touch and attach significance and realness to an event that people empathize and bond with. Information that impacts us on an emotional level is more enjoyable to learn and more difficult to forget. What’s more, institutions who allow the public to assist with such projects may find that it has the potential to “create a sense of pride and ownership in cultural and information institutions” (Ellis, 2014, p. 4) when people are allowed to contribute and be a part of something that’s meaningful to them.
It is also a way to gather a great amount of information in a shorter period of time. Crowdsourcing electronically is essentially calling to action anyone who has useful information who would like to volunteer, as opposed to one person or a small group going out on their own to research and collect facts from scratch. The project leader then compiles the information submissions and manages the feedback in whatever way best suits the project needs.
It is difficult for some to accept the validity of information gathered through this technique. For instance, “many librarians, archivists, and museum directors think of themselves as the gatekeepers of information” and “Inviting the public, both educated specialists sand unvetted users, to create metadata, content, to transcribe historical documents or, in any way substitute their own expertise for that of the information professional, may be viewed as threatening to the experts’ paradigm and certainly, at the very least, his livelihood” (Ellis, 2014, p. 5). Crowdsourcing is not appropriate for all subjects, but for projects where the focus is centered on a human experience, involving voices of those who know more about it than you can benefit the final product and increase loyalty in your institution because you’ve reached out to include others.
Organizations such as Zooniverse host citizen science research projects where everyday people can launch or participate in people-powered research. Think crowdsourcing might be a nice social experiment for your next digital project? Check out their site and see how you can benefit from using the voices and experiences of those outside of your company’s walls to add a human touch to your subject matter.
Ellis, S. (2014). A history of collaboration, a future in crowdsourcing: positive impacts of cooperation on British librarianship Libri, 64(1): 1-10. http://www.crowdconsortium.org/wp-content/uploads/A-History-of-Collaboration-a-Future-in-Crowdsourcing-Positive-Impacts-of-Cooperation-on-British-Librarianship.pdf