The Citizen Archivist Dashboard: Crowdsourcing Digitization and Creating a Volunteer Community

24 Jan


The National Archives’ Citizen Archivist Dashboard seeks to not only provide a means of interacting with historical documents an engaging way for site visitors but also to crowdsource some of the great deal of the work required to make the documents of the National Archives more accessible and available online.  The National Archives seeks eventually to have all of its records available online and in order to do that, seek the help of “Citizen Archivists” to help make that happen.

The Dashboard provides a variety of ways for these citizen archivists to interact with these documents and provide much needed help in making these records accessible.  One of these is the tagging of documents, images, and articles with appropriate topics and terms that will allow them to be more easily searched and found by possible researchers online. Using both their website and their page on the website Flickr, they provide a number of suggestions for potential tags and encourage all interested in performing such a small task that will have such a big impact on improving accessibility.[1]

The Archives is also seeking to make digitally scanned images and documents more accessible utilizing the photo and video sharing site Flickr.   Using this site, they are requesting that visitors upload and share photos of documents from the National Archives along with any information that the user can provide.  This includes the title, as well as the file and box number, and any other information the uploader is able to provide about the image.  By requesting photos scanned by patrons, the Archives seeks to not do work that has already been done.  This allows them to focus the time and resources available to them scanning documents that have not already been scanned, without the need for the unnecessary labor of scanning documents that have already been scanned by patrons.[2]

By utilizing sites such as Flickr, the Archives is helping to make uploading these images a less complicated task for those who which to share them.  However, Flickr is becoming decreasingly relevant as time goes on, losing out to more affordable and easily accessible photo sharing mediums such as Dropbox, Google Photos, One Drive, or even Facebook.[3]  In using primarily Flickr, the National Archives is utilizing technology that is, at best, on par with other far more popular photo sharing sites and programs.  The National Archives could reach far more people and thus access a far deeper pool of volunteers if it included these alternatives alongside, if not in place of, Flickr.

Another way one can get involved is through transcribing scanned archive documents.  The National Archives has actively been scanning millions of pages of historical records and many of those records are not text searchable as no transcription, as of yet, exists.  This feature allows patrons to determine and record the document’s text as to make it more easily searchable by researchers and visitors.  This time-consuming task can take up much of the time or archival workers but for Citizen Archivists it is a fun and interactive way to engage with historical documents.[4]

While the dashboard’s purpose is clear, the means by which it is seeking to gain volunteers is subtler. Utilizing such tools as their “History Hub”, the National Archives not only seeks to provide the tools necessary for becoming a citizen archivist, but to foster a sense of community for these volunteers that encourages and validates their contributions as part of a larger project involving archivists and researchers both citizen and professional.  History Hub provides a means for these volunteers and professional to engage in discussion regarding their work and to offer experience and advice to one another.[5]  In addition, the Archives has hosted fun competitions, such as “History Happens Here!” which had the public submit historical photographs with the site of the photo in its present state.[6]  Such competitions and resources help to create a community of volunteers that feels invested in a project larger than themselves.

[1] “Tag It.” accessed January 23, 2017.

[2] “Upload and Share It.” accessed January 23, 2017.

[3] Pierce, David.  “Time to Give up on Flickr, Everybody.”  Wired.  Wired, March 09, 2016.

[4] “Transcribe Records.” accessed January 23, 2017.

[5] “History Hub.” accessed January 23, 2017.

[6] “Enter a Contest.” accessed January 23, 2017.





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