Stay-At-Home Stir Crazy? Library Crowdsourcing Projects Provide Productive Distraction at a Social Distance

Consider these library (and library-adjacent) crowdsourcing projects as a fun way to connect to the community and make a difference during the COVID-19 outbreak.

For some, staying home to flatten the curve of COVID-19 means being busier than ever—juggling telework with full time childcare and overseeing their education. And of course, essential workers from food delivery to the healthcare frontlines can’t stay home at all. But for others, furloughed or on paid leave from jobs that can’t be done remotely, or simply filling the hours that used to be occupied by long commutes, gym visits and get-togethers, what to do with new free time other than fret about the pandemic can be its own unique challenge. If you’ve already baked all the bread you can eat, consider these library (and library-adjacent) crowdsourcing projects as a fun way to connect to the community and make a difference from a safe distance. The following digital volunteer efforts can be done at your own convenience, your own pace—and your own house.

 


 

  1.   The Library of Congress: By the People, the closest thing America has to a European-style national library, is seeking transcription help from the public for several of its digital collections.

Library of Congress By the People project screenshot

In ‘Letters to Lincoln”, only about half of the 40,550 items in the collection are currently available online. The collection has been transcribed, but needs to be reviewed by volunteers in order for the team to return the pages to the Library of Congress's main website. Victoria Van Hyning, a By the People community manager, noted that "review is a wonderful way to learn cursive and is ideal for those who are just getting started."

Anna E. Dickinson toured the country on behalf of Republican Party candidates just before the Civil War. Her correspondence, including letters to Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, would be of great interest to those curious about the early history of the Republican Party, women’s rights, or abolitionism.

‘Herencia: Centuries of Spanish Legal Documents’ features “covenants of judicial contests between people, noble men and civil and religious institutions in Spain” during the XVII and XVIII centuries.

Anyone wishing to review can create an account, but no account is required for transcription—said Van Hyning, "You can dive right in!"

 


 

  1.   University of Virginia: Book Trace

If you work in a library that owns old books, or have bought used books that used to be library copies, Book Traces wants to see what makes them special.

University of Virginia BookTrace screenshot

University of Virginia invites readers to send images and citations of marked copies of library books published prior to 1923. They are not looking for rare materials but books that would have been circulated in a general library collection. While many scholars study the notes written in the book margins of privately owned volumes, souvenirs such as pressed flowers or locks of hair, Book Traces does the same for library books, and hopes to preserve these traces of the past. The project also needs help researching the books currently in the collection, in hopes to find more information about the owners and book’s history.  Great for someone who loves ephemera and/or the history of the book.

 


 

  1.   New York Public Library (NYPL): Building Inspector relies on volunteers to spot historic sites in the present and match them up with old maps.

NYPL building inspector project landing page screenshot

While many may be familiar with NYPL’s ‘What’s on the Menu’, which transcribes historical restaurant’s food offerinngs, the library has multiple other projects available that need the public’s help, including Building Inspector. This project invites those interested in cartography and local history to unlock NYC’s past by helping to identify buildings and other landmarks on old city maps.  While computers do most of the recognition, humans help check the computer’s work, as well as make suggestions for what should be added. NYPL library hopes to use the project to help turn historical atlases into time machines.  Great for anyone interested in historical maps, cartography, or local NYC history.

 


 

  1.   LibriVox- Audiobooks

This site invites visitors to read a book in the public domain, and record themselves to create an audiobook for anyone to listen. In return, you can also listen to audiobooks other people have recorded. Great for performers, readers, and anyone who wants to preserve stories—as well as those interested in increasing access to audio material for the blind and those with print disabilities.

 


 

  1.   Family Search: Indexing

With their strong emphasis on local history, public libraries are often the first step for anyone interested in discovering their own geneology—and digging into the family tree is a great quarantine project. But a whole lot of the information is not yet digitized, and what there is is not necessarily yet organized. This project aims to change that, one volunteer at a time.

Family Search landing page screenshot

A great project for anyone who loves genealogy. They offer indexing projects from all over the world, with the projects broken down by region, and in some cases individual countries. Great practice for someone trying to find information on their own family trees, or wanting to help others locate information.

 


 

  1. Bonus:  Share the Science!

Libraries are far from the only source offering crowdsourcing projects that anyone with a broadband connection can join from home. Participatory science, sometimes called citizen science, is another fruitful avenue to explore. One example is NASA, whose offerings range from wildlife photography to literal stargazing. Check out museums too!

Share the Science NASA Citizen Science landing page screenshot

Aurorasaurus asks for skygazers to document views of the Auroras, including geographical locations to help better understand the sun’s activity. Projects vary from being geographical specific to being to open to anywhere. Great for budding scientists or nature aficionados.

On the Zooniverse platform, "Snapshot Wisconsin" invites people to document wildlife along outside trails, offering a great learning experience in this time of social distancing and home-schooling. Zooniverse offers a wide range of science, humanities, and cultural heritage projects such as animal identification tasks, transcription, disaster response projects, and planet hunting.

Both Zooniverse and By the People welcome anonymous participation (no account necessary), but creating an account on each platform allows volunteers keep track of their work over time. Everyone is welcome to take part!

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Victoria Van Hyning

Thanks for drawing attention to these crowdsourcing offerings. I'll offer a few little corrections/expansions for clarification. The By the People "Letters to Lincoln" pages are all transcribed, but need to be reviewed by volunteers in order for us to return these pages to the Library of Congress's main website loc.gov. Review is a wonderful way to learn cursive and is ideal for those who are just getting started. Anyone wishing to review can create an account here: https://crowd.loc.gov/account/register/, but no account is required for transcription--you can dive right in!

"Snapshot Wisconsin" is a Zooniverse.org project (https://www.zooniverse.org/) rather than a NASA project. Zooniverse is a platform offering a wide range of science, humanities, and cultural heritage projects such as animal identification tasks, transcription, disaster response projects, and planet hunting.

Both Zooniverse and By the People welcome anonymous participation (no account necessary), but creating an account on each platform allows volunteers keep track of their work over time. Everyone is welcome to take part!

-Victoria, a By the People Community Manager

Posted : Apr 10, 2020 01:29

Lisa Peet

Thank you for the clarifications! We've corrected those items in the article.

Posted : Apr 10, 2020 01:29


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