The following article appears in the latest issue of Research Library Issues (Number 277) published by the Association of Research Libraries.
Authors: Nicole Saylor (Head, Digital Library Services, University of Iowa Libraries)
Jen Wolfe (Metadata Librarian, University of Iowa Libraries)
From the Introduction:
Crowdsourcing—soliciting the public’s help to perform a task—is a creative way to garner a workforce to help transcribe, annotate, measure, and rectify archival materials. Social media tools are making this possible on the necessary scale, something prohibitively expensive by conventional means. This public engagement not only results in free labor for libraries, but it allows users to interact with library materials in a whole new way.
While the crowdsourced contributions are free, the projects are by no means without cost, especially in regards to staff time. At the University of Iowa (UI), the Digital Library department reluctantly turned down an initial request from curators to develop a crowdsourcing initiative for transcribing Civil War diaries, citing a lack of sufficient programming expertise. That decision was revisited, however, thanks to creative thinking on the part of key staff members, and the UI’s Civil War Diaries and Letters Transcription Project (http://digital.lib. uiowa.edu/cwd/) was launched in the spring of 2011. Six months later the effort is, by many measures, a certified success. Early response was so enthusiastic it crashed the Digital Library server, and today a devoted stable of transcribers continues to contribute to the project.