I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is no stereotype that involves librarians rolling around in piles of cash. None of us go into this degree for the glory of becoming a librarian. We do it because we find it fulfilling, we understand that offering services is important, we want to help people, we love finding answers and doing research. Maybe we do it because of the jobs. The girls. Our name in lights.
I crack myself up sometimes.
My point is that most people’s motivations for joining the fields of (((information OR library) AND (science)) OR archives OR media) are not self-seeking. We aren’t Olympic sprinters, we’re marathon runners. We do it because we love it and not for the prize or the glory (although having a beer and some carbs at the end of a long day is also a good thing). We write grants, work on a shoestring budget and do what we can for our institutions, but at the end of the day there just aren’t enough resources to go around for our own internal efforts and projects. We simply don’t have the time, peoplepower, or the money. On Tuesday, April 8th, I attended the NDSR2014: Emerging Trends in Digital Stewardship. It included an in-depth demonstration by Cal Lee of BitCurator and panel discussions which involved institutions such as National Public Radio, Library of Congress, George Washington University, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, Folger Shakespeare Library, Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). It was a fantastic event and I spent all day tapping away happily on my laptop, taking notes and soaking up the wisdom of the speakers.
One of the panels included librarians from NPR, LOC, and GWU discussing collaborative efforts to archive social media, and the moderator asked the question “What were some unanticipated benefits to launching your archives projects?” In response, Janel Kinlaw from NPR stated that “there’s a lot of love for NPR” and that they’ve been able to get a volunteer transcriber to assist them with an archiving project for the year 1984. In short, they are transcribing audio clips and making them available online for free. We all know that love makes us do irrational things, but spending several hours a week transcribing audio interviews is kind of a fantastic way to channel your
On a greater scale, Library of Congress has put their photos onto Flickr and requested that users tag the pictures to expand access points. This project started in 2008, and to date they have almost 21k photos with no copyright restrictions, so they are available for users to download, edit, play with, and remix to their heart’s delight. The only thing LoC has done to their uploaded pictures is add the tag ‘library of congress’. The rest is crowdsourcing, and it has been remarkably successful. Within a matter of months, there were over 67k unique tags created by over 2500 users, an average of 26 tags per user. Today there are too many tags to load. This amount of work could not have been done by the LoC or their employees. Instead it was done by users who had expertise to share, genealogies to track, hobbies, and… they gave their time.
Volunteers joined the conversation and contributed their knowledge. I imagine my grandmother sitting down for an afternoon and adding tags to government documents for the political rallies she attended in the ’70s and ’60s and pictures of politicians she used to work with, my grandfather noting which farm tools where distributed in which area and which companies manufactured them.
How incredible is that? I mean, really?
It’s pretty much the coolest thought I’ve had sitting in my mind all week.
Michael Peter Edson made the point in one of his talks given to museums and cultural heritage institutions that not only does the best expert on your subject probably not work for your institution… you don’t even know who they are. Since institutions aren’t a series of subject specialty Hunger Games (thank goodness), we can’t simply replace our experts with more knowledgeable experts, especially if they don’t have the qualifications, are doing research somewhere else that can fund them better, if they are in countries in which we can’t reach them. Putting your resources and data out there enables the experts to find you, to collaborate on whatever terms possible (even anonymously!), and it enables everyone to benefit.
Being a part of CUA’s digitization efforts has been one of the most gratifying experiences I have had so far in my budding professional career. I sure can’t read Latin, but hey! some stranger, a curious human being somewhere might find the Magnum Bullarium and use it to teach, to learn, to inspire, or simply as something pretty to look at (which, let’s face the facts, is how I see it). They may know something we don’t and expand on our knowledge to increase understanding of those volumes. That’s meaningful to them, and I’ll bet you it’s meaningful to others, too.