If you’re asking “Why should we edit Wikipedia?” here are a few reasons. If you’re shouting “Wikipedia is evil!!!!” stop that! If you’d like to learn more about Wikipedia and how to get started, check out this beginner’s guide for information professionals. And if you want a few ideas of what to do on Wikipedia, read the rest of this post.
I expect some of you have questions (or possibly a very strong reaction) to that last statement. Why should we edit Wikipedia? What’s in it for us? Have you lost your mind? Let me answer the first two questions, and leave that last one up for interpretation.
Librarians, archivists, and museum curators are constantly having to get creative with services and programming in the face of frequent budget cuts. Exhibits and displays – key parts of any cultural institution – can take up a lot of space in an already tight budget. Grants, sponsors, and donations certainly help, but what other avenues for funding should information professionals consider?
At the Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg in Germany, ten graduate students in the Museum Studies program are using a newer method of raising money for their exhibit: crowdfunding. Crowdfunding, as defined by Mashable.com, is “the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.” Crowdfunding is often used to support disaster relief efforts, political campaigns, startup companies, musical artists, and product development. If people are willing to spend money on these initiatives, would they be willing to fund an exhibit, program, or service at a cultural institution?
Crowdsourcing projects, when done well, can raise awareness of a repository and their collections, give users a chance to learn about and participate in archival activities, and help repositories complete major transcription, tagging, and editing projects. DIY History is one of those projects.
DIY History expands on an earlier transcription effort at the University of Iowa Libraries, the Civil War Diaries & Letters transcription project. The site allows volunteers to transcribe Civil War documents, cookbooks, diaries, and materials from manuscript collections. Volunteers can also tag historic photographs and yearbooks from the University of Iowa’s collection on Flickr. The project’s goal, according to the about page, is “to make historic artifacts more accessible – both by enhancing catalog records for greater ease in searching and browsing, and by engaging the public to interact with the materials in new ways.”
I have been gushing about the University of Iowa Special Collections’ Civil War Diaries & Letters Transcription project since I found out about it a year and a half ago. Crowdsourcing is a great way for archives and special collections to publicize collections, increase the visibility of archival repositories, and particularly to get users involved with historical documents. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but I’d say the transcription project and companion exhibit have been successful.
Yesterday I found out that the University of Iowa Special Collections has started a new blog related to the project. The blog, Joseph F. Culver Civil War Letters, follows Union soldier Culver and his wife Mary. Staff post Culver’s letters (some of which were transcribed as part of the crowdsourcing project) 150 years later to the day on the blog. Readers can follow his journey much as Mary did a century and a half ago.