What is Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing refers to a set of methods that can be used to motivate a community to contribute ideas, information, or content that would otherwise remain undiscovered. Its rapidly growing appeal stems from its effectiveness in filling gaps that cannot be bridged by other means. One of the most well known examples of this is Wikipedia, where volunteers provide information and definitions for subject matter of their expertise. Crowdsourcing generates what is known as the explicit form of collective intelligence. Knowledge is constantly refined through the contributions of thousands of authors. Within the academy, crowdsourcing is often a way for researchers to draw on public knowledge to provide missing historical or other specific details related to communities or families, complete large-scale tasks, or solve inherently complex issues. For many tasks, institutions are finding that amateur scholars or even people whose lives simply were contemporary to the event, object, images, or other research focus being documented are remarkably effective in providing deep level detail around a topic or in documenting a large body of materials.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to academic and research libraries?

  • Crowdsourcing provides a potential new source of metadata that can be applied to library collections. Library cataloging practices have traditionally been heavily structured, and not open to the kind of free-form data collection that crowdsourcing implies, but there is already wide recognition that it is an important technology, and needs to be embraced. - mcalter mcalter Apr 12, 2015
  • Agree with comment above, and would add that libraries can be suppliers as well as consumers of crowdsourced data - for example, efforts to embed library links and other data in Wikipedia entries.- lavoie lavoie Apr 17, 2015
  • We just about need crowdsourcing to help us get control over the volume of materials that are both already in our collections and that we are newly acquiring. There is resistance from some metadata specialist who feel that there is not enough discipline in the "crowd" to do the metadata work well-enough, but it becomes a trade-off between no data vs. some data. Wikipedia (and other active wiki communities) have demonstrated that the crowdsourced model can work, especially with editorial oversight.- anthony.helm anthony.helm Apr 18, 2015
  • This is one of the most interesting potential technologies for special collections. Drawing on the user base and interested parties is a natural step to getting work done. Possibilities are photo identification, transcription of handwritten documents, etc. Our own special collections unit is very keen to get started with crowdsourcing projects. - janice.welburn janice.welburn Apr 20, 2015

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Annotation -- open community annotation can add context, metadata, and review to existing collections
  • Citizen science -- differs from crowdsourcing in that it engages patrons in knowledge creation at the analytic level -- rather than as coders/classifiers. This has the potential to engage a much more diverse set of perspectives and mobilize new stakeholders. - escience escience Apr 27, 2015

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on academic and research libraries?

  • Developing tools that allow the crowd to contribute knowledge about our collections would only serve to make our collections more valuable to new scholarship. Many of us have vast photo archives with people, places, and time periods that a larger community could help us identify. We have rich text collections, as well as audio and video archives, that could benefit from similar contributions. Crowdsourcing plays out like a game of "six degrees of separation." The impact on libraries is in building tools and curating/editing the crowdsourced content. - anthony.helm anthony.helm Apr 18, 2015
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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