We hope this finds you and your communities well. This bumper edition of our newsletter has information on active projects you can contribute to, and updates on a number of crowdsourcing projects from the British Library.
Mia Ridge writes: Living with Machines is a collaboration between the British Library and the Alan Turing Institute with partner universities. Help us understand the 'machine age' through the eyes of ordinary people who lived through it. Our refreshed task builds on our previous work, and includes fresh newspaper titles, such as the Cotton Factory Times.
What did the Victorians think a 'machine' was - and did it matter where you lived, or if you were a worker or a factory owner? Help find out: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/bldigital/living-with-machines
Your contributions will not only help researchers - they'll also go on display in our exhibition!
Launched in July this year, Agents of Enslavement? is a research project which explores the ways in which colonial newspapers in the Caribbean facilitated and challenged the practice of slavery. One goal is to create a database of enslaved people identified within these newspapers. This benefits people researching their family history as well as those who simply want to understand more about the lives of enslaved people and their acts of resistance.
Project Investigator Graham Jevon has posted some insights into how he processes the results to the project forum, which is full of fascinating discussion. Join in as you take part: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/gjevon/agents-of-enslavement
Dr. Gethin Rees writes: The community have now georeferenced 93% of 1277 maps that were added from our War Office Archive back in July (as mentioned in our previous newsletter).
Some of the remaining maps are quite tricky to georeference and so if there is a perplexing map that you would like some guidance with do get in contact with myself and our curator for modern mapping by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try to help. Please do look forward to some exciting news maps being released on the platform in 2022!
Project Update: Canadian Wildlife: Notes from the field
Fiona Stubbings writes: At the beginning of November the Unlocking Our Sounds Heritage (UOSH) project launched its first crowdsourcing project, Canadian Wildlife: Notes from the field. It had a small subject set and volunteers steamed through the data, completing the project in under three weeks. It was a simple transcription task using field notes that accompanied a collection of wildlife recordings made by a trucker on his travels around Canada. His audio recordings have been preserved by the UOSH project, and through the diligent efforts of the Zooniverse community, the data in the field notes can now also be added to our catalogue.
When our new BLSounds website launches in 2022, online visitors will be able to read the detailed contextual notes alongside listening to the audio. To evaluate the project we put up a short feedback form, which we hope will inform many more similar crowdsourcing projects for the sound archive in the future.
Project update: Two Centuries of Indian Print
Tom Derrick writes: Our ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ project built on their successful Wikisource proofreading competition earlier this year by running a second competition in collaboration with the West Bengal Wikimedians User Group. The competition ended on 30 November 2021. Across both competitions the community on Bengali Wikisource corrected more than 5,000 pages of text that had been automatically generated using OCR on our collection of digitised Bengali books. The corrected text is being validated by Wikisource administrators, with more than 35 books so far made publically available on Wikisource. Users can view page images and transcripts side-by-side and automatically translate them into more than 100 languages, or download for further exploration.
Project update: Living with Machines Ad or not?' task
Mia Ridge writes: In August we launched a new 'ad or not' task. Previous crowdsourcing tasks had given us an incredible dataset to work with, but our analysis hit a snag. Advertisements were often repeated in successive issues of a paper, so machines that were heavily advertised were over-represented in our data. You can see the impact of ads in these initial visualisations - the sewing machine might be familiar to people who took part in our first 'What was a machine?' task in late 2020.
The technology that aims to identify them does not work very well on nineteenth century newspapers, so we asked people to help identify ads. This was the first time we'd designed a task to work in the Zooniverse app, and the results were astonishing, as each datasets was completed almost overnight. We're now looking to use the results to train machine learning models to predict whether other text snippets are ads or not, then test those predictions with a Zooniverse task - this is an important and exciting next step for us. Overall, we saw nearly 30,000 classifications on our tasks this year.
Project update: In the Spotlight
Mia writes: You might have noticed that we've found it difficult to keep up with demand for playbills to transcribe on In the Spotlight! It might seem that the theatre has gone dark while we've had a technical issue when loading new volumes, but we've been busy behind the scenes on work to make the project more sustainable. Keep an eye out for some very exciting news in February or March!
Project update: the Collective Wisdom Project
Mia writes: It seems right to close with an update on our AHRC-funded Collective Wisdom project, which is now in its closing stages. In 2021, we gathered a group of collaborators to write The Collective Wisdom Handbook: perspectives on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage, which is available online as an open access publication. At the time of writing, it has had over 9,200 page views from 3,001 visitors.
After launching this first version of the book, we had an 'open community review' process from May to August, welcoming comments that enriched our text or created connections to related fields, practitioners and scholarship. We were delighted to have over 150 comments from readers during this review process. Co-Investigator Sam Blickhan wrote a blog post summarising the themes in this feedback. Many thanks again to everyone who read and commented on our book.
In October, we held a workshop designed to pick up some of the more difficult, intractable questions we weren't able to address in the book. We're currently turning our copious notes into a white paper.
You might also be interested in hearing Mia talk about crowdsourcing at the British Library on the MadeTech podcast, in an interview recorded over the summer.
I wanted to close by thanking you all for your contributions, whether it was volunteering for one of our projects, joining in discussions or reading about the processes behind the scenes, or just sharing our projects with others. Communities like this have been a bright point in a troublesome year.
With best wishes for a happy and healthy festive season, and a brighter 2022,
For Crowdsourcers at the British Library
Dr. Mia Ridge
Digital Curator, British Library