‘World Class Rapid Digitization of Cultural Heritage’

Crowdsourcing: changing role for archivist?

The Dutch crowdsourcing project VeleHanden (many hands) is having its first birthday in November and a small party is justified. About 1400 volunteers are participating in projects enriching archival documents; some 2 million records being indexed. Recently Ellen Fleurbaay (Amsterdam City Archives) and Alexandra Eveleigh (University College London) researched the quality control in online user participation projects.

VeleHanden was an initiative of Amsterdam City Archives, and designed as an innovative public-private partnership between the archives and Picturae. Any archive service in The Netherlands is able to make scanned documents available on VeleHanden and ask for volunteers (the 'crowd') to help with indexing these documents, or transcribing them, or tagging photographs, or matching up data to scans.


Fleurbaay and Eveleigh observed a tension: 'Although the project appeared an instant hit with the volunteers, it didn't succeed in attracting as many archivist colleagues as had been hoped. Only 15 archival institutions joined Amsterdam City Archives in the first pilot project, the project for indexing the Militia Registers - even though for this pilot they didn't have to pay the fee for using VeleHanden, just the costs of digitising their own militia records. It was difficult to find a satisfactory explanation for this, until, when a presentation about VeleHanden was being given, somebody tweeted: 'Prone to error?'

One of their findings: 'Could there be a certain fear that the great workforce of the 'crowd' is going to make our work less interesting or even superfluous? We don't think so at all, but we do think it will bring about some changes of focus in our work.'