Show and Tell: Citizen Archivist Dashboard

The National Archives has just launched an exciting new initiative, the Citizen Archivist Dashboard. The Dashboard is a crowdsourcing tool similar to the NYPL’s What’s on the Menu. The Dashboard provides cool ways for the public to interact with and contribute their knowledge and expertise to building digital information about the records in the Archives. The Dashboard consists of various activities that are hosted on external sites, like Flickr and Wikipedia. Some of these activities include:

Tagging: In this feature, you take part in a tagging “mission,” to add tags to items in the Archives online database to help make it more searchable and accessible. The site does require you to create your own log-in. The missions are pretty interesting – they include things like tagging World War II posters, Lewis Hine photographs, and records from the Titanic. The photo below, from a 1973 conference on the electric car, is from a tagging mission on the EPA’s Documerica photo series.

Transcription: The Dashboard has a transcription pilot program to crowdsource the transcription of mostly handwritten documents that would be hard to decipher when viewing on the internet. The interface makes it very easy to use, and no log-in is required. You see the document on the screen and type. The documents are sorted into beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Here is an example transcription page for Truman’s diary from July 17, 1945. You see the original document and type the transcription in the box below:

The Archives relies on the public to review and correct the transcriptions. The transcription tool is still in its early phase. A problem I discovered is that it seems unclear whether or not a document has been transcribed. Some documents say they are completed when they are not, and vice versa. Also, it appears at this time nearly all documents have been completed. And the transcriptions are not connected to the documents in the online catalogue – so when you search on the document you wouldn’t know that a transcription exists. Still, this is an excellent tool which hopefully will be improved, with more documents added to be transcribed.

Other Features: It seems the tagging and transcription tools are the most accessible parts of the Dashboard. But other features include tools to help the public contribute to the Archives’ wiki, and upload photos to the Flickr page. The Dashboard also has information about contests to enter and upcoming events involving social media. There is also a page inviting the public to index the 1940 census (which was just released a few weeks ago and is worthy of its own post!)

Altogether, the Citizen Archivist Dashboard offers the public different ways to help contribute to building the online information available at the National Archives, and is definitely worth checking out.

One Reply to “Show and Tell: Citizen Archivist Dashboard”

  1. The “Upload & Share” feature was not what I expected at all. Rather than soliciting general content, the specific focus of the tool on collecting photos and scans of existing photos and documents taken by individual researchers on trips to the physical archives seems like an odd concept to me. As a long shot, I could see how it might potentially be a helpful stopgap for scholars who can’t travel to DC to use the archives. At the same time, it seems like there are too many factors that are difficult to control, such as appropriate and complete labeling, photo quality, and people ignoring the directive to only post NARA materials, that would make it difficult to find anything useful. Plus, I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be if you found that the only other person who’s looked at the document you were interested in the last hundred years had posted scans online but stopped before the page that you needed because it was outside the scope of their project.

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