Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

31 December 2020

Highlights from crowdsourcing projects at the British Library

In this post, Dr Mia Ridge and others celebrate our award-winning contributors and share progress reports from a range of crowdsourcing projects at the British Library.

Despite significant challenges, 2020 was a year of remarkable achievements for crowdsourcing at the British Library. Read on for some highlights.

A quarter of a million contributions on LibCrowds

The LibCrowds platform, which hosts our In the Spotlight project and previously hosted Convert-a-Card, reached an incredible milestone in mid-December - a quarter of a million contributions! Our heartfelt thanks to the nearly 3000 registered volunteers, and countless anonymous others who contributed to this fantastic achievement via our projects.

The official launch - and completion! - of crowdsourcing tasks on Living with Machines

Building on the lessons learnt from earlier experiments, in early December we launched two new crowdsourcing projects with data scientists from the Living with Machines project. These projects aimed to integrate linguistic research questions with tasks that encouraged volunteers to engage with social and technological history in the pages of 19th century newspapers. We learnt a lot and tweaked the project after the feedback from Zooniverse volunteers, and were delighted to be recognised as an official Zooniverse project.

Thanks to the mighty power of Zooniverse volunteers, the tasks were completed within a few days. Analysing the results will keep us busy in the first few months of 2021.

In the Spotlight and Georeferencer contributors are award-winning!

Earlier this year, digital volunteers on the British Library's In the Spotlight and Georeferencer projects were nominated in the Community category of the British Library Labs awards. You can watch the 30 second videos about the nominations for In the Spotlight and Georeferencer on YouTube. Awards winners are decided by BL Labs and other Library staff with the BL Labs Advisory Board, and we're delighted to say that both projects won with a joint award for first place! 

Congratulations to all our contributors for this recognition of your work with our crowdsourcing tasks, and for discussing our collections and sharing your insights with us and others. 

In the Spotlight

In addition to the 255,000+ contributions above, volunteers have completed tasks on 148 volumes of historical playbills. We continue to work with our Metadata Services team to integrate these transcriptions into British Library systems. The project has a remarkable international reach, with visitors to the project from 1736 cities in 104 countries. Whether you're from Accra, Hanoi, London, Moscow, San Antonio or Zagreb - thank you!


Dr Gethin Rees, Lead Curator for Digital Map Collections, writes:

In 2014 the British Library released over 50,000 images of maps onto the Georeferencer that had been extracted from the millions of Flickr images from 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century books with the help of volunteers. Ever since then the volunteers have been hard at work adding coordinate data on the Georeferencer platform and I am delighted to announce that the collection has now been effectively completed. The upgraded Georeferencer and the time we have all had to spend indoors over the last months appear to have provided the project with a new impetus, well done to all! 

The work of Georeferencer volunteers on this Flickr collection of maps has been invaluable to the Library; the addition of coordinate data from the Flickr collection to the British Library's Aleph catalogue has offered a new metadata perspective for our collections. The Flickr maps can be browsed using an interactive web map allowing the public to easily discover maps of areas where they live or are interested in. We are intending on making the georeferenced maps available as GeoTIFFs on the British Library's Research Repository. A huge thank you to maurice, Janet H, Nigel Slack, Martin Whitton, Benjamin G, John Herridge, Singout, H Barber, Jheald and Michael Ammon and all the Georeferencer community for their amazing work on the platform and feedback over the years.

Find out more: Flickr Maps on the Georeferencer Finished!

Following the completion of the Flickr work, we released just under 8000 images from the K. Top collection onto the BL's Georeferencer. The maps are part of a larger collection of 18,000 digital images of historic maps, views and texts from the Topographical Collection of King George III that have been released into the public domain. The collection has been digitised as part of a seven-year project to catalogue, conserve and digitise the collection which was presented to the Nation in 1823 by King George IV.  The images are made available on the image sharing site Flickr, which links to fully searchable catalogue records on Explore the British Library. The Georeferencers have been making short work of these maps: they were added back in early October and 54% have already been completed. This initial 8000 is the first of two planned Georeferencer releases. 

Find out more: The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released

Endangered Archives Programme

Dr Graham Jevon, Cataloguer, Endangered Archives Programme, writes:

EAP's Siberian photographs project is close to moving to the next phase. Thanks to the amazing work of all our contributors, one task has been completed and the second task is almost complete.

But we still need your help to tag the last remaining photographs. You don't need any expert knowledge. And like hot mince pies, once they're gone, they're gone. So get tagging before someone else beats you to all the best photos!

In 2021, we are looking forward to processing the results in order to enhance the online catalogue and also to begin an exciting new research project based on the tags you have created - we hope to be able to share more news on this in the coming months!

Meanwhile, Russian curators Katya Rogatchevskaia and Katie McElvanney have been working hard behind the scenes on this project. One of the fruits of this work has been the translation of the Zooniverse platform terms into Russian. This will help enable any future crowdsourcing projects to publish their projects on Zooniverse in Russian as well as English.

Nominate a case study for the 'Collective Wisdom' project

This AHRC-funded project led by Dr Mia Ridge aims to foster an international community of practice and set a research agenda for crowdsourcing in cultural heritage. In March 20201 we'll collaboratively write a book on the state of the art in crowdsourcing in cultural heritage through two intensive week-long 'book sprint' sessions. We'd like to include case studies from a range of projects that include crowdsourcing, online volunteering or digital participation - please get in touch if you'd like to find out more or would like to suggest a project for inclusion.

Find out more: Collective Wisdom Project website.