Public Participation Provides Digital Libraries and Archives With Richer Content

The success of all web 2.0 initiatives depends on user contribution. When libraries and archives put together a good interface and provide a purpose that inspires users to contribute, their web 2.0 initiatives can be a success. In this post I’ll look at two successful web 2.0 projects lead by a digital library and an archive that succeeded because of their ability to encourage the participation of their users. The end result is richer content created for the benefit of all users.

Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg

Distributed Proofreaders is an organization that consists of volunteer users that transcribe  digitized ebook images for Project Gutenberg. The site provides a specialized interface to do this proofreading, along with specific (but easy to understand) transcription and proofreading guidelines. The community is organized by projects (a project for every book) and these projects are overseen by volunteer project managers. Each book goes through many proofreaders before it is deemed ready to be made available via Project Gutenberg.

This project has become a success because::

  • It’s simple to get started, although registration is required.
  • It’s fun and purposeful (for literary devotees!)
  • It allows users to make a useful contribution to others.
  • It brings users together as community, collaborating together on something they believe is important.
  • The interface is easy to use.
  • The community system encourages mastery of the ability to proofread well and quickly by providing “Top Proofreader” lists and different levels of difficulty for books.

Since August 2011, over 21,350 books have been transcribed to text and made freely available to users in many ebook formats. The result has been more useable, error-free content for the Project Gutenberg digital library and its many users.

“Mapping Our Anzacs” and the National Archives of Australia

Mapping Our Anzacs is a website put together by the National Archives of Australia as a public access effort. It provides copies of digitized archival records within their archival context alongside social networking type features that allow users to tell their own family histories of those that served in World War I.

The Mapping Our Anzacs site is an excellent example of an archival ‘mash-up’ site that uses many web 2.0 features, including Geo-tagging, and  links to delicious and Digg. The ANZAC scrapbook provides users the ability  to post their own documents and images that relate to the archival documents.

The main page shows a map of Australia, that when clicked, brings up a zoomed in view of each province with Google Maps geo-tagging of all the towns that had residents enlist in World War I. Each enlistee is linked to   information taken from the archives about that person (service number, place of birth, place of enlistment, next of kin) alongside the digitized archival copy of their enlistment record. Users are encouraged to share they information they find via delicious and digg. Below the record is space for any scrapbook entries about this person to appear, which is user-submitted content. Clicking on the link underneath “WWI file” takes the user into the records database of the National Archives of Australia and shows the record information for that archival document. From here, you can see the full archival context of the material by choosing the series number link. The user can also customize the information displayed, request a copy of the record, and view the digitized copy of the record.


How do these organizations inspire users to contribute? These web 2.0 sites give their users a purpose that is relevant to their lives and allows them to make a contribution that may be useful to others. They may not be ‘social media’ on the same level as Twitter or Facebook but they provide interfaces where users can share their efforts,  participate in the process, and make an impact. In turn, libraries and archives succeed by getting richer content to share with their other users.

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