Crowdsourcing, Digital Volunteering and Science
by Gabrielle Spiers, Senior Editor
One of the great things about the internet is that it brings people together from all over the world and allows them to collaborate on projects. Many people have heard of the Citizen Archivist Dashboard, which is part of the National Archives. It allows people to tag and transcribe documents, making these historical documents increasingly accessible. The Smithsonian also has a digital volunteer program where you can sign up to help with various transcription projects. You can search for volunteer programs by museum or by themes.
I recently stumbled across Penguin Watch, which allows users to monitor penguins in remote areas from the comfort of home. This discovery lead me to learn more about the Old Weather Project — a collaboration with the National Archives and Citizen Science projects. Both of these projects are part of the Zooniverse, home of the largest, most popular, and most successful citizen science projects on the internet.
The projects mentioned are heavily based in classification, such as tagging and metadata. As an information professional, I am always interested in different classification systems and tagging is probably the easiest way to classify, assuming there is a standardization and people all use the same tags. I also find it interesting that hundreds of people around the world are willing to volunteer to make this information more accessible.
After I started looking for citizen science projects, I realized that there were a lot of these projects out there. Scistarter is a collection of projects you can search based on various criteria, including whether you want to do the project online, at home, or outside. It also includes information about cost. While there are many online project options, there are also opportunities for real-time interactive projects in the local and national community. For example, mystery snail project is local for me, but the ZomBeeWatch project is national in scope.
These more interactive projects would make good suggestions for people coming to the library looking for summer activities, as well as teachers or homeschooling parents looking for ideas to engage students. Some of the projects could also be turned into summer activities to do through the library. The Cornell Ornithology Lab has several citizen scientist projects, including their Celebrate Urban Birds project which partners with local community organizations. For people who prefer amphibians there is the North American Amphibian Program , which allows volunteer to help assess frog and toad population trends. Finally I also discovered a game called Nanocrafter, a fun and interactive scientific discovery game about synthetic biology.
Do you have experience volunteering with nation wide projects? Please feel free to share your story and provide suggestions on opportunities to get involved.