I just got back from lovely Maysville, Kentucky, where the Kentucky Museum and Heritage Alliance is holding its annual meeting. This year the theme was "Negotiating the Rapids: Celebrating our Strength, Service and Stewardship". Months ago I submitted a program presentation on the topic of crowdsourcing and, amazingly, they selected my topic for the annual meeting.
So you may well ask, just what is this thing you call crowdsourcing? Wikipedia defines crowdsourcing as the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee, to an undefined large group of people or community, through an open call. Translated that means telling the world that you are looking for a solution to a problem and waiting for some unknown person to solve that problem, usually for free. Software developers and programmers have long used this method to fix glitches in programs, like "does anyone know how to..."
This can be really useful but, sometimes you get what you paid for, which is to say, not much. Now I don't have any immediate programming needs nor am I designing any software, so you might wonder what use museums and archives could have for this technique. Well, if you tweek the parameters just a bit this process can be transforming. If you broaden the model to a "creative services exchange" where the institution vets the crowd in advance, and the staff facilitate the exchange between staff and crowd, then this can be a melding of staff and crowd knowledge which benefits everyone in the end.
We are in the process of using this model with the William C. Ogden Photographic Negatives project. We, the staff at the Kentucky Historical Society, were responsible for caring for, housing and inventorying this collection of over 10,000 photographic negatives. However, the original housing for these negatives were glassine envelopes on which the photographer, Bill Ogden, had written sometimes cryptic notations.
We had the knowledge to do a basic inventory, but we needed more contextual information to truly process the collection and make it accessible and usable. For example, the envelope for the image below stated "Clay W. Buckner" but the image is of a woman in a wedding dress. Is this Clay Buckner's daughter? His bride? We, at KHS, lacked that information.
Enter our partner, the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, with director Sandra Stults and her community of volunteers. This museum is in Winchester, Kentucky, where Ogden resided for over 60 years. His photographic studio was well known throughout Clark County and neighboring Bourbon, Fayette, Woodford and Franklin Counties. Many of Sandy's volunteers knew Ogden or had seen photographic portraits created by him. And better yet, they knew their community, their neighbors and the stories that provided the context for these photographic negatives.
So Sandy and I met and cooked up a plan to bring these two groups together to share their knowledge and to build on that knowledge. We both wanted to learn more about the collection and to make it useful to researchers and community members alike. KHS wanted to inventory the collection and to digitize the images. Bluegrass Heritage Museum wanted to make the collection, or a portion of it, available locally in Winchester through an exhibit. And so this is the way we used crowdsourcing to inventory, describe, digitize and exhibit this wonderful collection.
First, we got the older community members to come to KHS to view the collection, and to work with staff to better describe the images.
Then, working with students from George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester, KY, Sandy and her volunteers selected the images they wanted to research, scan and exhibit.
Then they researched.
And they scanned.
And they described the results of their research and added this to the digital collection.
And we have the beginnings of a finished product. Just the beginnings, mind you, as there are 28 images up online and 10,000+ in the collection.
And we also have a group that can't wait to come back and do more research, scanning and description. And now that images are up online and on exhibit at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum in Winchester, we hope that others with knowledge about this photographer and his subjects will also share that information with us.
A true exchange. Two organizations working together to make these historic images available to their communities. Ahh, this is what we are talking about when we say "crowdsourcing".
For further information about the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, visit their website at www.bgheritage.com.
To view selections online, please go to our Digital Collection at www.kyhistory.com.
If you have information that can help us further identify the subjects of these images, please contact us at Refdesk@ky.gov. Please remember to identify the image by its accession number, so we can add your infomation to the correct image.
-- Louise Jones