The Oxford DH community gathered earlier this month for an interesting workshop entitled “Digital Impacts: Crowdsourcing in the Arts and Humanities.”
Open Source blogger Mia Ridge, responding on a recent report on crowdsourcing in the humanities (Stuart Dunn, Mark Hedges), offered some insight into the re appropriation of the model from the business world to “form, nurture and connect with communities.” Blogging her impressions of the day, Ridge’s input is just another reason why blogging represents the potential for free information dissemination ( free DH Oxford workshop info for student bloggers in the Midwest and beyond!). In regards specifically to ‘sourcing cultural heritage content, I found Ridge’s definitions to be an open ended challenge: [crowdsourcing can be seen as]] “a form of engagement that contributes towards a shared, significant goal or research question by asking the public to undertake tasks that cannot be done automatically”…”productive public engagement with the mission and work of memory institutions.” The concept of such ‘citizen science’ is really something, particularly when it’s looking more and more like the results of serving content to the volunteering masses can have incredible results.
In considering the topic at hand, first and foremost it’s important to recognize that crowdsourcing, though it began in the business world, has definitely come a long way in its academic iteration. Always it seems that we in the library seek to push away from the branding and funneling down of business models so often imposed upon our work and services. Clearly we need a better analogy, a more resonant parallel. Terminology, though interestingly powerful in its own right, is less of the issue here than that of perception: librarians and DHers don’t want to be seen in a commercial light any more than we consider our work to be reductive in this sense. I’d argue that somewhere in the chain between student, administration, and information facilitator (instructor or librarian) there is a broken link. Students are becoming customers of their education in a way which isolates their experience to a dollar value amount- the very opposite information climate of ‘sourcing for its own educational sake.
The role of community is, unsurprisingly, a recurrent theme when we consider the crowdsourcing of culturally relevant materials. With the increase of OA initiatives across the board (huzzah!), it’s useful to consider the ways in which the ‘choir invisible’ interacts with broadly available info. The rash appearance of MOOCs is supportive evidence enough when it comes to the involvement of a wide audience with academic content, specifically within the humanities. While a useful tool in and of itself, I think there’s a lot to be learned when we consider how ‘sourcing effects the exchange knowledge within the academic communities. Particularly interesting is the concept of greater content quality through the inherent peer review aspect of crowdsourcing. It’s fascinating to think that we’re essentially dropping content into the network, running it through the various intellectual channels that humanity has to offer online, and plugging it back in. While this raises all manner of question about access (and, perhaps, what type of person participates in humanities related crowdsourcing?), but the potential is exciting.