Harnessing the wisdom of the crowd

The two courses I’m currently studying (INF517 Digitisation and this INF506 Social Networking course) have most satisfyingly come together through the social media site Flickr, and in particular, a designated space known as The Commons, where a number of esteemed cultural heritage institutions, including the Library of Congress, and the National Maritime Museum, are uploading photographs from their digital historical image collections. They are turning to this social media platform to share selected photographs with the massive Flickr membership, thereby increasing awareness of their collections, but also to engage users with the images by encouraging participation in social classification – creating metadata by adding their own tags to describe the image, in addition to comments (Springer et al., 2008, p. iii). Other users can assign their own tags, collaborating to build a number of keywords ‘in the actual language of users’ to facilitate easier browsing and retrieval (Matusiak, 2006, p. 289). In many cases, the institutions have little information about the images, or a lack of time and resources to provide metadata, therefore drawing on the collective expertise of users, has enabled them to correct and update descriptions, and increase the likelihood of retrieval (Springer et al., 2008, p. iii).

So how are other libraries ‘using the crowd’ to enhance their collections? The National Library of Australia’s Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program uses crowd-sourcing to great effect with 9000+ volunteers involved in correcting electronically translated text. Rose Holley, the program’s manager, in her many hands make light work report finds that users are motivated by the ‘knowledge that they were helping other people’ and by ‘being able to make a small but effective contribution to the big picture’, demonstrating how a growing community of users have welcomed the opportunity to directly interact with the library’s resources and collaborate on a large-scale project. Here’s Mosman Library’s video of Rose discussing this program:

Many public libraries now offer a facility for user tagging, although a suitable tag for one user could offend others  as Mount Prospect Library has discovered. A library needs to tread a fine line between ensuring offensive tags are removed, but not over policing thereby discourage users from contributing. Jonathan Furner wrote an excellent paper on user tagging of library resources which discusses user tagging in some detail, including its benefits, considerations libraries should make before offering enabling users to share their tags, and criteria for evaluating the success or otherwise of this Library 2.0 tool.

And of course I shouldn’t forget to mention wikis, most notably wikipedia, which rely on a collective group collaborating to create and edit content on a vast scale. The more that participate, the better the wiki becomes (Fraser & Dutta, 2009).


Fraser, M., & Dutta, S. (2009). Throwing sheep in the boardroom: How online social networking will transform your life, work and world. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Furner, J. (2007). User tagging of library resources: Towards a framework for system evaluation. Paper presented at the World Library and Information Congress: 73rd IFLA General Congress and Council, 19-23 August, Duban, South Africa. Retrieved from archive.ifla.org/IV/ifla73/papers/157-Furner-en.pdf

Matusiak, K.K. (2006). Towards user-centered indexing in digital image collections. OCLC Systems & Services: International Digital Library Perspectives, 22(4), pp.283-298.

Springer, M., Dulabahn, B., Michel, P., Natanson, B., Reser, D., Woodward, D., & Zinkham, H. (2008). For the common good: The Library of Congress Flickr pilot project. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/flickr_pilot.html

Further reading

Wyatt, N. (2009). Redefining RA: The ideal tool. Library Journal, (15 October). Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6700362.html?industryid=47126

Tay, A. (2009). Libraries and crowdsourcing – 6 examples. Retrieved May 16, 2010 from http://library20.ning.com/profiles/blogs/libraries-and-crowdsourcing-6.


About Sue

Sue Page is in the process of completing a Masters in Library & Information Management from Charles Sturt University in Australia.
This entry was posted in Library 2.0, Social networking, Social tagging and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Harnessing the wisdom of the crowd

  1. Pingback: It may be the end, but it’s really just the beginning – Evaluative report, part a « Almost a Librarian…

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