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Students as citizen archivists and scientists: The new community service?

Wanted_Citizen Archivists & Scientists--A new community service (1)It may not be the typical white glove or laboratory experience, but students of history and science can find multiple opportunities to volunteer as citizen archivists or citizen scientists in a few important crowdsourcing efforts.

The Library of Congress, the National Archives and the Smithsonian offer parts of their collections to be organized and made accessible by employing the services citizen volunteers.

1. The Library of Congress was an early adopter of archival crowdsourcing. In fact, in 2008, the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division began to recruit volunteers to improve the findability of thousands of photographs using its Flickr Commons to identify people, places and additional data. Additional adventures in crowdsourcing include the American Archive of Public Broadcasting’s FixIt+ and Library of Congress Labs’ Beyond Words, which invite citizens to transcribe historic radio programs and to identify cartoons and photographs in the historic newspaper collections.

In the year of LOC’s 10th crowdsourcing anniversary,, offers another invitation to explore, transcribe and tag items that cannot be read by computers 
In the LOC Blog, Lauren Algee, LC Labs Senior Innovation Specialist shared this call for volunteers:

What yet-unwritten stories lie within the pages of Clara Barton’s diaries, writings of Civil Rights pioneer Mary Church Terrell, or letters written to Abraham Lincoln? [Check out the Abraham Lincoln Papers Challenge!] With today’s launch of, the Library of Congress is harnessing the poScreenshot of album page needing Review wer of the public to make these collection items more accessible to everyone .  .  .

People who join us will journey through history first-hand and help the Library while gaining new skills – like learning how to analyze primary sources and read cursive.

These human intensive efforts will improve access to documents computers cannot accurately read, for instance, letters the public wrote to Abraham Lincoln. New materials will be added regularly. Current plans include documents relating to women’s suffrage, American poetry and the history of psychiatry.  The first set of publicly-transcribed materials will be released in early 2019.

2. The National Archives Citizen Archivists Dashboard shares several Citizens Missions.  Current NARA transcribing and tagging missions involve documents relating to American Expeditionary combat forces in World War I, papers relating to Alger Hiss (accused of participating in a Communist espionage ring), records relating to former and last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Revolutionary War Prize Cases (relating to captured ships), Radium Girls (female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning while painting watch dials with luminescent paint in the early part of the 20th century), and American Scenic Byways (photographs of 150 All American Roads).

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NARA’s Mary King recently announced a new social media project. NARA’s Facebook chatbot allows citizen archivists to interact with the Archives’ staff and to improve accessibility.To start interacting with the chatbot, click on the Send Message button on our Facebook page, and say “Hi!”

The National Archives Facebook page not only regularly shares primary source goodies, its chatbot, engages citizens in transcription efforts.

Screenshot of US National Archives Facebook page
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Click and say “hi.” The chatbot will open and give you the option to tag a document or ask a question. When you choose to “tag a document,” you have the option to work with typed, handwritten items, or both. I was assigned a daily appointment sheer for President Truman.

3. The Smithsonian offers a variety of opportunities for engaging in Citizen Science research missions, with opportunities to help sustain species around the globe and even solve mysteries of the planets and stars!

neighborhood nestwatch

Neighborhood Nestwatch: Launched in 2000, this project invites citizen biologist to share data relating to the survival of bird populations. Each backyard becomes both a research site and an outdoor classroom.


Smithsonian Transcription Center invites citizen botanists, astronomers and those interested in women in science to transcribe data in specimen collection records and to transcribe full-text of field books and other archival text.

fox looks at camera

eMammal: encourages participants to install community camera traps to assist researchers in answering questions about mammal distribution and abundance.

leaf snap app

Leafsnap: This free mobile app is an electronic field guide about tree species that uses visual recognition software to identify tree species from high-resolution photographs of leaves. Participants can automatically share images, species identifications, and geo-coded stamps of species locations with a community of scientists who use the data to map and monitor the ebb and flow of flora.

eol logo

Encyclopedia of Life (EOL): Created in 2007 to as a field guide to all our planet’s nearly two million species, EOL engages both research organizations and citizen scientists around the globe to share biological data, photos, observations, and questions.

small green frog on leaf

Global Amphibian Bioblitz Citizen observations and photographs help scientists document the distribution and conservation status of every known amphibian species.

For even more citizen volunteer opportunities, check out the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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