Crowdsourcing in the Age of COVID

We promised pizza.

When the In Her Own Right project team started planning our second Metadata Enhancement Event, we thought we’d be sitting together in a computer lab on Drexel’s campus. And if you’re asking volunteers to help you, you gotta offer them pizza.

But when the specter of COVID-19 loomed before us, we knew we had to move our event online. Luckily, the PACSCL community rallied around us, and the event far exceeded our expectations.

The In Her Own Right Project Team originally conceived of metadata enhancement events as an opportunity to crowdsource the inclusion of additional metadata that would improve search and discovery in our database, and to enable the creation of maps, timelines, and network visualizations that will help us understand these materials in new ways. We also hoped it would be a way to give back to our community of archivists, digital humanists, and heritage-minded professionals and students by providing training on understanding metadata and its role in visualization and digital scholarship, and to meet people in the field who share their interests.

With COVID on the scene, it suddenly felt even more important to improve online accessibility of historical materials, as our reading rooms are closed to researchers and as students are displaced to virtual classrooms. Equally, it felt like a crucial moment to build community and to provide productive activities for librarians and archivists suddenly facing long stretches of time to spend working from home.

With these missions in mind, the Project Team was delighted to have over 50 eager volunteers, mostly librarians, archivists, and graduate students from the Philadelphia region. They proved an incredibly productive bunch:

  • Geographic locations added: 125
  • Geographic locations determined not appropriate: 68
  • Names added: 59
  • Subjects added: 24
  • Transcriptions completed: 20
  • Transcriptions incomplete: 2

Wow! Amazing yield for 1/2 a day’s work!

We also found time to have fun. Unable to deliver on our promise of pizza, instead we encouraged attendees to connect over some playful interactive polls – many of which were drawn from the pages of this very blog!

The abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and Quaker minister Lucretia Mott was also an excellent cook. Her papers are at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College. Click the image to learn more.
Graceanna Lewis was an abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and scientist noted for her scientific illustrations. Her papers are at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College. Click the image to learn more.
Read more on this blog! Click the image to learn more.
Belle Hawkes was a missionary based in Iran, who ministered to the needs of Armenian, Jewish, and Moslem women and children. Her papers are at the Presbyterian Historical Society. Click the image to learn more.
Read more about the significance of the “jeering episode” on this blog. Click the image to learn more.

We also crowdsourced a few fun facts during the day:

Our thanks go out to all of our wonderfully helpful participants. Their names will be added to our project team page at

And for anyone who missed it — don’t worry, more enhancement opportunities are coming soon!