Crowdsourcing and Digital Libraries

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On May 27, 2012, a Waco Tribune-Herald article about a collection of photographs in The Portal to Texas History presented a true mystery. The photos had been discovered in a “junk store north of Waco, stuffed inside a dirty plastic bag” by Mike Cochran who brought them to the UNT Libraries to digitize. The Waco Tribune article put out a call to the Waco community to view the collection and identify the people in the photographs. The plan worked and the story unfolds.

Through the Portal’s feedback system, Waco community members have been submitting the names of people and locations in the photographs, such as with this wedding photograph. With such wonderful input from the community, a follow-up article was written in the Waco Tribune-Herald. It turns out that the little boy with the bicycle is Larry Wydermyer, and the photographer was Junious M. Williams who was Wydermyer’s neighbor at the time. According to Wydermyer, Junius Williams had a photography studio in the back of his house and took photographs of the neighborhood kids, weddings, church gatherings and other events as a side business.

As members of the Waco community continue to provide names through the Feedback system, the Portal team will add the information to the records. This is an example of crowdsourcing, which basically means a group or organization puts out call for assistance and relies on a voluntary group of individuals to answer that call. The most well-known example of this is probably Wikipedia. Considering the success seen in identifying the photographs and subjects, the Portal hopes to widen the scope of its crowdsourcing, and will work with several partners, including the Texas Fashion Collection. With the help of people who were there, and who can remember the places, people, and events, the Portal is helping to preserve and make available many important segments of history that would otherwise be lost.

–submitted by Tara Carlisle, Project Development Librarian, External Relations