This panel explored the potential of online platforms to open up access to collections through crowdsourcing, virtual volunteering, and co-curation of online resources. It considered the ways of establishing online communities of active engagement and the democratisation of content creation and discovery these can bring. 

Mary McKenzie, Shropshire Archives

Shropshire Archives and Museums have for many years developed innovative programmes for in house volunteers, most recently through the very successful Heritage Lottery funded project Volunteering for Shropshire’s Heritage which engaged with over 400 people during its three year term.

Now a new project Heritage Heroes funded by Arts Council England, has engaged with volunteers across the world through a programme of digital virtual volunteering. The project ( offers a wide range of opportunities for volunteers to decipher, describe, transcribe and index archive and museum resources from a number of institutions across the county.

The project is ground breaking in its approach. Records enhanced by the volunteers are moderated and then integrated into the core cataloguing systems used by partners, including CALM, ADLIB, Modes. These records are then updated on the online catalogue at, thereby creating a much improved online resource and highlighting the importance and value of the collections.

This paper will examine the successes and lessons learnt from the project including:

  1. Technical issues – can you develop an innovative website on a small budget?
  2. Engaging with varied partners including voluntary museums – do different collections need a different approach?
  3. Marketing and promotion to recruit virtual volunteers – is face to face still relevant?
  4. Supporting virtual volunteers and moderating their work – how can you encourage people to read the instructions?
  5. Sustaining volunteering, both in person and virtually – what can continue when project funding stops?
  6. The impact of large scale volunteering on services – how core is volunteering?

By exploring these questions the presentation aims to reveal the issues around virtual volunteering, if not necessarily having an answer to all of them!

The presentation will also include the opportunity for those with laptops and smart phones to have a go at a project live and give their feedback.

Moira Rankin and Jennifer Novotny, University of Glasgow

Since the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the University of Glasgow has collected information on the wartime service of our community. Crowdsourcing in 1914 was done by postcard, collecting newspaper obituaries and by word of mouth. That data was brought together in several published editions of a Roll of Honour between 1915 and 1922. The postcards and manuscript indices were preserved in the University Archive and are now digitised as an important tool for centenary remembrance activities and academic research. 

In 2005 the University Archives made a digital Roll of Honour available online and began the process of compiling biographies to reveal the individual stories of the seven hundred and sixty men and one woman who fell in the Great War, and the thousands more who served and survived. Stories have trickled in via email and letter ever since.

The widespread interest in the University’s Roll of Honour, even more visible during the centenary, has made us question our definition of the University community. The online crowd submitting information today can be both temporally and geographically far removed from 1914-18. Furthermore, our digital crowd-sourcing initiatives seem to work best when married with analogue events anchored in the physical space of the University of Glasgow. 

Lessons learned from a century of crowdsourcing initiatives will be shared in this paper, including the real-world challenges of supporting today’s virtual volunteers and citizen researchers.

Sally Crawford, Katharina Ulmschneider and Victoria Brown, University of Oxford

HEIR – the Historic Environment Image Resource – is a collaborative project to unlock the research potential of thousands of historic lantern-slide and glass plate photographs held at the University of Oxford. Bringing together scholars, software developers and a world-wide community of ‘citizen scientists’, this digitizing, crowd-sourcing and rephotography initiative draws on the contribution of citizen scientists to keyword and identify old photos of monuments, landscapes and environments taken across the world and to re-photograph them in their modern settings.

The project has created a world-wide accessible, interdisciplinary research resource which will provide a greater understanding of all aspects of society and the environment in disciplines as varied as heritage conservation, anthropology, archaeology, art history, economics, geography, geology, heritage conservation, history, politics, and tourism.

The data provided will form the core of a massive interdisciplinary database supplying information on changing monuments, landscapes, and environments. It will allow researchers and the public to look at and study the impact of time, nature, people, and to have a conversation about the future.

Our paper will assess the extent to which our intended goals – to bring ‘redundant’ archives, currently inaccessible to researchers and the general public, into the public domain; to widen engagement with the resource; to generate impact; to generate new research; and to generate income without compromising accessibility – are being reached five months after the launch of the project.