A few weeks ago on The Text Message, I introduced Wikimedia’s Wikisource project to you. A sister project of Wikipedia, Wikisource is a free repository of primary-source texts which are transcribed, proofread, and arranged—like Wikipedia—collaboratively by a community of online volunteers. It is my pleasure to announce that, since August 15, Wikimedia’s presence now extends even into the National Archives’ online catalog. The National Archives now links to any validated Wikisource transcriptions of National Archives documents from our catalog. You can see all the pages linked so far at this listing; the first batch included 21 transcribed documents, with 4 more added the next week. Each of these has a little icon on their page linking to the catalog record and a banner on their associated discussion page that mentions their status as NARA-linked transcriptions. “Validated” transcriptions are ones in which every page has passed Wikisource’s system of transcription and proofreading, which requires two humans to have independently approved them. We are hoping to encourage more volunteers to help transcribe our documents using Wikisource, and the project is currently featured on Wikisource’s main page.
If you take a look at one of the records with the new links, like Henry Blackwell’s “Objections to Woman Suffrage Answered,” you’ll see what these catalog records look like in practice:
Here’s a screenshot of these fields’ placement on the page:
We are going to be adding similar links in our catalog to documents in Wikimedia Commons and the Internet Archive, where volunteers from the International Amateur Scanning League’s FedFlix project have digitized videos that the National Archives does not host in its catalog, and often are only otherwise available if purchased from Amazon (as covered on the AOTUS blog previously). In the future, there may be a field in the catalog record for adding transcriptions and we may have capability to embed full-length, high-quality sound video directly in the catalog records, meaning the content produced by online volunteers would be displayed in full in our own catalog, rather than having to link to an external web page. For now, though, this measure ensures greater access for researchers within our current means.
I am excited because this means our efforts engaging the Wikimedia projects are not just benefiting visitors to their own sites, but are also adding value directly back to our own site. Researchers using the National Archives’ catalog will benefit even if they had never heard of Wikisource or Commons before, and wouldn’t have visited them to find information about our documents. Finally, unreservedly recommending these sites as a resource, which the catalog now does, should hopefully also help demonstrate to the Wikimedia community that the National Archives supports and appreciates work by Wikimedians which adds value to its collections, and encourage more of it.
On a more general note, there is enormous untapped potential here for archives and other institutions. Wikisource houses thousands of texts, many of which, especially the ones that are unique documents, are held in the collections of libraries and archives whose users would benefit from its transcriptions but will never find them using the institution’s catalog and research tools. Some institutions are already ahead of the National Archives in this regard, and none of this would be news for them. Notably, the National Library of Sweden provides links to the full text of documents on the Swedish Wikisource, articles of authors in the Swedish Wikipedia, and even includes wiki citation format among the outputs for its “Cite” widget (example record), while the National Library of France links each page of its scanned books to the corresponding page on the French Wikisource, inviting visitors to help transcribe (see “Contribute” link on this example page). However, it’s a shame that most institutions are unaware of the work done by Wikisource and the other Wikimedia projects, because it means that their patrons are missing out. Institutions could also get involved more directly and donate their images of texts to Wikisource to encourage transcription, as the National Archives is doing (and the National Library of France did), and even use it as a collaborative platform for the institution’s own volunteers to transcribe its documents. Hopefully this is only the beginning of more similar partnerships between Wikimedia and those institutions which have a stake in its work that enhance their ability to make documents more accessible and usable.