Archives wants Wikipedia volunteers to help digitize documents

"To-do" list includes documents involving Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman and Washington Monument

Editor's note: This article was modified after its initial publication to correct a date.

The National Archives and Records Administration wants help from Wikipedia and its thousands of “Wikipedian” volunteers.

NARA and the online public encyclopedia are sponsoring the new WikiProject NARA calling for wiki-savvy volunteers to help type, index, validate, proofread and catalog a treasure trove of the archives’ original historic documents being made available online for the first time.

NARA has thousands of original and scanned copies of many historic documents, such as handwritten letters and applications, that need to be typed, formatted and proofread into a readable digital form. Wikipedia, a nonprofit open-source encyclopedia produced primarily by volunteers, has had a lot of experience in making historic documents accessible to the public.

NARA’s first “Wikipedian-in-residence,” Dominic McDevitt-Parks, who is an intern at the agency this summer, spearheaded the WikiProject NARA by publishing a list of available documents that need to be prepared in digital formats.

The list includes:

  • An 1876 appeal to Congress written by suffragettes Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage for a constitutional amendment affirming equal rights for women.
  • A report dating from 1800 of the Joint Committee of the Washington Monument approving the construction of a monument honoring the first president and allocating $100,000 for the project.
  • A petition to Congress dating from 1893 from John Muir and founders of the Sierra Club.
  • A letter to Congress dating from 1877 from the former Queen of Hawaii protesting a decision affecting a million acres of Hawaiian land she claimed as royal property.

The list also includes many other notable documents that include President Richard Nixon’s calendar in 1969 and actor Yul Brynner’s application for immigration to the United States from Siberia in 1943.

The WikiProject NARA hopes to attract regular Wikipedia contributors who are familiar with the technical demands of converting archived documents into digital format. It also hopes to draw some new volunteers, according to a project statement on the Wikipedia website.

“Many records, while nominally available to the public, are not easily accessed over the Internet,” the project statement said. “This WikiProject aims to coordinate and oversee the addition of valuable works from NARA in the Wikisource corpus. It provides a common discussion area, lists of works that are wanted, in progress, needing work, and ready for normal proofreading to begin.

“It is hoped that this project will attract users from outside Wikisource, and there is plenty to do without being acquainted with the full Wikisource system (although if we can persuade new users to stay, so much the better!),” the statement concluded.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Sep 8, 2011 danite

If there is a petition from John Muir (b. 1838) to congress written in the 1820s, that would be news indeed. Perhaps Federal Computer Week could use some Wikipedians for its staff too.

Sat, Jul 16, 2011

What the author DOES NOT say is how these volunteers are to be given access to these documents! Do we have to be in the Washington area & go to the National Archives to do the scanning? or do they send us the original documents to scan (bad idea!)? Several genealogy entities have been using volunteers to transcribe or index digitized files (which takes a lot longer than scanning the pages!) for years! Wake up, National Archives, & welcome to the 21st century!

Wed, Jul 13, 2011 earth

The Google Books team might be a resource. Their techniques might be applicable if not their equipment and storage space.

Tue, Jul 12, 2011 Gregory Kohs Pennsylvania

It would be nice if the media (and the National Archives?) could learn the difference between Wikipedia and Wikisource. One is a dysfunctional snake pit using non-profit status to cloak an online defamation platform, while the other is a wiki-based archive of various sources.

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