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Help the New York Public Library With a Massive Archival Project

One way to uncover valuable information about people after they’re gone is to search through their boring old paperwork. The New York Public Library knows this, has a lot of old paperwork, and is asking for the public’s help in cataloging it.

The stories they’re looking to tell are those of immigrants in 19th and early 20th century New York. During that time, Emigrant Bank (founded by members of the Irish Emigrant society) was one of the largest in the nation, and made sizeable investments that greatly aided the growth of the city. To give you an idea of their reach, Emigrant Bank provided loans for things like the construction of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a public works project that eventually became Central Park. Twenty years ago, the bank donated their large collection of archival records to the NYPL, who microfilmed them.

With “Emigrant City,” the NYPL aims to digitize those real estate records and pull data from the roughly 6,400 handwritten mortgage and bond ledgers. When complete, the information will be searchable and organized, and thus more useful to genealogists and historians who are interested in the lives of immigrant families from a century ago.

In achieving such a large-scale goal, the library needs help. They’re asking volunteers to extract information from the records via high resolution images. The tasks are divided into three categories: marking, transcribing and verifying, which can be done independently of one another if, you know, marking happens to be your thing. That task involves identifying fields on a page and drawing boxes around them, while transcribing is trying to decipher the numbers and words in the boxes, and verifying is checking those transcriptions for accuracy. The library’s software runs an algorithm that looks for agreement among transcriptions. When contrast arises, verification users vote on which transcription looks most accurate.

The project is a cool way to flex those archival nerd muscles and contribute to a collection that will serve to add to the complex history of one of the most storied cities in the world.

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

Update: GIF IT UP has announced that this year’s grand prize winner will receive an Electric Object, a digital art frame. The winner of the people’s choice category will get a Giphoscope, while runners-up for the general competition and the winner of the first-time GIF-maker category will get gift cards. There will also be special prizes for several themed categories, including transportation, holidays, Christmas cards, and animals.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images
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The Library of Congress Wants Your Help Identifying World War I-Era Political Cartoons
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. government’s official library wants your help. And it involves cartoons.

The Library of Congress just debuted its new digital innovation lab, an initiative that aims to improve upon its massive archives and use them in creative ways. Its first project is Beyond Words, a digitization effort designed to make the research library’s historical newspaper collection more search-friendly. It aims to classify and tag historical images from World War I-era newspapers, identifying political cartoons, comics, illustrations, and photos within old news archives. The images come from newspapers included in Chronicling America, the library’s existing newspaper digitization project.

The tasks involved in Beyond Words are simple, even if you know nothing about the illustrations involved going into it. The Library of Congress just needs people to help mark all the illustrations and cartoons in the scanned newspaper pages, a task that only involves drawing boxes to differentiate the image from the articles around it.

Then there’s transcription, involving typing in the title of the image, the caption, the author, and whether it’s an editorial cartoon, an illustration, a photo, a map, or a comic. The library also needs people to verify the work of others, since it’s a crowd-sourced effort—you just need to make sure the images have been transcribed consistently and accurately.

A pop-up window below an early 20th century newspaper illustration prompts the user to pick the most accurate caption.

Screenshot via labs.loc.gov

The data will eventually be available for download by researchers, and you can explore the already-transcribed images on the Beyond Words site. Everything is in the public domain, so you can remix and use it however you want.

With the new labs.loc.gov, “we are inviting explorers to help crack open digital discoveries and share the collections in new and innovative ways,” Carla Hayden, the library’s head, said in a press release.

Other government archives regularly look to ordinary people to help with the monstrous task of digitizing and categorizing their collections. The National Archives and Records Administration, for instance, has recently crowd-sourced data entry and transcription for vintage photos of life on Native American reservations and declassified government documents to help make their collections more accessible online.

Want to contribute to the Library of Congress’s latest effort? Visit labs.loc.gov.

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