NARA enlists Wikipedia volunteers to help get documents online

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

What works for Wikipedia can work for the National Archives.

At least, that's what leaders at the National Archives and Records Administration are hoping for, with help 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 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 1820 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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