Creating Citizen Science Data through Public Collection

Creating Citizen Science Data through Public Collection
by Trinity College Dublin

As introduced before, another major example of how involvement in citizen science can be structured is by calling the public to provide artefacts and historical memorabilia to create or enhance collections and archives. In this module, we approach public collections as archives, art and cultural collections that are:

  • Open and accessible by the public
  • Contributed by the public
  • Co-created by the public (co-curated)

There are a number of discussions and tensions on what constitutes a private or public collection, especially in art. Here, however, we will focus on giving you a glimpse of the various public collections with mainly cultural content and introduce you to initiatives and citizen science projects that developed and curated such collections.

An initiative worth mentioning that encompasses two of the criteria of a public collection as listed above is The Public Collection. This initiative is a public art and literacy project developed to improve literacy, foster a deeper appreciation of the arts (and artists), and promote social and educational justice in the community of Indianapolis, USA. Its mission was to increase the access to books through the use of functional pieces of art in familiar settings. Through a curated process, Indiana-based artists were commissioned to design unique book share stations or lending libraries that were installed in public spaces around the state. Each book share station holds a varied selection of books for diverse audiences and age groups. The Public Collection stations are free and available to everyone. Passersby can borrow and return books at their leisure while books are supplied and stocked by the Indianapolis Public Library.

To list two examples of cultural heritage public collections, we could mention Artstor and Europeana. Artstor’s ever-growing public collections offer approximately 1 million freely accessible images, videos, documents, and audio files from library special collections, faculty research, and institutional history materials, as well as hundreds of thousands of open access images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This material is open, free and accessible to anyone through the website. These public collections are cataloged, managed, and shared by institutions such as Cornell University, Colby College, RISD, and MIT. They are also discoverable alongside the core collections of more than 2.5 million images from leading museums, photo archives, scholars, and artists available to subscribers to the Artstor Digital Library.

Europeana, having as its motto “transforming the world with culture”, is one of the most significant initiatives at a European level of collecting, sustaining and promoting Europe’s rich cultural heritage. By collecting a variety of content, such as music, books, films, art or social history manuscripts, from institutions all over Europe, it aims to make this valuable content more accessible and more beneficial to more and more people. Apart from collecting and openly sharing cultural heritage resources to the public, Europeana has been really active in crowdsourcing techniques for enriching resources or co-creating online collections. Europeana Migration Cultural Heritage was such an initiative, calling the public to contribute content that had to do with the topic of historical migration to and from Europe and/or to host a collection day to collect stories and material relating to migration and family history.

It is interesting to also note here cases of public co-curation of collections. The Brooklyn Museum (U.S.) and Kröller-Müller Museum (Netherlands) have organised such public curated exhibitions. Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition (Brooklyn Museum) first collected works of photography through an open call and then asked the audience to evaluate the works. Following that, the works were exhibited depending on their relative ranking in the public evaluation. Another example comes from the Kröller-Müller Museum which in 2010 organised two public-curated exhibitions based on a selection of artworks of its own collection: Expose: My Favourite Landscape was entirely curated by children who, through a website, chose their favourite landscapes among a set of fifty proposed by the Museum and gave their reasons why the works had to be included in the exhibition. Twenty artworks were then exhibited.

“Perceptual Dialectology of Irish Accents” project

What is Perceptual Dialectology?

Perceptual Dialectology (PD) is a branch of sociolinguistics that looks at how people living within a geographical region perceive the accents of other geographical regions, or their own region, and therefore relies very heavily on the participation of large numbers of members of the public to get the widest view.

How was data gathered in the Irish Accents project?

The Irish Accents project started out as an outreach exercise at the Dublin Language Garden in 2015, and was run by Vicky Garnett and Stephen Lucek at Trinity College Dublin.  Over the course of one evening, members of the public who had come to the Dublin Language Garden event were asked to draw where they thought different boundaries lie between different dialects in Ireland on a blank map.  The map was deliberately left without any borders drawn on it so as not to influence the lines the participants drew.

In addition to drawing lines, they were also asked to write what they thought the features of the dialects they had identified were, and what the characteristics of the people who spoke the dialect were.  This gave both geographical information, and qualitative information.

The drawn maps were collected (from the 24 adults who had participated), the boundaries were ‘traced’ and entered into a GIS, and the qualitative data was entered into a spreadsheet and then annotation software for analysis.  The results were presented at a linguistics conference in 2016, and submitted for publication in a forthcoming book.

How Perceptual Dialectology makes further use of citizen science techniques

Other PD projects make further use of citizen science techniques by taking the maps that were gathered in a public collection exercise, and re-presenting them to other members of the public to see if they might agree with the way boundaries have been drawn, or the features assigned to them.  This then makes perceptual dialectology a more iterative process to gain a closer idea of how attitudes between groups of people in a geographical space can be formed, create a sense of identity, or even reveal how certain types of discrimination (either conscious or unconscious) are formed.

Your progress through the "Citizen Science in the (Digital) Arts and Humanities" module