National Library of Finland Turns to Crowdsourcing, Games to Help Digitize Its Archives

The National Library of Finland has launched a new program to support the digitization efforts of its archives. The project, Digitalkoot (Digital Volunteers), blends microtasks, crowdsourcing, and video games to break up and distribute some of the dull repetitive work of verifying digitized records.

“We have millions and millions of pages of historically and culturally valuable magazines, newspapers and journals online. The challenge is that the optical character recognition often contains errors and omissions, which hamper for example searches,” says Kai Ekholm, Director of the National Library of Finland. “Manual correction is needed to weed out these mistakes so that the texts become machine readable, enabling scholars and archivists to search the material for the information they need.”

In order to accomplish this, the National Library has joined forces with Microtask, with the latter helping to design two games that will make this work entertaining.

In ‘Mole Hunt’ (Myyräjahti), the player is shown two different words, and they must determine as quickly as possible if they are the same. This uncovers erroneous words in archived material. In ‘Mole Bridge’ (Myyräsilta), players have to spell correctly the words appearing on the screen. Correct answers help badgers build a bridge across a river. Again, the game helps verify the OCR and make sure that digitized materials are accurate and searchable.

“We wanted to set up ‘Angry Birds for the Thinking Person’ – something which entertains but is also useful to us as a nation,” says Ekholm, who anticipates teachers and children will enjoy volunteering to help these digitization efforts. Additional phases of the project will be aimed at “more serious historical buffs.”

As libraries and archives worldwide are moving to digitize their collections, they face many challenges – in terms of technology, funding, access, and planning. To date, four million pages of different types of texts from the 18th to 20th centuries have been digitized, but there still remain huge bulks of cultural heritage archived only in paper files. “Our archives are national cultural heritage,” says Ekholm. “I am proud that even such a small nation as we are able to launch something like this.”

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