About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Recently the Grants Office fielded a call from a county historical society considering a grant for an exhibit that would include a SMART Board. That recalled to mind the wonderful and nationally award-winning exhibit “Eating Out in Clay County” and the Clay County Historical Society. For that exhibit staff included blank notebooks wherein a visitor could respond to the exhibit as prompted by a question. The SMART Board would allow for the same kind of interaction electronically.

On the web, the Minnesota Historical Society recently began using Write on the Record, or WOTR (pronounced “water”), to enable visitors to annotate digital content, much like a reader of this blog can respond to the blog. For example, a researcher can annotate a database record using WOTR to let other researchers know of potential errors in the original, without altering the original record.

It’s encouraging to see how repositories of public trusts now more openly trust the public to add to the overall record. Your thoughts? What are ways that the public can add content by interacting with a local historical organization’s product?

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5 Responses to Allowing Public Annotation

  1. Well, we’ve kind of talked about this before.

    I do not think that it is a matter of institutions “trusting” the public to add to the record–it is what the public demands. This is Web 2.0 all over.

    I have to say, though, that it is kind of empowering to be able to add to the historical record of another organization through this two-way communication. I recently annotated a photograph in MHS’s Visual Resources Database through the WOTR program, and I was actually glad to be able to share what I have learned about Boy Scouts with the wider public.

    The Dakota believe that “we are all related.” So, too, historical knowledge. It is all related. We should absolutely avail ourselves of the opportunity to collectively pick the public’s brain.

    Everyone knows something that we don’t.


  2. Mary Warner says:

    We regularly write about county history and our artifact collections on our blog and we encourage people to send us their comments. We also have a page of unidentified photos on our website, one of which was identified by a website visitor.

    We love Web 2.0’s feedback abilities, but Web 2.0 is merely an extension of something we’ve been doing all along. For years, we’ve allowed researchers to add information to our Family Files. When they add information to family sheets, we ask that they write down the source of their information (even if THEY are the direct source). We’ve also done programming where we ask our visitors to contribute to our county history knowledge.

    This back and forth between our collections and our researchers is natural. We want to share and so do they. Web 2.0 expands those possibilities, making it easier for far-flung researchers to contribute. As Claudia said, it certainly helps organizations to check out each others’ resources with more ease than there was in the past.


  3. http://www.steve.museum/ is another social tagging application developed with a grant from IMLS for art museums around common keyword descriptions. One of the team members on this project is from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.


  4. Mary Warner says:

    Currently reading a book called “Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters” by Bill Tancer. The author studies the anonymous and aggregate online searches for information to see what can be learned about human behavior. According to Chapter 7, Web Who.O, the statistics for who will participate in contributing to content online breaks down this way: 1-9-90, with 1 being the number out of 100 who will seriously contribute online content (blogging, video uploads, etc.), 9 being the number of people who will occasionally contribute to online content (commenting on the content of others, perhaps adding a few things here or there), which leaves 90 lurkers (people who read, but don’t contribute) out of every 100 internet users.

    I wonder if those numbers will change as today’s connected children become tomorrow’s connected adults.


  5. “I wonder if those numbers will change as today’s connected children become tomorrow’s connected adults.”

    My experience working with high schoolers tells me that that they definitely will re-work that ratio. We have an entire generation of children, the majority of whom find it easier to communicate via e-mail, texting, Facebook wall, My Space chat, or Yahoo Instant Messenger.

    Good or bad, that means they will use the web and its accessories not just for information, but for nearly total socialization. (Think of the scene in WALL-E where the people don’t talk to each other, they just ride around in their chairs and “chat” endlessly.) While there will always be the need for f2f (that’s face-to-face for the non-tech savvy :-)), it will be the degree to which communication will be handled in bits, bytes, megabytes, and gigabytes, that will radically change. If it hasn’t already.


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