Today's Chronicle: "Breaking Down Menus Digitally, Dish by Dish"

April 30, 2012

In today's Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a terrific profile of NYPL Labs -- the digital innovation arm of the New York Public Library. The article by Jennifer Howard is called "Breaking Down Menus Digitally, Dish by Dish" and discusses some of the innovative and engaging ways that NYPL Labs is helping to develop the library of the future. 

Several of the key projects highlighted in the article were funded by the NEH, including 

  • "What's on the Menu" (HD-51301-11) -- an ODH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant to support the development of a prototype interface for a tool that would allow scholars and interested members of the general public to contribute to transcription materials related to culinary history, using the menu collection of the New York Public Library as a testbed.
  • "NYC Chronology of Place, a Linked Open Data Gazetteer" (HD-51618-12) -- an ODH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant to develop a digital dictionary of place names which will allow scholars, students, teachers, and the public to find and connect historic information about the city from the NYPL collection.
  • "New York City Historical Geographic Information Systems" (PW-50717-10) -- a NEH Division of Preservation & Access Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant to support the digitization of a collection of 9,500 historical maps of New York City, dating from 1851 to 1922, and creation of related geographical information to be used with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools.

We have funded numerous experiments in crowdsourcing and there's no doubt it will be an important part of the public's engagement with digital collections. But often, media coverage tends to focus on crowdsourcing as simply a method of getting free labor that, ultimately, will improve the metadata in the collection. But as Howard notes (particularly in the quotes she includes from Trevor Owens of the Library of Congress), crowdsourcing is also a way of getting an interested public (the transcribers) deeply engaged with a library collection. At the end of the day, isn't deep engagement with the materials what we are hoping to see?