Making collections accessible online through crowdsourcing

For heritage institutions, crowdsourcing is a fantastic solution to making collections accessible. Every archive or museum has a sizeable collection that is never considered for digitisation and indexing, as it is too much work for the employees and volunteers there. As with crowdsourcing an appeal is made to the general public, this suddenly becomes possible. Many hands make light work.

Heritage Helpers

In order to facilitate the crowdsourcing of heritage collections, Picturae BV has developed Heritage Helpers: a crowdsourcing website for the heritage sector. On this  website any heritage institution with a collection can put forward a project to be made accessible by the ‘crowd’, i.e. the general public. The project is organised in such a way on Heritage Helpers that the volunteers can work from their own computer, at a time that suits them. The required activites range from indexing to image selection. It is remarkable that whilst anyone can work on it, the quality of work delivered is unprecedented. The passion with which the volunteers work for Heritage Helpers should not be underestimated.

Work off your hands

Institutions which take part can chose for themselves to what extent they wish to be involved in the crowdsourcing. Picturae can organise everything, from digitisation to the delivery of the finished project, most institutions, however, chose to actively contribute to guiding their project. The interaction with the volunteers has in fact been found to be both valuable and fun. When the project is completed, then the project is taken off Heritage Helpers and sent back to the institution. The institution can then decide whether to integrate the collection within their own website or to present it on a new website. 

What are the possibilities?


With the aid of pre-prepared forms, the volunteer gathers information, for example ‘name’, ‘location’ and ‘date of birth’ on the basis of the scanned source.


Volunteers ensure that the different information is linked to each other. For example a person’s name will be linked to the correct register. 

Image selection

Based on contact sheets with series of negatives, volunteers choose the best image in the series.


Adding keywords to photos. This may be with previously prepared ‘tags’, but it is also possible to allow volunteers to think of their own keywords.

Your choice

If other tools are necessary in order to make your source documents accessible, then customised development is always a possibility.

Why Heritage Helpers?


Research has shown that the quality that the Heritage Helpers crowd delivers is unprecedentedly high. The volunteers work on Heritage Helpers with immense passion. Furthermore we have taken steps to monitor quality using technology. First of all, of course, we provide a good instruction manual. In addition, Heritage Helpers is organised in such a way that each scan is always entered by two different volunteers and then validated by a third. If the validator has more questions about the scan, he or she can ask the appointed expert from the heritage institution for the project who knows the collection well.


To crowdsource your project a large group of volunteers works to make your collection accessible. They could be volunteers who already work for you, but people you don’t know could also get involved. Since participants post their questions and comments on the forum, you can get a good idea of what they are doing, and they are very happy to receive your help when they have a question. As you make your project accessible online, you foster engagement with your organisation and get to know your audience.

Quick, cheap and efficient

Indexing is extremely time consuming. It is, therefore, very efficient to have a large group of volunteers doing the work. Many hands make light work! Since the volunteers really enjoy making the source documents accessible, and can do this whenever suits them, projects move forward quickly. In addition you profit from low startup costs as you are sharing the platform with other heritage institutions. You can determine how much time you wish to spend on the project yourself. If you wish to you can remain fully in control of your project, but you can also allow Picturae to supervise it from beginning to end. It is also possible to have the data entry done by paid staff if you do not wish to use volunteers. 

Did you know?

Volunteers from the Civil Guard Registers, the first Heritage Helpers project, indexed more than 300,000 scans within 18 months! 

Some of the top data entry participants have done over 20,000 scans!  

Working with volunteers

On Heritage Helpers you work with volunteers. There is already an enormous active group, from which some will participate in your project. However, every project also has potential new participants who are specifically interested in your project. When recruiting volunteers it is also a challenge to find where your target audience is, and how you can reach them. At Picturae we are happy to help you with this.

Whilst recruiting volunteers requires an investment of time and effort, the reward will be a cohesive group who work on your project with passion. Don’t forget that they are usually interested in the past and often specifically in your collection. It is, therefore, not just in your interests that your collection is made accessible online, but it is also in the interests of the volunteers themselves. They are often the first who will look at and use the newly accessible documents. 

Quotes from participants

‘This is great, I have just indexed my grandfather, isn’t that fantastic!’

‘This didn’t exist yet! Participate, get involved, interact and it works like a charm.’  

‘I search for a lot of geneological information on the internet myself and now I can do my part to add something to this’

‘Brilliant community project! Nice layout, good guidance. Regardless of time and place you can participate at your own pace. Result: lots of data has been made accessible, and as the icing on the cake information found about the background of well known Dutch people from the past.’

Would you like to know more?

Heritage Helpers has been developed by Picturae with the aim of providing heritage institutions with a collection with a crowdsourcing website in which anyone can make a contribution to making collections accessible. The crowdsourcing website has been received with much enthusiasm from both heritage institutions and participants since its launch in October 2011. In 2012 Heritage Helpers won the History Online Prize and the project was given the title of Best Historical Website of 2011.

Would you like to have your collection on Heritage Helpers?

Would you like to know more, or would you like your project to be set up on Heritage Helpers? Picturae will be pleased to inform you about the possibilities. You can contact Thomas van Maaren, sales engineer at Heritage Helpers on +31725320444.