Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Identifying the Social and Technical Barriers Affecting Engagement in Online Community Archives: A Preliminary Study of "Documenting Ferguson" Archive

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Identifying the Social and Technical Barriers Affecting Engagement in Online Community Archives: A Preliminary Study of "Documenting Ferguson" Archive

Article excerpt

To understand factors affecting participation in online communities, it's important to understand the state of user-generated web content from a community perspective. New models of engagement have emerged in recent years as web technologies have grown more robust and interactive, enabling the large-scale collaborative editing of encyclopedic content, such as Wikipedia, and the addition of descriptive metadata by a community of users, such as Flickr Commons. Archivist Kate Theimer (2014) describes such "participatory archives" as:

An organization, site or collection in which people other than the archives professionals contribute knowledge or resources resulting in increased understanding about archival materials, usually in an online environment.

While many of these efforts are focused on past history, such as DIY History, online at, which encourages users to volunteer their time to transcribe materials such as Civil War-era letters, fewer are focused on gathering materials from recent and unfolding events. Besides Documenting Ferguson, one such is Our Marathon, online at, which is focused on archiving digital media related to the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

2. Problem Statement

As libraries have embraced collaborative technologies and the stewardship of user-generated content, practitioners in the digital library community have begun to establish participatory archives to gather digital media and digital ephemera related to emerging events. Washington University Libraries established the Documenting Ferguson repository to preserve and make accessible community-generated content that was captured and created following the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the altruistic intentions of the project, it has received fewer contributions compared with similar community archives, such as the Our Marathon site. Several factors may account for the low level of contribution, spurring the inception of this research project. To identify the social and technical barriers affecting participation in Documenting Ferguson, we have modeled and tested two research questions:

Hypothesis 1: There are social barriers that are dissuading people from participating in the Documenting Ferguson web archive (H1).

Possible factors affecting participation include a lack of awareness of the resource, lack of trust in the sponsoring organization, avoidance in participating due to personal beliefs, and lack of intrinsic motivating factors for contributing to and participating in the archive. To test this hypothesis, we have constructed a questionnaire based on existing methodology from Clary et al. (1998), to identify factors that motivate people to participate in an online community, as well as questions to address issues related to trust.

Hypothesis 2: There are technical barriers in the Documenting Ferguson web site that are preventing an online community from forming (H2).

Possible issues include a lack of appropriate features for engagement, gaps in functionality, and presence of usability issues in conflict with standard design principles. To test this hypothesis, we performed a usability study of the Documenting Ferguson web site.

3. Theoretical Framework

This pilot project aims to identify factors that motivate users to participate in online community archives. Taken from an HCI perspective, related efforts have identified factors motivating participation in similar kinds of online communities, such as Wikipedia (Peddibhotla & Subramani, 2007; Nov, 2007), open source software development projects (Hertel, Niedner, & Herrmann, 2003), and Usenet newsgroups (McLure Wasko & Faraj, 2000). Others have taken a broader view of these interactions in context, describing a socio-technical network model (Kling, McKim, & King, 2003), and the formation of communities of practice (Wenger, 1998). …

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