Useful distractions: help cultural heritage and scientific projects from home

Today I came across the term ‘terror-scrolling’, a good phrase to describe the act of glancing from one COVID-19 update to another. While you can check out galleries, libraries, archives and museums content online or explore the ebooks, magazines and other digital items available from your local library, you might also want to help online projects from scientific and cultural heritage organisations. You can call it ‘online volunteering’ or ‘crowdsourcing’, but the key point is that these projects offer a break from the everyday while contributing to a bigger goal.

Not commuting at the moment? Need to channel some energy into something positive? You can help transcribe historical text that computers can’t read, or sort scientific images. And don’t worry – these sites will let you know what skills are required, you can often try a task before registering, and they have built-in methods for dealing with any mistakes you might make at the start.

Here’s a list of sites that have a variety of different kinds of tasks / content to work on:

Some of these sites offer projects in languages other than English, and I’ve collected additional multi-lingual / international sites at Crowdsourcing the world’s heritage – I’m working on an update that’ll make it easy to find current, live projects but (ironically, for someone who loves taking part in projects) I can’t spend much time at my desk right now so it’s not ready just yet.

Stuck at home? View cultural heritage collections online

With people self-isolating to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and educators (as well as people looking for an art or history fix) may be looking to replace in-person trips to galleries, libraries, archives and museums* with online access to images of artefacts and information about them. GLAMs have spent decades getting some of the collections digitised and online so that you can view items and information from home.

* Collectively known as ‘GLAMs’ because it’s a mouthful to say each time

Search a bunch of GLAM portals at once

I’ve made a quick ‘custom search engine’ so you can search most of the sites above with one Google search box. Search a range of portals that collect digitised objects, texts and media from galleries, libraries, archives and museums internationally:

The direct link is https://cse.google.com/cse?cx=006190492493219194770:xw0b7dfwb6b (it’s just a search box, without any context, but it means you can do a search without loading this whole post)

Collections, deep zoom and virtual tour portals

Various platforms have large collections of objects from different institutions, in formats ranging from ‘virtual exhibitions’ or ‘tours’ to ‘deep zooms’ to catalogue-style pages about objects. I’ve focused on sites that include collections from multiple institutions, but this also means some of them are huge and you’ll have to explore a bit to find relevant content. Try:

Other links

Various articles have collected institution-specific links to different forms of virtual tours. Try:

Things are moving fast, so let me know about other sets of links to collections, stories and tours online that’ll help people staying home get their fix of history and culture and I’ll update this post. Comment below, email me or @mia_out on twitter.

Screenshot from https://www.europeana.eu/portal/en
Europeana is just one of many online portals to images, stories, deep zooms and virtual tours / exhibitions from galleries, libraries, archives and museums internationally