Who’s who on the Zoo(niverse)? Our volunteer survey

Written by Mia RidgeMay 23, 2023Comments: 0

At the time of writing, our crowdsourcing projects on Zooniverse have reached well over 5000 volunteers. But who are they, and why have they taken part? (Or ‘who are you’, if you’re one of our volunteers – hi and thank you!)

To find out, back in May-June 2022 we ran a survey of our Zooniverse participants. Almost a year later (!) I’ve finally had a moment to sit down and deposit the results in the British Library’s research repository, and to summarise them here.

A previous survey of our crowdsourcing participants was designed to align with earlier Zooniverse surveys on Galaxy Zoo and Art UK. This time, we designed the survey so that we could align our reporting with two other audience / participant research groups. Firstly, we used the British Library’s demographic categories for audience research, allowing us to see Zooniverse volunteers alongside other groups using the British Library’s collections. Secondly, we aligned questions about motivations and barriers to participation with the CS Track citizen science research project survey. 

Our thanks to colleagues on the CS Track https://cstrack.eu/ project for permission to use options from their survey: Lampi, Emilia; Paajanen, Samu; Lämsä, Joni; Hämäläinen, Raija; Hästbacka, Heli; Sabel, Ohto. CSTrack Survey Data 2021. V. 12.8.2021. 10.17011/jyx/dataset/79371 https://jyx.jyu.fi/handle/123456789/79371

The survey was distributed to Living with Machines Zooniverse project participants via a one-off newsletter from the Zooniverse platform, shared on social media and in a forum post. Responses were received between 24 May and 13 June 2022.

The highlights:

  • 65 submissions received
  • The main reason for contribution is ‘interest in the historical theme or topic’ (42%).
  • Additional reasons for contributing are quite varied, but the three responses with over 50% were: contributing to research (59%), desire to help (58%) and opportunities to learn (53%).
  • The vast majority (86%) found out about the project via Zooniverse
  • If people dropped out it was mainly due to lack of time (32%) or they hadn’t yet dropped out (29%).
  • 71% of respondents have not posted on the forum. Asking a question / getting advice was the most common reason for those who had (23%), followed by discussing a finding or sharing information (18%).
  • 65% have not worried they were completing a task incorrectly. Choosing the right classification was the most worrying task (24%) – understandably as historical texts don’t fall into neat categories!
  • 41% had ‘spent longer than intended’ on our projects a few times, 8% often!
  • 71% had no current relationship with the Library, 17% had visited exhibitions/cafes/etc.
  • People aged 55-74 were most likely to contribute (41%), and 58% of respondents identified as female.
  • 20% had a disability or long-term health issue that affected day-to-day life

Respondent comments included:

I really loved the identifying machines part of the project! It was a wonderful glimpse into the past for me, and super interesting to see other articles from the time too 
Very good for mental health 
my 1st Zooniverse project & by far the best. I was disappointed when it finished. Fascinating historical information. 
I was shocked at the number of workers killed or injured while working in the mills. 
The main reason why I haven’t contributed as much as I might, is the poor scanning of the images, which required me to try to find mentions of “machines” when the highlighted word was either absent or impossible to read. When a task is difficult (the process not the data), I hesitate to continue, as I would prefer to use my time contributing, rather than working hard getting accustomed to the quirks. This is not a criticism of the excellent, ground-breaking work that the BL does! 
This was the most interesting Zooniverse project that I have worked on. The insights into the way people thought and the workings of the early industrial technology were fascinating, and I often went into unmarked articles to get a wider context. I really miss working on this so please continue with similar projects. 
I wish you only the best, British Library! You are great! 
I like the feedback from the researcher. It makes me feel that my efforts are appreciated, and that they are interested in what I am doing. 
I began with the British Library playbill project. Moved on to you. Am now occasionally contributing to a number of Zooniverse projects 
Contribuire con los proyectos futuros on la institucion, eso i no se me uelve a dañar la computadora, es porque es del año 2005, gracias por tomarme en cuenta, saludos [Google Translate: I will contribute with future projects on the institution, that and my computer will not be damaged again, it is because it is from 2005, thanks for taking me into account, regards]
I have used old newspapers while working on transcribing logs for navalhistory.net. I find them very interesting even if they can be difficult to use. I also contribute to transcibing Australian newspapers on Trove from time-to-time. 
I’m a former practicing journalist who is very interested in the history of the field, so this project is wonderful. I am so glad it’s around and I look forward to seeing what is done with the information.

If you’re interested in the impact of our work in digital public participation on Zooniverse, this forum thread is also great: Has this project changed how you think about machines in the 1800s?.

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