Lost and Found

Digitizing information has become a goal for a number of archivists. It preserves many invaluable artifacts and offers us specific information that can be made available to the public. And sometimes it gives us back things that we were missing.

Lost Films is an online initiative funded by the German Federal Cultural Association to collect and document film titles thought to be (you guessed it) lost. Film societies in France, Germany, and Poland (among other countries) are collaborating to add to the archive of more than 3,500 lost films so far. Users who access Lost Films have the opportunity to identify films by submitting film titles, video clips, and images from unknown movies or add to the existing database of information. To date, 56 films have been found and 72 identified.

This project reminds me of the efforts by The Place and Memory Project to chronicle lost stories by asking the public to share their memories about locations that no longer exist (old gathering places, landmarks, etc.). The stories are then integrated into a series of stories for radio and placed on an online map where more people can add their memories in text, photography, music, etc. Users simply log on and tell their story. However, despite enormous support and passion for the idea, response rate has been low. But the responses that they have received so far have been very rich in information.

Then, of course, there are crowdsourcing contests for ABC’s LOST. Not that the finale made any more sense with the input of the crowd.

My memory isn’t the best filing system, but I like projects that use our personal recollections to find things that we may have lost along the way. It not only helps restore the thing itself (whether it’s a film or the sense of a place), but also places it in the context of our own experiences. What do you think? Are there risks when crowdsourcing lost information? What other things could we bring back through communal knowledge?

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