Tag Archives: crowdsourcing

Rhode Island on Placing Literature

Rhode Islanders, where are you? It’s time to show off the literary places in your part of the world. That may be coming true after the Rhode Island Library Association featured Placing Literature in its latest newsletter.


Placing Literature

By Megan Black
Research and Education Librarian, Providence College

I read The Time Traveler’s Wife my senior year of college. I was living in Chicago at the time where parts of the book takes place. I have a distinct memory of reading a passage that takes place in a bar on Belmont Ave and freaking out, “OH MY GOD, I know that place!!!” Subsequent passages took place on the street where I worked or other stomping grounds, and I was equally excited. There are other books where I had similar reactions due shared experience in a story’s setting. Those feelings of excitement and connectedness stay with me, long after I’ve forgotten plot details and characters.

Several years later I met Andrew Williams at his book reading in New Haven, CT. I loved that his book,  Learning to Haight , took place in real-life San Francisco, and we shared our love reading novels that transport the reader to real settings because it add that extra layer of connectedness. He told me about a project he and two friends were working on to map scenes from novels that take place in the real world.

The idea had come to him after mapping scenes from his own book using Google maps, “I had more than 1,000 views in 24 hours.” To get the project going, Andrew and his sister-in-law, Kathleen Colin Williams who is a PhD candidate in in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, applied for and received the Reintegrate Grant through the Arts Council of Greater New Haven in 2012. The funds are intended to encourage scientists and artists to collaborate on research projects. Andrew and Kathleen spent the next six months researching the role of place in novels that were set in New Haven, CT; San Francisco, CA; and Duluth, MN. Andrew’s friend Steven Young joined the group to create an online platform to map the books. They realized that they had created a unique project that was perfect for crowd-sourcing, and  Placing Literature was formally launched at New Haven, CT’s International Arts and Ideas Festival in 2013. Since then, more than 3,000 places have been mapped by readers, authors, and librarians.

The site has featured authors and allows users to explore the map by author, title, or place. It’s a great way to find literature that is set in a place you love or about to visit, or to map out travel destinations based on where your favorite author has set characters. Anyone with a Google login is able to add to the map.

There was only one place in Rhode Island mapped when I set out to write this article, which was the McFagan & McFagan Funeral Home from Waking the Merrow by Heather Rigney. There is a fair amount of literature that takes place in our beloved state, so I set out to add some additional places. I found two lists of books that take place in Rhode Island: Warwick Public Library’s “Fiction Set in RI”  list, and Quahog.org’s list of books.

I read  The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. aka Houdini by retired Providence College professor Peter Johnson (a delightful YA book if you’re interested). It takes place on the East Side, and while generic areas of Hope Street are mentioned, the zoo is the only specific place named that could be mapped.

It’s much easier to map locations after doing a location search from the “Explore” box at the top of the landing page. This way, you’re able to zoom in and move the pin if Google doesn’t originally place it in the right spot. Once you’re on the map page, click “Add Scene.” A pin will appear on the map, which you can drag to the exact location, and you’re prompted to fill out information about the scene: title; author; what happens in the scene; where the scene takes place; etc. Click submit, and your scene is added. If you make a mistake (like not moving the pin to the appropriate location, like I did…) you can send an email, and they respond fairly quickly.

Placing Literature also has various collections of mapped books that various groups have added (these can be found by clicking “Collections” (http://www.placingliterature.com/collections) at the bottom right portion of the page). My favorite is the collection curated by the Sherlock Holmes Society. The screenshot below is just a portion of everything mapped by the group.

Andrew, Kathleen, and Steven continue working to improve and promote Placing Literature. When I spoke to Andrew most recently, I asked him if he’d be interested in presenting on the project at libraries in Rhode Island. The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is much more interesting that a regular presentation. “I started an author speaking series at the New Haven Free Public Library called Get Lit in New Haven. A group of literary cartographers gets together to read and map a book set in New Haven. The author comes to do a reading and answer questions about setting a novel in the city. We had two events last year, and we are now going to do one per quarter,” and he said he’d love to work with RI librarians to help create similar programs here.

Placing Literature is an easy way to bring out the literary cartographer in all of us.

New Dickens Collection in Progress

ds-logoWe’ve recently partnered up with the Dickens Society–an international organization dedicated to conduct, further, and support research, publication, instruction, and general interest in the life, times, and literature of Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870)–to create a Charles Dickens Collection on PlacingLiterature.com. An on-going and continually growing project, the collection is being mapped by volunteer members of the society who would like to (re)read works written by Dickens and dive deeper into the places the author wrote about in his novels and short stories.

I guess you’d call the group effort a kind of crowdsourced, crowd-sourced project. Although, some contributors are sharing responsibility for mapping specific novels–which would be crowdsourcing a crowdsourcing of a crowd-sourced project. Ok, my head hurts. Check out more information on the Dickens Blog and contact emily.bowles [at]york.ac.uk to get involved with the project.

Introducing IndieReader.com Author Spotlight Hugh Howey

You’ve no doubt noticed that we’re highlighting two great authors on our homepage. Over the course of November, Hugh Howey and Charles Finch will be mapping the scenes from their novels as well as a novel that has inspired them. The idea is to get the authors themselves to share with their readers why place is important in their writing. Check back throughout the month to hear about why Hugh and Charles chose locations for specific scenes and how other authors’ use of place have inspired them.

But for now, I’d like to introduce Hugh Howey, our IndieReader.com Author Spotlight for the month of November. Hugh is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Wool series. The books are set in a post-apocalyptic U.S. in underground cities that extend more than a hundred stories deep.

A prequel to Wool, Hugh’s novel Shift uncovers the story of what led to the downfall on the surface—and it’s this novel that he will be mapping for us. The scenes in Shift take place up and down the east coast of the U.S. in Georgia, Washington, D.C. and Boston in real locations like Kramer Books near Dupont Circle, a nuclear waste treatment facility near Atlanta and the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. Hugh has also left an Easter egg on one of his scene cards that includes a humorous clue into why he picked a particular place for the novel. See if you can find it.

Hugh is also mapping Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard, and we look forward to hearing throughout the month more about how Hubbard’s works have influenced Hugh.

Finally, we’re extremely grateful to our sponsor, IndieReader.com, for helping us create the connection between novels and the places in which they are set. And we hope that you, our users, enjoy this new monthly feature of the site.


Placing Literature Reaches Far and Wide

You know how when you go on vacation and you come back to an email box so full you are stunned that so many people love you enough to keep sending you stuff?  Well, that’s a little bit of how I feel after taking a little Placing Literature break.  After our website launched at the New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas, the best kind of chaos has ensued!  In just over a month, Placing Literature has been featured on CNET, Media Bistro and Huffington Post.  We’ve been mentioned in The New Yorker (scroll down a little) and by New York Times columnist, Carl Zimmer.  Andrew was interviewed on Literature for the Halibut on 88.1 KDHX in St. Louis, Missouri.

The really amazing thing to me, as a geographer, is how far, wide and fast Placing Literature has spread.  The CNET article was reposted by several news outlets and translated into at least Dutch and Russian.  After the articles were translated, you could see more spots on the map in the Netherlands, Russia and other places in Europe.  About 4% of our page visits have come from the Netherlands.  4%!

So, in just over a month, we’ve had 12,200 visits and over 10,000 unique visitors.  Readers have mapped more than 530 places.  We have over 500 “likes” on Facebook.  Fans of particular books and series have mapped their favorite places.  A few authors have mapped places from their own books.  As more people read about our project, more people have contacted us.

One of my favorite recognitions is that The Great Lakes Commons has called Placing Literature one of their member artists.  The Community of Artists in the Great Lakes is raising awareness of the Great Lakes through artistic works – working to connect those who live in the basin to experience and love their Great Lakes.  This is a topic that will be explored more in future blog posts.

That’s the goal of Placing Literature, to use literature as a tool to identify the elements of and give people a way to describe the places they know and love.  Now people on the other side of the world will know about your favorite places when you add them to our (everyone’s) map.

Duluth is What?!

In the last post about crowdsourcing, we talked about the fact that crowdsourcing really transfers some of the power of placemaking to those who are making the place. Here at  Placing Literature, we are all about that kind of culture change.

Something that we need to keep in mind, that like any technology or culture change, there is the potential for conflict.  What happens when the crowd challenges the norm?

That brings us to Duluth is Horrible.

Duluth is seriously NOT horrible, but that is the name of a film by Vincent Gargiulo.  Vincent Gargiulo is a filmmaker from San Francisco who had the idea for a film – a lonely-hearts kind of tale.  He had the film title in mind…(insert community name) is Horrible.  But, he did not have a title until it came to him in a dream.  Duluth.  Duluth is Horrible.

Enter crowdsourcing, stage right.  The film idea was pitched on Kickstarter – a crowdsourcing funding site for arts projects – and funding was secured.  So, now Vincent Gargiulo is in Duluth to make a film called Duluth is Horrible.

How do Duluthians feel about this development?  As you might imagine, feelings are mixed.  There are those who welcome any effort to spread the name of Duluth.  There are those who are deeply offended that people would pick on their community.  The social scientist in me points to the fact that some of the funding came from Duluth, local actors are participating and Perfect Duluth Day is talking about the film. 

One blogger in Duluth stated, “With several filmmakers coming to Duluth and making films which extol the … er … um grittier nature of our fair city, I’ve come to wonder if we aren’t letting others define how others see us with their films.”

Good question.  The conflict of crowdsourcing – losing control of an image?  Potential damage from outsiders creating a definition for your community?

More on this in future posts.

See for yourself:

Why Crowdsourcing Matters

Crowdsourcing matters because it provides some the conditions that enable and encourage participation in civil society  – a forum, structure, permission, anonymity (to combat fear of rejection), and a cause to which to contribute.  It does not matter if someone is documenting public restrooms in Manhattan, sharing road closures in an open mapping program, cleaning-up a Wikipedia page – there is a place to contribute personal wisdom and have it accepted.  This power shift has implications – historically, our references maps, encyclopedias travel guides – have been drafted by “experts.” Crowdsourcing turns the tables and assumes we are all experts.  The number of potential applications is limitless!  (We will explore some of the applications in future posts.)

Crowdsourcing is based on the idea of the collective intelligence – that information is collected, aggregated and vetted by the crowd.  It started as a business strategy to solicit unique solutions to problems.  Businesses, like Netflix and Threadless, would issue a proposal with specific rules and goals, and a reward would be given to the winning proposal.

While initially a business application, crowdsourcing can be helpful in settings where public input is considered important.  The reward would be significantly different, instead of a material “prize,” it would be the opportunity to contribute to a cause or effort in a meaningful way.  One of the biggest challenges facing public officials is getting the public to participate.  Some would think that an invitation to participate in a meeting would be enough to solicit participation, but that is not always the case.  The barriers include the inconvenient time or place, feelings of intimidation in the company of experts, feelings that their participation is perfunctory, and cultural differences.

It’s the breaking-down of some (definitely not all) of the barriers that makes crowdsourcing is very interesting and holds so much promise.  Crowdsourcing creates conditions that enable the public to actively engage with and define public spaces.

In the case of Placing Literature, information will be collected on the web and aggregated through a Google Map application, with an option of adding photos. People will get to describe the places they read about – which is one of the key components of “placemaking.”  According to the Project for Public Spaces, placemaking involves “looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations.”

We hope that we are offering a tool to help people see not only the scenes (places) they read about in literature, but a structure to help describe the physical places important to them.  The hope is people will have the means to describe their neighborhoods and public spaces, but also their needs and aspirations for those spaces.

For further reading:

  • Project for Public Spaces: http://www.pps.org/reference/what_is_placemaking/
  • Intro to Placemaking, City Repair: http://cityrepair.org/how-to/placemaking/
  • Brabham, D. C. (2009). Crowdsourcing the Public Participation Process for Planning Projects. Planning Theory, 8(3), 242–262.
  • Sui, D., Elwood, S., & Goodchild, M. (Eds.). (2012). Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge: Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) in Theory and Practice (2013th ed.). Springer.
  • Zook, M., Graham, M., Shelton, T., & Gorman, S. (2010). Volunteered Geographic Information and Crowdsourcing Disaster Relief: A Case Study of the Haitian Earthquake. World Medical & Health Policy, 2(2), 7.