Volunteering on Trove: interview with Kevin McCue

The Canberra Library Tribe is thrilled to be part of #blogjune 2015.

This blogjune post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). These stories will highlight the ample volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer!

Our fifth interviewee is Kevin McCue, who volunteers as an online Trove Corrector (this role can be done anywhere, but he does live in Canberra!).

Kevin, Trove volunteer
Kevin, Trove volunteer

Tell us about you and your volunteer Trove Corrector role…

The digitised newspapers zone in Trove has fundamentally changed my research process.

I have been using the newspaper library facilities in most states of Australia and the UK since 1970 to search for information about earthquakes and volcanoes in Australia and Papua New Guinea, or elsewhere if they caused an impact on Australia such as the 1883 Krakatoa eruption in Java. In 1970 I started a postgraduate course in engineering seismology at Imperial College London and my first assignment was to compile a list of historical earthquakes in Australia. I haven’t stopped this search yet. At that time it was an onerous task, in London I had to catch a tube, then a bus to the Colindale Newspaper library, spend a few hours filling out forms to specify the newspapers I needed, checking first their availability, and then return a few days later to collect and search the newspapers and then get photocopies of the articles. It was easier than in Australia though where I had to travel to each state capital and then convince the librarian of my bone fides, one of them didn’t believe there were earthquakes in Australia so banned me until I produced a letter of authorisation.

I have been using this information to compute earthquake hazard throughout Australia. I produce a map of hazard which is then incorporated into an Australian Standard and finally adopted by the Australian Building Code. The information has enabled me to publish many papers on Australian seismicity and hazard. I have used Trove since January 2011, to search and make corrections to digitised newspapers.

What are the benefits of correcting Trove text? What kind of subjects will you focus on correcting in the future?

Trove is like a dream come true. I sit at my computer desk at home in comfort to search and correct the digitised newspapers at my leisure. It is so productive, so fast and so satisfying. I compare it to doing detective work, you have to use the right search words for the time e.g. earthquake or tremor and limit it to place names and times, otherwise there are too many search results. It does take some practice to get proficient at it.

I have branched out at times, to look for tsunamis, volcanoes, and even family business, how my grandmother died in a car accident, how my mother travelled to Rabaul in the early 1920s with her mother and sisters. I still haven’t discovered how my grandfather got there earlier.

I think I have my life’s work cut out for me just searching for earthquakes. As you scan more newspapers (please hurry up), I get more data and can revise earlier estimates.

Correcting the digitised newspapers improves the searching experience and teaches me history, for example you have to be careful correcting place names, Burrawa has had several spellings in its history.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role?

I have used Trove principally to get information for my research and it has proven a fantastic resource to get information that otherwise would have been extremely time consuming and prohibitively expensive to obtain. I have published several papers using information obtained via Trove.

Whoever set up the Hall o’ fame was very clever to make it a voluntary competition, which ranks Trove correctors in order of the number of corrected newspaper lines. It is always fun to see people coming and going on the limited list available as you speed up or slow down, go on holidays. I try to imagine what some of the correctors like John Warren and Ann Manley look like.

Do you have a favourite Trove article or item? Or have you learnt something odd from making the corrections?

No, no favourites, they are all fascinating and useful. I have learnt a lot about earthquakes in unexpected places, comparing the pre-instrumental history with the modern record has been most informative. For decades they occur in one place and then stop and move somewhere else. Using just the modern record tells only part of the story.

Could you share some tips for people starting out as Trove Correctors?

You get only what you search for, if you don’t find what you expect you may need to change the search words or dates e.g. Charlie rather than Charles. You can also use a wildcard like Charl*, which will do a broader, fuzzier search. The Trove help section explains search options as well as power searching. Don’t give up!

I don’t know if there are people who would pick a date, e.g. their birthday, and then correct the whole newspaper. Maybe that would motivate some.

How do people become a Trove Corrector?

You need to be self-motivated and have a goal such as finding out some family history, the date someone got married or whatever, at least that’s why I do it.

Learn more about why text needs to be corrected and how to start via Trove’s Help Centre. If you’d like some guidance for your text correction, a handy guideline was created by the top 5 text correctors, and is available on the Trove Forum.

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