YMCA World War I Service Punch Cards is a set of partially machine-readable punch cards generated for 25,926 workers recruited by American Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) to support the armed forces during World War I. In 21 century, this data set was digitized by the University of Minnesota Libraries and subsequently transcribed and indexed by FamilySearch International. Based on the benefits of digitalization for both information owners and card storers and the intended purpose for this digitalization, it’s reasonable to conclude that it’s ethical to digitize and share this old database. [a]
These punch cards include about 100 blocks to store detailed information and separate them into two sections. The first one was written in English, including name, address, and work placement information; The second one punched holes to enclose information about gender, education, religion, and so on. After collection from 1917 to 1919, these cards were stored at the YMCA before being sent to the University of Minnesota which provided the necessary funds to digitize this huge database.
Although these punch cards contained plenty of personal information of the old employees of YMCA, it’s ethical to digitize and share them online due to the current status of information owners, benefits for all stakeholders, and intended usage. As Lubar said “Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate” in "Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate": A Cultural History of the Punch Card, punch cards could be easily stolen, damaged, or even erased, so does the data contained in it. Besides, it’s also a waste of the space to store thousands or even millions of physical cards. If the reason is legitimate, digitalization of punch cards should be encouraged because of its potential benefits for both card holders and card storers. Secondly, Data is neural, but those who manipulate it are not. As Miller said, "managing the information managers" is the key in protecting privacy. The information owners are national servants during the wars, there is no shame or risk to release their personal information. Instead, these are some organizations that attempt to commemorate them. FamilySearch International, a nonprofit organization helping people discover family stories, designed a program to spread the stories of soldiers and laborers in the two world wars. Volunteers in this program assisted in transcription of these punch cards and aimed to help relatives to these national heroes by opening up this online dataset. Interestingly, the World War II Draft Registration Cards mentioned by Adrianna Hinojosa Gomez during class presentation is also a part of this program. But, its database serves more functions than the YMCA World War I Service Punch Cards. Because of the advent of computers, people could access information online. FamilySearch designed a website helping family members to find information or stories about their relatives after the triumph. In this website, the data from registration cards provides a valuable gate to connect with relatives of these soldiers. Secondly, Miller said privacy is the one’s “ability to control the circulation of information relating to him” which is essential to maintain the “social relationship” and “personal freedom” In the The Assault on Privacy: Computers, Data Banks, and Dossiers. Now, most of these information owners have gone. The circulation of their personal information is not going to hurt their dignity and basic rights.
Though, it’s moral and ethical to digitize this kind of information. However, punch cards “stood for abstraction, oversimplification and dehumanization”(Miller, 9). People disliked digital datasets: “its narrow focus on easily quantized details; its refusal to deal with customers or citizens as people rather than bundles of information”. (9) Family members to the soldiers sacrificed in the wartime would be agitated, if these punchcards are the only available information. People prefer detailed narratives or photographs about their beloved family members to these inhuman physical cards.
The data was originally compiled on punch cards by the YMCA in the course of its operations during the First World War. The cards were digitized by the Kautz Family YMCA Archives in 2014 with funding from the University of Minnesota Libraries Strategic Digitization Program, and in 2016-2017, the data was transcribed by volunteers working for FamilySearch International. Subsequently the digitized images were made available publicly on the Zooniverse crowdsourcing platform for additional transcription by volunteers.