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Supporting Social-Emotional Learning Activities with “By the People” Transcriptions

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We thank Annette Nakshbendi and the staff of the Library’s Signal blog for allowing us to repost these excerpts. The original post may be found here.

How might a Library of Congress digital resource spark classroom discussion that reaches beyond a primary source’s content and context? You may have used the Library’s digital collections to help history “come alive” for students with tips from the archived “Foundations: Analyzing Multiple Perspectives” webinar. But have you considered using them to help students understand their own relationship with technology or to foster empathy for their present-day peers who may interact with technology differently than they do? Accessibility awareness also helps promote exploratory perspective-taking and other skills that fall under the social-emotional learning (SEL) umbrella.

One digital tool that can support SEL curricula is By the People, which invites anyone with an internet connection to transcribe digitized primary sources, as stated in “Crowdsourcing and the Papers of Mary Church Terrell, Suffragist, and Civil Rights Activist.” By the People’s About page explains that the completed transcriptions contribute to Library collections’ accessibility by “[improving] search, readability, and access to handwritten and typed documents for everyone, including people who are not fully sighted.” By the People also maintains a Resources for Educators page with lesson ideas, transcribe-a-thon resources, and a downloadable form to document students’ virtual volunteer hours.

Screen capture shows a Library of Congress webpage with options to “Get started,” “Transcribe,” and “Review,” with buttons to “Login” and “Register” in the top right corner.
By the People homepage encourages visitors to “Be a virtual volunteer!”

Students may not be aware that some people require an assistive technology called a “screen reader” in order to use computers. Search online for a video demonstrating screen readers in action, and challenge students to:

  • Identify how they use assistive technologies, themselves, on a daily basis (hint: a mouse and keyboard of any kind count!).
  • Explore the more technical side of human-computer interaction with the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled’s Assistive Technology Products for Information Access

Even students who do not consider themselves in need of accessibility interventions may not understand Rosa Parks’ 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott “Instructions to car-pool drivers and passengers,” due to her cursive handwriting. Consider asking students to:

  • Compare the resource page’s “Image w/Text” and “Image” only page views.
  • Reflect on the idea that “accessibility is essential for people with disabilities and useful for all” (Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)).
Screen capture of document viewer interface shows typed text and corresponding manuscript page, with zoom buttons and navigation arrows to turn pages.
The “Image w/text” view of a digitized primary source on shows a handwritten document from the completed Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words campaign on the right and the completed By the People transcription on the left.

Whether sighted students can read Rosa Parks’ handwriting or not, they will be able to see Ms. Parks’ revisions on the original document. Ask students to:

  • Investigate how the transcription on the left side of the “Image w/Text” view indicates Ms. Parks’ corrections (hint: crossed-out text appears in brackets).
  • Consider the importance of preserving Ms. Parks’ corrections in the transcription (Hint: this notation ensures that screen readers recognize the additional meaning provided by the evidence of Ms. Parks’ thought process).

For a Civil War-era example of how manuscript corrections can change a document’s meaning, visit Abraham Lincoln’s draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

You may have used primary sources to encourage historical empathy from your students.  But have you considered using completed By the People transcriptions to increase students’ accessibility awareness?

Comments (2)

  1. Do you have some examples of Native American collections needing transcription that I may use to generate interest in this activity amongst my readers?

    • You will want to reach out the staff working with By the People as they will be able to answer your question. Their contact us page can be found at

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