Celebrating another year with By the People

Nearly two years ago, the Library of Congress announced the creation of a brand new crowdsourced transcription program: By the People. This news was shared here on the Signal and at the 1-year mark. Can you believe it’s already time for a 2-year celebration?!

As a quick recap, By the People is a volunteer engagement and collection enhancement program at the Library of Congress that invites the public to explore and transcribe documents on the Library’s website. Launched in 2018, over 350,000 images have been released by the program for transcription. The project invites a deep connection to the Library’s digital collection while facilitating collaborative creation of knowledge about those materials. When transcriptions are completed, they can be integrated back into the Library’s online catalog, where they become word-searchable and readable by accessibility technologies. You can read about that process here.

Campaign images from the By the People website. Pictured are Teddy Roosevelt, a march announcement from the National American Women's Suffrage Association, Mary Church Terrell, the Blackwell Family, a woodblock print of a lion from the Herencia campaign, and women participating a suffrage march.

You can explore the range of live campaigns we offer at crowd.loc.gov.

Earlier this year, By the People (BTP) found a new home in the Library. The initiative was originally incubated by the LC Labs team, and the program and software platform built in partnership with Library Services and the Platform Services Division of the Office of the Chief Information Officer. BTP built upon an earlier experiment launched by LC Labs in 2017 called Beyond Words. It directly fulfills all three of the goals outlined by the Library’s Digital Strategy: to throw open the treasure chest of Library collections, to connect, and to invest in our future. In January, BTP moved over to the Digital Content Management section (DCM) – a part of the Library that devoted Signal readers know a lot about! It’s been a stellar transition. Our small team now benefits from the amazing digital library work that our Digital Collections Specialist colleagues in DCM do every day. We’ve gotten so much help in scripting our workflows, finding new partners to work with, and developing relationships that will help us grow in the future.

Rosa Parks. Reflections on her arrest for refusing to surrender her seat to a white passenger, December 1, 1955, ca 1956–1958. Rosa Parks Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. This letter was transcribed as a part of the By the People program in 2020.

In our new home in DCM, the By the People team has expanded our offerings and ways of reaching out to our dedicated users. We’ve launched our largest Campaigns yet, with over 55,000 pages released from the Teddy Roosevelt Collection, over 40,000 pages from the prominent Suffrage organization, NAWSA, and the entire collection of Blackwell Family Papers (nearly 58,000 pages). As mentioned above, these large releases bring the total number of pages available for transcription on crowd.loc.gov up to 350,000, but you better act fast! Our users are plowing through them as we speak.

Earlier this year in February, our users hit a big milestone: they completed 50,000 transcriptions. And then they hit another: 100,000 completed transcriptions by May. And then they did it again by completing 200,000 transcriptions by the end of August. Part of this success is also shared by staff contributors at the Library, who participated during our expanded telework policy stemming from the COVID-19 crisis. Our transcribers have also met every single challenge we’ve put forth to them this year. The lightning fast transcription, and review, of all pages in the Rosa Parks Campaign and the George Washington Campaign was powerful to witness. We have been blown away by our transcribers’ dedication, willingness to explore, and generosity of spirit by making the Library’s collections more accessible and discoverable for everyone.

If you think this sounds like an exciting time for our program and you want to be involved, we have some news: we’re currently looking for a new Community Manager to join our ranks! The job announcement will be open for applications on USAJobs until September 30, so please share widely! We’re looking forward to meeting our newest Community Manager already.

Thank you so much to our friends at the Library and our friends online who make crowd.loc.gov the success that it is. Cheers to last two years and to many more!

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