Making Room in the Crowd: Library Teleworkers Transcribing in Extraordinary Times

In today’s post, By the People community managers Carlyn Osborn, Lauren Algee, and Abby Shelton reflect back on changes in their program since March 2020. Launched in 2018, 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, loc.gov. When transcriptions are completed by volunteers, they are integrated back into the Library’s online catalog, where they become fully searchable and readable by accessibility technologies.

The title page of Patton’s earliest war diary, 1916, which documents his participation in the Mexican Punitive Expedition, organized to capture Pancho Villa. As a result of staff transcribers, this diary is now full text searchable.

Fifteen months ago, the By the People crowdsourced transcription program was in a different place. We had launched fewer than a dozen campaigns representing 50,000 pages from the Library of Congress collection on crowd.loc.gov, and recruited and registered around 12,000 volunteers. Compare this to July 2021, where we now have 24 campaigns representing over 500,000 pages, with 25,000 registered volunteers. As the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded in March and April 2020, activity on our site more than doubled and suddenly we were seeing demand for Library of Congress virtual volunteering like never before. During this transformational and challenging time, we were also asked to introduce an entirely new user group to By the People: fellow Library of Congress staff.

As our buildings largely closed to the public fifteen months ago, many staff (including us) transitioned to telework. For some Library of Congress staff, it was possible to do their normal work remotely, but for many, it was necessary to identify new kinds of remote projects. In this context, as an already 100% virtual program, we were able to provide safe opportunities for our colleagues who needed to rapidly shift to remote work.

We quickly rose to the challenge by developing a section of our website designed specifically for Library staff at home. Working with the curator for the Theodore Roosevelt Papers, Michelle Krowl, we selected a large portion of his presidential papers to be made available to staff for telework purposes. By the end of spring 2020, we had also consulted with curator Meg McAleer, to publish another batch of papers for staff-only transcription – this time, the War Diaries of George S. Patton. By summer 2021, our program had successfully released over 120,000 pages to Library of Congress staff who had been working from home during the pandemic.

So where are the staff-only campaigns today? We’re excited to announce that staff transcribers completed the War Diaries of George S. Patton and the transcriptions are now searchable, discoverable, and accessible in loc.gov. Special thanks to the Digital Conversion Team’s Ariel Segal, who reviewed the majority of the collection! Staff transcribers also completed over 72,000 pages, or 62%, of the Roosevelt campaign. Just over 190 staff members have participated in this campaign and they have done incredible work, completing an average of 154 pages per day! When these are finished and combined with the public campaign, they will help complete two series of the Teddy Roosevelt papers.

Some Library staff members also contributed their expertise to challenging materials in the public campaigns. For example, David B. Morris, German Area Specialist, used his knowledge of historical German scripts to decipher pages in the Abraham Lincoln, William Oland Bourne, and Mary Church Terrell Papers. These pages had been identified by public volunteers as German via tags and in our History Hub discussion forum.

Many Library of Congress staff members have returned to work onsite part- and full-time, and even more will follow in the coming months. We have been proud to support staff transcription and awed by staff contributions, but also look forward to closing out the staff campaigns.

Our staff transcribers weren’t the only new volunteers! By the People saw a 100% increase in the number of registered users in 2020 and we were excited to host fully-virtual online transcribe-a-thons for the first time. We also made some updates to our open source transcription platform Concordia in response to the increase in public and staff participation. We invested in infrastructure enhancements to make sure the site performs well as we see more visitors. We heard from many more students seeking documentation of their virtual volunteering, so we also improved how registered volunteers can view and navigate their contributions and added a downloadable service letter. Read about all our recent Concordia improvements in our community forum on History Hub.

Are you interested in learning more about the By the People program? You can sign-up for an account on crowd.loc.gov and follow along on both Twitter and History Hub. You can also check out some of our other posts here on the Signal, like “Celebrating another year with By the People” and “Volunteer Vignette: Transcribe without fear, don’t be intimidated!“ Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below!

One Comment

  1. Susan Mordan-White
    August 6, 2021 at 9:21 am

    Congratulations to everyone for a job well done! What an amazing accomplishment that will serve our patrons for generations!

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