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Review With Us: By the People and Smithsonian Transcription Center team up for crowdsourced transcription

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Today’s guest post is from Caitlin Haynes, the Program Coordinator for the Smithsonian Transcription Center in Washington, D.C. You can read Caitlin’s original post from the Smithsonian here.*

During the month of August 2021, we teamed up with the community managers and volunteers at By the People, the Library of Congress’s crowdsourced transcription program, to focus on the importance of review. Together, we explored projects, shared tips and resources, and learned just how much we can discover in the historical record when we slow down and review carefully. In total, the incredible volunteers participating in our programs reviewed more than 32,000 pages from Smithsonian and Library of Congress collections, ensuring that the historical content within is searchable, readable, and accessible to users worldwide.

Over the course of the month, we asked volunteers and other program partners to share your best tips and tricks for reviewing materials. Check out some of the best suggestions we received during our #ReviewWithUs campaign:

Review Tips and How-Tos

Take Your Time: Speed isn’t our primary goal, so there’s no rush! Review is very careful, detail-oriented work; I’ve found it can take me around 5 minutes to review a single page well, depending on the page. – Emily, Transcription Center Community Coordinator

When in Doubt, Reach Out: We are here to help with any questions you may have, and would love to solve problems with you! Feel free to use the feedback portal on the left side of the page or email us at [email protected]. – Emily

Context Matters: look at the project description, title, and pages before and after for context clues – you may find a date, person’s name, etc. that will help you decipher an un-transcribed word, or correctly edit an error. – Caitlin, Transcription Center Program Coordinator

Read it Through: Sometimes errors in the text – like an out-of-place word, incomplete phrase, or [[??]]  in the transcription – can most easily be solved by reading through the sentence or paragraph out loud. This will often help to reveal the true meaning of tricky words or difficult handwriting. – Caitlin

Black and white photograph of a man using computer as others watch at a exhibit with banner “Information on Demand”, at the White House Conference on Library and Information Services, Washington, D.C.
Trikosko, Marion S. [Man using computer as others watch at a exhibit(?) with banner “Information on Demand”, at the White House Conference on Library and Information Services, Washington, D.C.]. November 16, 1979. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.

Familiarize Yourself with Historic Handwriting Resources: Review common abbreviations, conventions, and spellings from the 19th century, check out additional resources and databases from external sites, and find clues in the historical background related to the project you’re working on to decipher tricky words or documents. See this page for more information and ideas. – Caitlin

Look for information in the overall project description: The scope notes in the finding aids (linked in the project description “catalog record”) and the summary and description in the Transcription Center project page often contain useful contextual information that will help to confirm dates, names, and more as you review. – Doug Remley, Freedmen’s Bureau Project Co-Lead and Rights and Reproductions Specialist, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Find The Page That’s Right for You: If you’re frustrated or unsure it’s ok to save and move on! I love knowing that when I’ve done all I can, there’s a community behind me who will finish what I’ve started. – Lauren, By the People Community Manager

Black and white photograph of two children reading in 1887.
[Reading together.]. c.1887. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.

Read and Review by Paragraph, Instead of Line-by-Line! It helps me better understand the context of particular lines or tricky words. – Abby, By the People Community Manager

Review With a Partner! One person reads aloud and the other checks the original document. – Carlyn, By the People Community Manager

I think it is easier to review pages sequentially. This helps me learn the handwriting and speeds the review process. I use the drop down menu at the top of a completed document to move to the next page needing review. – Cynthia, By the People Volunteer

Dig deep! I have transcribed, edited, and reviewed several thousand letters in the Clara Barton Papers in the past year. I think it has helped to have devoted all my time reviewing just her papers. – Jan, Library of Congress staff

Black and white portrait of Minne Maddern Fiske, holding a letter and magnifying glass.
Portrait of Minne Maddern Fiske by Arnold Genthe, c. 1920, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, CC0.

Use a search engine! Many times, I make a best guess at a handwritten name and Google it and usually find the correct name. – Henry, By the People volunteer

Pay Attention to Accent Marks Over Letters: Maintaining all diacritics (marks placed above, below, or beside a letter to indicate pronunciation) as you transcribe and review non-English language projects is especially important for ensuring accuracy. – Jess Purkis, Digital Archivist, Smithsonian Archives of American Art

Thank you to everyone who helped make our August Review month a smashing success! Keep in touch with crowdsourcing at the Library of Congress by subscribing to BtP’s newsletter and following along on History Hub. Head to Twitter to find more of our shared tips and tricks for review!


*This post has been edited from the original for length.

Comments (2)

  1. So I have noticed that typewritten pages have a space between a word and coma. I have been putting in this space. Is that correct? I do this because I thought I read we shouldn’t correct to meet contemporary standards.

    • Hey Nancy! Yes, that is correct. We ask our volunteers to type exactly what they see, even if it seems outdated! Thanks for contributing and please let us know if you have any other questions at [email protected]

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