‘By the People’ Turns 3: A Year in Review

It’s that time again: another By the People anniversary! To celebrate the third birthday of crowd.loc.gov, we thought we would share some highlights from this past year. Interested in our previous anniversary posts? Check out our Year 1 and Year 2 celebrations on the Signal.

As a quick recap, By the People (BtP) is a volunteer engagement and collection enhancement program at the Library of Congress that invites the public to explore and transcribe documents from the Library’s website. Originally incubated by the LC Labs team and launched in 2018, over 631,000 pages 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.

A collage of letters, envelopes, and stamps featuring Walt Whitman

A sample of our most recent addition to the Walt Whitman campaign. Visit crowd.loc.gov to learn more about By the People and to view all materials available for transcription.

We were so thrilled to be able to broaden our reach and partner engagement over this last year. In partnership with the Douglass Day 2021 organizers, we celebrated Mary Church Terrell’s legacy with a weekend-long transcribe-a-thon. During our Douglass Day programming, volunteers broke a By the People record for transcriptions worked on in a single day and an unprecedented number of transcribers engaged with the site that day And this last summer, we also ran a special month-long review-a-thon with the Smithsonian Transcription Center! Together, volunteers participating in the review-a-thon reviewed more than 32,000 pages from both Smithsonian and Library of Congress collections. But in addition to adding new external partners, we also increased our reach within the Library itself over these last twelve months. We launched (and volunteers already completed!) our very first campaign from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and we released brand new pages for transcriptions into ten whole other campaigns.

In short, BtP volunteers and staff contributors really knocked our socks off this year. They successfully transcribed 154,000 documents from the Library this year alone, bringing the program’s total to over 400,000 completed transcriptions to date. Way to go! We’re so moved by the hard work and dedication of everyone who has participated and are so grateful that staff & volunteers can help make the Library’s collections more discoverable and accessible for all. Check out some of our year-end highlights below:

By the People "year 3 in review" infographic. Data included - 11 new campaigns or additions; 8,175 new volunteers; 36,000 transcriptions published to loc.gov; 700,000 actions by volunteers; 13% increase in the number of visits to crowd.loc.gov

We also really took time this year to further understand our volunteers and their motivations. We published a series of Volunteer Vignettes from a few of our most enthusiastic volunteers (hear from HenryJudith, and Maddie) and we’re excited to bring you more of those starting next month! And this summer we asked for their feedback in our very first volunteer survey. Over 450 volunteers graciously provided us survey feedback on BtP and were generous enough to share a little bit about what keeps them coming back. We just published a summary of what we’ve learned so far and we hope to keep the conversation going in the future.

One of our other highlights from this last year has been the expansion of our dataset offeringsBtP datasets are made up of the transcriptions from a single, completed campaign. These enable researchers to access the transcriptions from one campaign in a single, downloadable file. Library staff also make a README file available for each dataset, which help users access, interpret, and make use of the file. Check out what one external partner was able to do with one of our BtP datasets right here on the Signal.

Featherlite Pancakes sift together 1 C flour 2 T B. Powder 1/2 t salt 2 T sugar Mix 1 egg 1 1/4 C Milk 1/3 C peanut butter melted 1 T shorting or oil Combine with dry ingredients Cook at 275° on griddle Transcribed and reviewed by volunteers participating in the By The People project at crowd.loc.gov.

With the help of By the People volunteers, a selection of Rosa Parks’ materials at the Library of Congress are now key-word searchable and readable by accessibility technologies. Click here to view her Featherlite Pancake recipe on loc.gov.

We also had a record year for returning transcriptions back to loc.gov! This is the final crucial step to making Library collections more accessible and discoverable. When we add these transcriptions to the Library’s digital collections, they transform individual images into documents that can be read by screen readers and available to other accessibility technologies. In 2021, we successfully brought 36,000 of them back into loc.gov. The transcriptions themselves are TXT files, which are key-word discoverable in the catalog and open whole swaths of the Library’s collections that may have been harder to find serendipitously. Check out what this looks like for Rosa Parks’ famous Featherlite Pancake recipe, above.

It’s never too late to get involved. You can register for an account here and unlock bonus site features, like downloadable service letters and activity tracking. Join in on the discussion in History Hub to learn from other volunteers and follow us on Twitter @Crowd_LOC to hear the latest from us!

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