In today’s post, Abby Shelton interviews a By the People volunteer, Maya, who has gone above and beyond! By the People is a crowdsourced transcription program launched in 2018 at the Library of Congress. Volunteer-created transcriptions are used to make digitized collections more accessible and discoverable on loc.gov. You can read our most recent Volunteer Vignette on the Signal here.
Abby: What motivates you to volunteer on the crowdsourced transcription program, By the People?
Maya: I like to help people, and By the People allows me to do that at any time as much as I want to. Historians or just people looking to discover history in a direct way can find things much easier through transcriptions rather than general descriptions of documents, and it makes them easier to access for translators or people with vision problems. The lack of pressure or people to compare myself to means I get to focus on the documents I want to help with.
Do you have any special skills or interests that relate to transcribing or reviewing documents?
I’m a computer nerd so I use word processors like Google Docs to check for errors that I might have otherwise missed, as well as finding and replacing certain errors that get repeated. I also like to mess around with Optical Character Recognition software to get a start on some printed text rather than having to type everything out by hand, but I mostly review other people’s work.
What have been some of the most compelling or interesting documents you’ve come across?
Personal stories like letters between the early suffragettes mean a lot to me, these were real women with normal human concerns like paying rent and staying healthy. Also seeing the real words of Clara Barton in her writings show how the worldwide group started as a woman trying to make a difference after a disaster rather than the simplified and sanitized version of history that fits in a single paragraph.
What advice do you have for new or first-time transcribers?
Keep the how-to page close at hand, and know that every contribution helps even if it’s just marking that a document isn’t complete or adding a few words to the transcription of a hand-written letter. Take breaks, and if the writing is particularly difficult to decipher try asking friends, it’s kind of fun to figure out the puzzle sometimes of what the author actually wrote decades or hundreds of years ago.
Free space! What else would you like to add?
I like that this project is committed to sharing history in the form of real objects rather than interpretations and summaries. Direct knowledge of what was written and printed can only help clarify what happened in the long run.
It’s also really interesting to see parallels directly between things such as anti-suffrage literature and messages occurring in modern politics. Some things just don’t change it seems.
I enjoy trying to decipher older handwriting and script. If really stuck, will sometimes Google the name or topic and when able to figure out a word/name find it very rewarding.