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Volunteer Vignette: More accessible and searchable than ever before!

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In today’s post, Abby Shelton interviews a By the People volunteer, Laura, 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 You can read some other Volunteer Vignettes on the Signal here and here.

Abby: What motivates you to volunteer on the crowdsourced transcription program, By the People?

Laura: After stepping away from a full time career as a writer and journalist, I had free time and wanted to find something meaningful to do with it. The onset of the pandemic meant I had even more time and transcribing for By the People was a perfect fit: I can contribute to an important and worthwhile effort and I can do it at my own pace, at home.

Do you have any special skills or interests that relate to transcribing or reviewing documents?

Many of the topics I have covered in books and articles include a historical perspective. That has often entailed archival research and work with old written materials.

What have been some of the most compelling or interesting documents you’ve come across? Why?

I really enjoyed transcribing the pages in both the Mary Church Terrell collection and those related to Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell because I knew nothing about these two women, despite their important efforts and accomplishments before getting involved with By the People. It was so satisfying to learn about their lives and their work.

Mary Church Terrell’s address to the first meeting of the National Association of Colored Women, an organization that Terrell helped to found in 1897.
Mary Church Terrell’s address to the first meeting of the National Association of Colored Women, an organization that Terrell helped to found in 1897. Source.

What advice do you have for new or first-time transcribers?

Print the guidelines, keep them handy, and refer to them often. Don’t hesitate to submit questions and ask for help when you are unsure of how something should be done. Editing what others have done is a good way to build your own transcription skills.

Free space! What else would you like to add?

At this time, when feelings of isolation can be overwhelming because COVID-19 is keeping people apart, being part of the By the People volunteer community has been especially rewarding. No matter where we are physically by making Library of Congress material more accessible and searchable than ever before, we are doing something together that will benefit writers, researchers and historians for generations. I am proud to be part of that undertaking.

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