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Supporting Social-Emotional Learning Activities with “By the People” Transcriptions

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Today’s guest post is from Annette Nakshbendi, a Librarian-in-Residence in the Digital Content Management Section at the Library of Congress.

How might a Library of Congress digital resource spark classroom discussion that reaches beyond a primary source’s content and context? You may have used the Library’s digital collections to help history “come alive” for students. But have you considered using them to help students understand their own relationship with technology or to foster their empathy for present-day peers who may interact with technology differently than they do?

As more schools nationwide encourage teachers to incorporate “social emotional learning” (SEL) activities into their K-12 curricula, educators can turn to the Library for resources that open students’ eyes to SEL-related topics, including the importance of creating accessible technology. Not only is accessibility awareness an important topic in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, but it also helps promote exploratory perspective-taking and other skills that fall under the SEL umbrella.

One digital tool that can support SEL curricula is By the People, which invites anyone with an internet connection to transcribe digital collections material using an open-source platform called “Concordia.” The program’s About page explains how the completed transcriptions contribute to Library collections’ accessibility by “[improving] search, readability, and access to handwritten and typed documents for everyone, including people who are not fully sighted.” By the People also maintains a Resources for Educators page with lesson ideas, transcribe-a-thon resources, and a downloadable form to document students’ virtual volunteer hours.

Screen capture shows a Library of Congress webpage with options to “Get started,” “Transcribe,” and “Review,” with buttons to “Login” and “Register” in the top right corner.
The By the People homepage encourages visitors to “Be a virtual volunteer!”

Students may not be aware that some people require an assistive technology called a “screen reader” in order to use computers. Educators could prompt students to:

Even students who do not consider themselves in need of accessibility interventions may find Rosa Parks’ cursive handwriting in her 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott “Instructions to car-pool drivers and passengers” challenging to understand. Educators could:

  • Ask students to share their experience approaching the primary source in the “Image” only and “Image w/Text” page views.
  • Ask students to reflect on the idea that “accessibility is essential for people with disabilities and useful for all” (Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)) after exploring the different levels of meaning they can derive from the document with and without its transcription.


Screen capture of document viewer interface shows typed text and corresponding manuscript page, with zoom buttons and navigation arrows to turn pages.
The “Image w/text” view of a digitized primary source on shows a handwritten document from the completed Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words campaign on the right and the completed By the People transcription on the left.

Whether sighted students can read Rosa Parks’ handwriting or not, they will be able to see Ms. Parks’ corrections on the original document. Ask students to investigate how the transcription on the left side of the “Image w/Text” view indicates Ms. Parks’ corrections (hint: crossed-out text appears in brackets). This notation ensures that screen readers recognize the additional meaning provided by the evidence of Ms. Parks’ thought process. For a Civil War-era example of how manuscript corrections can change a document’s meaning, visit Abraham Lincoln’s draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

You may have used primary sources to encourage historical empathy from your students. You may have suggested By the People transcription as a service-learning opportunity for interested students and watched them develop an appreciation for civic engagement and virtual collaboration, as described by this interview with individual volunteer, Kathleen, or this interview with Julie Centofanti, founder of the Youngstown State University Transcribing Club. But have you considered using completed By the People transcriptions to increase students’ accessibility awareness? Let us know in the comments below.

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