Less than two weeks ago, the Smithsonian entered the ranks of institutions that have crowdsourced transcriptions of documents in their collections.  As explained in their press release, they have digitized images of millions of documents, but those that are handwritten or otherwise cannot easily be deciphered by a computer have limited discoverability because their text cannot be searched.  So volunteers can register to participate and then choose among a diverse group of projects to transcribe, which are listed according to the individual museum (e.g., the National Museum of American History) or by theme — American Experience, Biodiverse Planet, Civil War Era, Field Book Registry, Mysteries of the Universe, and World Cultures.  In this short period of time, dozens of projects both short and long have already been completed.  Once a transcription is finished, it is reviewed by other volunteers before it is marked complete.

This work is done anonymously, which fascinates me considering that so much of American society today seems intent on calling attention to individuals.  In their call for volunteers, the Smithsonian targets “researchers, educators, citizen scientists and history buffs” — but I think it would be a great project to find out more about who joins these ranks of volunteers.  Are they retired persons? subject experts? students? technological experts?  While I support doing work for the greater good rather than for individual fame, there will remain a part of me that is very curious about the membership of these new crowdsourcing communities that are being created.

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