Library of Congress’s By the People program allows the public to work with the LOC’s archival documents to provide a more accessible database to both researchers and the general public. By the People was launched in October of 2018 as a pilot program from the LOC’s digital innovation unit. Since this initial launch they have released 831,000+ pages for transcription across 35 campaigns. With the who and what out of the way how does this resource actually work?
To begin here is the basic guide provided by the LOC.
- Read the instructions on transcribing and reviewing transcriptions by other volunteers. You can get back to this guide and all instructions at any time by clicking “Help” at the top of any page. See abbreviated instructions while transcribing by clicking “Quick Tips” below the page image.
- Create an account (if you want!) Anyone can transcribe, you don’t need an account, but registered volunteers can also review and tag pages. Make your account here.
- Choose what to transcribe. Explore our campaigns featuring many different Library of Congress collections. When you find a group of documents that looks interesting, click through to a page. To transcribe, look for one labeled “Not Started” or “In Progress”. Use the colored status filters to narrow down to just those pages.
- Once you’ve chosen a page, transcribe what you can into the box on the right. Transcribe lines in the order they appear and preserve line breaks. If you see multiple pages, transcribe all of the content in the order it appears. Have questions about transcribing something tricky? Revisit the instructions.
- Click “Save” as you go to save work in progress. If you decide a page isn’t for you, that’s ok! You can move on, just make sure you click “Save” before moving on. Other volunteers will be able to help out with a page you started.
- Click “Save” and “Submit for review” if you have transcribed a whole page and think it is ready to be reviewed. If you are transcribing anonymously (without being logged into an account) you will be prompted to verify you are not a bot.
- After you’ve transcribed a few pages, try out review! Review is the crucial final step before transcriptions are marked ready for publication. All registered volunteers can review other people’s transcriptions. Learn more by reading our How to review instructions.
- Try out tagging. Tagging is an experimental feature. Read our tagging instructions then try it out on any page!
While this will get you started with the tool, it is not the whole story. To demonstrate what this process looks like I looked into one of the more recent campaigns “”To Be Preserved”: The Correspondence of James A. Garfield” You can find where to start under the campaigns tab on the top right tool bar. There are three different ways to use the We the People resource. You can start something brand new, pick up where someone else has left off, or review another completed transcript. Here is an example of what an in progress transcription looks like.
You can edit what has been typed or add to the document. Now I can’t read a lick of cursive, it’s truly my greatest weakness as a historian, so I won’t butcher any of these historic documents. But luckily the LOC also has resources on conducting transcribing activities for communities such as transcribe-a-thon so I don’t have to pull my weight. This event has a local community, school, or historical association work as a group to transcribe documents relating to a theme or campaign.
If you need extra help or more resources there are active forums to discuss issues and ask for assistance, a very detailed how-to guide, and a contact-us page to assist with any questions one might have. This can be found under the “discuss” tab on the main page.