In 2018, the Library of Congress launched a crowdsourcing project called By the People. With it, the organization asks people to help keep some of the most influential documents of U.S. written history alive.
The project’s goal is to “improve search, readability, and access to handwritten and typed documents for those who are not fully sighted or cannot read the handwriting of the original documents.” Best of all, anyone can help.
The project doesn’t offer pay, but it does offer an interesting opportunity to spend some time with incredible pieces of the past. Archives that need transcribing contain everything from the poems of Walt Whitman to the letters that Abraham Lincoln received throughout his life. Volunteers will also work with the influential words written during the women’s suffrage movement, documents from the Civil War, and more.
All it takes to start is a computer and an interest in the work. Everyone to contribute can begin immediately by simply visiting By the People’s website. There is no mandatory registration process, so anyone can easily view as many pieces of U.S. history as they want.
How Does By the People Work?
By the People is still in its beta stage. Even so, the crowdsourcing website is very well-designed and easy to navigate.
It currently offers a dozen historical topics to browse and transcribe. While documents are being transcribed and reviewed all the time, new archives are also added to the project at random intervals.
If visitors want to take part in the project, all they need to do is click on a document. From there, they’ll arrive at a page displaying the original document on the left and a text-box on the right. All of the documents are scans of handwritten works. Accordingly, users can scroll around and zoom-in to change their view. Adjusting the images is smooth and effortless. This is good because plenty of the pages contain tiny margin notes and minuscule handwriting.
Once a page is complete, anybody can then view the original document as well as the transcriber’s comments. However, to make edits to fix errors found in the works of other writers, users need to register for a free account. After signing up on the website, users can also help tag documents with keywords for project categories.
Of course, not every document a transcriber comes across is from a President or some key historical figure. Yet, each one provides its own unique and valuable insights. The documents offer a glimpse into the time when it was written and the people who lived then.