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Out & About: Transcribe historical US documents in Hartland

  • The Library of Congress, located in Washington D.C., is pictured circa 1902. (Library of Congress photograph)

Valley News Calendar Editor
Published: 1/22/2020 4:39:39 PM
Modified: 1/22/2020 10:38:46 PM

HARTLAND — In fall 2018, the Library of Congress put out a call to the public: Help us transcribe and digitize the massive number of historical documents in our collection.

From 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, the Hartland Public Library will heed that call during its first “Transcribe-a-thon” for people interested in decoding documents for the “By the People” program, which is the name of the Library of Congress’ volunteer transcription program. Participants are encouraged to bring their own laptops or tablets, but the library has a few Chromebooks available to use.

“They’ve been held at libraries throughout the country, and it provides opportunities and support for people to test out the virtual volunteering technology and tasks,” said Nancy Tusinski, library director at the Hartland Public Library. “I thought it would be just terrific to offer it to the community.”

The goal of the program is to provide a digital, searchable database of the documents for researchers and the general public. The civilian-transcribed documents are subject to review before being added to the database.

Tusinski herself got involved with the program last fall and began transcribing pieces of Red Cross founder Clara Barton’s correspondence.

“I had a blast doing it. I’m very interested in history and it was really cool to be looking at Clara Barton’s actual letters that she had written to people,” Tusinski said. “To know that I have a part in other people being able to search out those letters ... and learn from that history, it was just really exciting.”

The amount of time it takes to complete a transcription depends on the quality and length of the document, among other factors, including the transcriber’s experience and skill set.

“It’s so variable. I did one letter of hers really quickly, probably I’d say within an hour. Another letter took longer than that, taking me over an hour,” Tusinski said. “It could be the quality of the paper, the quality of the ink, whether it was creased. The ink can get smudged.”

Volunteers can choose which documents they want to tackle. The Library of Congress organizes volunteer transcription projects by campaigns. Current ones include “Suffrage: Women Fight for the Vote,” “Mary Church Terrell: Advocate for African Americans and Women” and “Civil War.”

The amount of work can seem daunting at first, so working alongside others who can provide support and camaraderie.

“It’s great for people who are interested in history,” Tusinski said. “If a group of folks wanted to keep meeting here at the library and support each other doing this, absolutely we would have space for that.”

Editor’s note: For more information about the “By the People” project, visit crowd.loc.gov. For questions about the Hartland event — including snow cancellations — call 802-436-2473 or visit facebook.com/HartlandPublicLibrary.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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