Smithsonian Institution Seeking Volunteers to Digitize Its Collections

The Smithsonian Institution is seeking volunteers to transcribe documents so they can be digitized
For those who have extra time and would like to contribute to science around the world (even if you don’t have a scientific background), you now have the perfect opportunity. The Smithsonian Institution is looking for volunteers to help digitize its vast collection of science and history. The new website where this is all organized was launched today, and anyone who would like to volunteer can sign up to help transcribe thousands of handwritten and typed artifacts which can’t be read by computers. Once completed, these will become available in digital form to scientists and researchers around the world who would’ve had to come to the museums to get the information in the past.

Why the need for the volunteers? The Smithsonian’s collection is huge, and trying to get everything digitized only using staff resources would take decades. By using volunteers and harnessing far greater numbers of people, it should be possible to turn all the information into digital form in a far shorter period of time. A good example was the beta test for this project. Over the last year, 1,000 volunteers managed to complete more than 13,000 pages of transcription, including completing projects in a couple of days which would have taken the Smithsonian staff months without their help.

One of the projects that these beta testers were able to complete was transcribing 45,000 labels attached to the the National Museum of Natural History bumblebee specimen collection. The important information from these bees is now available to scientists around the world who are researching the decline of bee colonies. This is one example of why digitizing the information is important so all people have access to it.

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough notes, “We are thrilled to invite the public to be our partners in the creation of knowledge to help open our resources for professional and casual researchers to make new discoveries. For years, the vast resources of the Smithsonian were powered by the pen; they can now be powered by the pixel.”

Here are some of the projects available for those interested as noted by the Smithsonian Institute (along with many others):

For Art Lovers

Handwritten personal letters of artists from the Archives of American Art: Read and transcribe personal letters from artists such as Mary Cassatt, Grandma Moses and Claes Oldenburg. Transcriptions of these letters will be part of the Archives forthcoming book The Art of Handwriting. In an age of emails, texts and tweets, when handwritten letters have ceased to be a primary mode of person-to-person communication, this book will explore what can be learned from the handwriting of artists.

For Armchair Archeologists

Field reports from Langdon Warner: Langdon Warner was an American archaeologist and art historian who specialized in East Asian art. He was also one of the Monuments Men who worked to protect monuments and cultural treasures in Japan during World War II. A professor at Harvard and Curator of Oriental Art at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, he is reputed to be one of the models for Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones.

For Bird Lovers

Observation notebooks of James Eike: James Eike was a Virginia bird watcher who kept impeccably detailed field observations of birds and the weather nearly every day from 1960 to 1983 near his home in Northern Virginia. In addition to being an important resource for ecologists, it also includes tidbits of cultural events from that time, including the 1969 moon landing.

You can sign up to volunteer here.

(Photo courtesy of treewoman8)

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2 Responses to Smithsonian Institution Seeking Volunteers to Digitize Its Collections

  1. donald says:

    Oh, this is great! I love the idea and can’t wait to help out in the project. Thanks for sharing.

  2. william says:

    This is a good idea that helps in a number of ways. The Smithsonian is able to devote its staff resources to other important things while researchers get vital data for their projects in a more timely manner. Best of all, the public has a direct connection with the project making them more a part of it. I would love to see more museums set up projects like this.

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