The Smithsonian crowdsources for help with digitization project


It's the 21st century. We take notes on our tablets, read books on our e-readers and hail cabs on our smartphones. So it's no surprise that some of our nation's greatest museums and research institutions are going digital, too.

The Smithsonian announced the launch of a huge digitization project, The Smithsonian Transcription Center, on Aug. 12. This new digital venture uses volunteers to transcribe historic documents and records so that the institution can better conduct its research.

"For years, the vast resources of the Smithsonian were powered by the pen; they can now be powered by the pixel," said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough.

Getting involved with the project is as easy as signing up for Twitter. Just head over to the website and you can start working on a number of transcriptions in whatever subject interests you, from art to science to history. Some projects currently featured are transcribing bumblebee specimen tags, handwritten letters from American artists and Native American vocabulary cards from the early 1900s.

Projects are first transcribed by volunteers and then reviewed by volunteers, who must register with The Smithsonian Transcription Center. The user that reviews the transcription can either send it back for more edits or send it off to the Smithsonian Staff, who will approve it or send it back for more edits.

Transcribing these documents will help The Smithsonian be better able to search for information and read the materials so that we can all better understand our world.

"Our goal with this project is to make our collections more accessible and useful to curators, researchers, and anyone with a curious spirit. Because computers have a hard time understanding handwriting, many of our collections still hold many secrets and hidden knowledge inside their pages. With your help, we can bring that knowledge to life," The Smithsonian Transcription Center's website said.

This is just another example of how the power of the Internet can help museums crowdsource for research, information and exhibits. In the Fall of 2013, The Chicago History Museum asked Chicago residents to submit and vote for ideas for the institution's next exhibit. The public chose the exhibit "Chicago Authors," which is scheduled to open in Fall 2015. The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York asked Redditors to submit GIFs for the museum's installation, "The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture" in February. In Spring 2014, The British Museum launched MicroPasts, which is a crowdsourcing platform that asks users to help with the research of Bronze Age artifacts.

Participating in a museum's crowdsourcing project is probably the closest most of us will ever get to having any of our work or research in a museum. What's not to like?

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