Today we bring you the first of several spotlights on a different sort of Scripto user. Before, we have featured individual transcribers who have devoted time to transcribing War Department documents. Here, though, we feature an institution that has implemented their own verison of the Scripto tool to power their own transcription project. The project is called DIY History, and is brought to us by the University of Iowa Libraries.
We recently sat down with two of the folks responsible for DIY History: Shawn Averkamp, Data Services Librarian; and Jennifer Wolfe, Metadata Librarian, to talk about DIY History, Scripto, and crowdsourcing.
How did you get started using Scripto?
Shawn Averkamp: “Well, it really began with the Civil War Diaries and Letters Transcription Project. Within eighteen months, volunteer contributors transcribed something like 15,000 pages. So with the diaries and letters nearly completed, we expanded to include transcription opportunities for other handwritten materials; DIY History was launched in October of 2012.”
And what were your goals going into the project?
SA: “The main goal, as with most crowdsourcing projects, was to make historic artifacts more accessible. We wanted to be able to handle the records better—for example, making them more easily searchable; but also by asking the public to interact with the materials in new ways. Another example: texts can be scanned with OCR (optical character recognition) add full text searchability, you can’t do that other primary source materials like handwritten documents or photographs. To make the documents usable requires time and money—paying people to transcribe or describe each item; and anyway that that doesn’t scale with traditional library workflows. By asking volunteers to do this and attaching their contributions to the artifacts in our digital library, users can search on this added text to more quickly and easily find what they’re looking for.
What did you have to do to make Scripto work for you? And were there any technical challenges?
Jennifer Wolfe: “To run its crowdsourcing project, DIY History uses Omeka and Scripto. We are using Omeka as our content management system. We pretty much use Scripto right out of the box, with some minor tweaking. Which we did in-house, by the way. Scripto allows us oversight of all these transcriptions with a modest staff of editors. We really try not to do much editing—most transcriptions remain pretty much as our transcribers finish them.”
Are there challenges you did not anticipate?
SA: “We face some of the same challenges any crowdsourcing project would face—formatting, for example. Many of our transcribers feel it is important to reproduce the actual look of the documents, and that is sometimes hard to do. We would rather they focus on the content and not so much the appearance.”
JW: “Scaling was another consideration. Our project includes many more primary sources than some do, and we needed to be able to deal with materials from several collections. The sheer number of items, hundreds of thousands, means that we needed an efficient workflow.
With more than 30,000 finished transcriptions, DIY History continues to be an example of what crowdsourcing can do. Take a few dedicated volunteers and some tools, and you can empower them in new ways.