When I was a wee graduate student, my internship was with the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center Music Division. There I got to do some backlog work, learn how to read the Cyrillic alphabet–a skill now very rusty–and see some beautiful illuminated manuscripts. Once I graduated and found gainful employment, I showed up again in Bob Kosovsky’s office looking for a volunteer project.

Bob set me to transcribing a small collection’s catalog cards. It’s been 8 years and honestly, I’ve forgotten the details of the project. But an evening or so a week and 4-5 hours on most Saturdays, I blithely waltzed past the security as only those who know exactly where they are going are wont to do and settled in at a computer with a drawer.

I finished the project just shortly before I moved to Chicagoin 2006. I think, had I stayed, that the sheet music cards–which took up about 10x the number of drawers, was going to be next. That would have been a project probably taking up 5 years worth of Saturdays, but what riches might I have uncovered?

Finding the new Smithsonian Transcription project felt a bit like picking back up where I had left off after that move. Launched very recently, the website is still in Beta, but you can easily create an account, log in, and start transcribing a project.

The selection is pretty broad. I was working on a book that was from India; note cards from an Alabama to English dictionary which required that I open the symbols section on my computer; handwritten diaries. It looks like they’ve started with about 40 projects, which seems a good and very ambitious starter set. Themes like the Civil War, Field Book Registry, and American Experience broadly appeal to different groups.

If you’re not up for all that typing, you can also review. Pages get transcribed, then reviewed, and then submitted to the Smithsonian staff for final confirmation.  Also, you don’t have to have an account to try transcribing, if you’d like to swing by and test drive it.

This seems like it would be a fun project to get involved with at a school — pick a project, transcribe a few pages, find out history surrounding it. Once these are done they would be tremendous resources for National History Day Projects as primary resources.

I am guessing that materials will be available in the collections search  upon completion. That part still seems a little bit vague. But again, they’re in beta. From the Collections Terms of Use page I did find “The Smithsonian invites visitors to use its online content for personal, educational and other non-commercial purposes.” so I may look to grab some of their images for classes or presentations.

What will you do with it?