Alyssa Ollier of the Kentucky Historical Society kindly took the time to answer questions from Sara Brumfield of FromThePage, and discussed their project and experience using the platform.
Alyssa Ollier is the Digital Archivist at the Kentucky Historical Society.
First, tell us about your documents.
The Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) has used FromThePage to transcribe a wide variety of documents—including diaries, correspondence, and printed materials—that relate to the history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the lives of individual Kentuckians. Our active public projects include photographers’ daybooks from the Wolff, Gretter, Cusick, and Hill photography studio in Frankfort, Kentucky and United States Colored Troops (USCT) muster rolls for the 7th, 8th, and 9th Kentucky districts. The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) has also opened some of their documents for public transcription on FromThePage.
What are your goals for the projects?
Volunteers are an essential part of the work we do at KHS. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented many of our volunteers from working at KHS in person, but their interest remained. To meet this need, we developed a “virtual volunteer” program in which people can earn volunteer hours for transcribing KHS collections on FromThePage. We hope to add their completed transcriptions to the corresponding digital objects in our Digital Collections to improve the accessibility and research value of those items.
How are you recruiting or finding volunteers/collaborators?
Our volunteer base includes formerly on-site volunteers who have pivoted to virtual volunteering, as well as new volunteers who contacted KHS looking for ways they could help from home. We have also added a footer to all our collections on FromThePage to advertise our volunteer program. Those who are interested in transcribing documents for the Kentucky Historical Society can contact our Visitor Services Coordinator Hannah Litkenhous (email@example.com) or visit the Volunteer page on our website.
Can you share your experience using FromThePage?
I first used FromThePage as a graduate student when I participated in a “transcribathon” of a medieval French bestiary. I loved how many options the user interface included for viewing page images, including an excellent zoom feature and the ability to change the location of the transcription pane. I also appreciated that HTML could be used to style the finished transcription. When I joined the Kentucky Historical Society, I was excited to learn that KHS also used FromThePage for its transcription projects. I’ve enjoyed exploring other features of FTP (such as its IIIF capabilities) and coming up with new projects for our virtual volunteers.
How does FromThePage & crowdsourcing fit with historical research?
Even as computer-generated character recognition continues to improve, the best mechanism for transcription is still the human eye. Historical institutions such as KHS rely on the hard work of volunteers and staff to create readable and searchable versions of their collections, especially their handwritten documents. FromThePage provides a platform on which this work can take place quickly and easily.
In many cases, the usefulness of historical resources increases exponentially after transcription. Our Wolff Gretter Cusick daybooks, for example, contain descriptive information for thousands of photographs taken in Kentucky between 1902 and 1958. Researchers and archivists already use these books to make sense of the enormous collection, but the ability to perform a keyword search for particular names, buildings, or subjects would allow for even more insights into Kentucky history and genealogy.
What would you tell folks considering a similar project?
Transcription projects are a great way to continue engagement with volunteers, especially in these uncertain times. FromThePage is also remarkably easy to use, both from the back end and as a transcriber, and the projects themselves provide an opportunity for users to interact with primary sources virtually even if they can’t visit your institution in person.
Anything else you'd like to tell us?
Managing our transcription projects has helped me strategize how to increase the discoverability of the materials in our Digital Collections. As patrons’ information-seeking behavior becomes more influenced by search engines (i.e., typing keywords into a search bar), descriptive metadata and accurate transcription are our best hope for connecting people to the documents they need.