Andrea Meyer of the East Hampton Public Library kindly took the time to answer questions from Sara Brumfield of FromThePage, and discussed their project and experience using the platform.
Andrea Meyer is the Librarian/Archivist and Head of the Long Island Collection at the East Hampton Public Library.
First, tell us about your documents.
We have a little bit of everything here. We've got 5 rooms of archives, and the majority of our manuscript holdings are pre-1850, with probably about a quarter of our holdings pre-1790. We've focused our online transcription efforts on our roughly 63 volumes covering 70 voyages of Whaling Logs, which are fully digitized, and an important part of our collection. We feel the cursive handwriting has been a barrier for people to understand the amazing stories being told on those pages, like the first American voyage to Antarctica by Captain Mercator Cooper. We've also started to post some church records and account books to support a project in the community focused on identifying enslaved (and formerly enslaved) people.
What are your goals for the project?
Making records more legible and usable, having a typed transcript for manuscript materials to make items more searchable and accessible for researchers, helping access historical records, finding the names of enslaved people in the community to tell their stories and restore their place in history, and eventually embedding searchable transcripts into our digitization platform.
How are you recruiting or finding volunteers/collaborators?
We're really going for the low-key not actively recruiting perspective and posting the links to our projects on social media and on our homepage. We mention it when we get an inquiry about community service hours, but we're not making a big push right now for more volunteers. We've found several transcribers through the Plain Sight Project (which seeks to identify and tell the stories of local enslaved people) though, so we've started to put up more records that are relevant for their work.
Can you share your experience using FromThePage?
It's been very easy, very hands-off. Instead of dealing with dozens of questions about transcriptions and formatting I just send our patrons to our site. Occasionally we export some data or post some new records. It's great! I have to admit though, we have not really fully utilized all the features as much as we intended to, and we've taken a very passive approach to this site, but any time we try to implement something new and cool, Sara and Ben are super responsive and supportive. I wish even a fraction of our other services were as supportive as FromThePage has been.
How does FromThePage & crowdsourcing fit with more traditional public library work?
Well, first of all, we're not a traditional library in my room, we don't circulate books, etc. But we are in a public "traditional" library. So we have the same ideas about serving the community and making things accessible for people. We have a community that wants to engage with records, and this gives us a way to let them interact with our materials that is supportive without requiring special knowledge.
What would you tell folks considering a similar project?
My biggest surprise was how much people loved the random other things we added as sort of side projects or add-ons to our digitized materials knowing who was interested in transcribing things. It's the things I didn't think people would care about that they loved the most. The whaling logs aren't a huge hit but the "other" things like account books and church records have been a big hit. People like short and easy, and they like more limited options apparently.
Have some manuscripts that could use some love? Schedule a live demo with Ben and Sara.