Olivia Carlisle of the State Archives of North Carolina kindly took the time to answer questions from Sara Brumfield of FromThePage, and discussed their project and experience using the platform.
Olivia Carlisle is the Information Management Archivist at the State Archives of North Carolina.
First, tell us about your documents.
Our work with FromThePage started with an NHPRC grant we received that included transcribing Colonial Court Records, and we launched TranscribeNC in 2019 to do so. The entire program has been such a success we continue it even though our grant has ended. We currently have a mix of 12 active collections, and 8 collections have rotating material, and we’re on our 3rd or 4th rotation for most of those.
Our material comes from the North Carolina Digital Collections. We were fortunate to already have an abundance of digitized material in a variety of subjects, which I believe makes TranscribeNC so successful. To help keep the volunteers engaged we try to provide a variety of subjects for them, from historical wills to more modern era material like African American educational history. We also recognize that our volunteers have a varying level of skill, and we want everyone to be able to participate so we really try to have a good mix of handwritten material and typed material. A little bit of something for everybody.
Our newer collections include Will Books, Tax Lists and Records, and District Superior Court Records. We’re excited for the District Superior Court Records to be transcribed because very little research has been done into these, so who knows what interesting people we’ll find recorded.
What are your goals for the project?
Our main goals are twofold: to broaden accessibility to our collections, especially for records that may otherwise be difficult to read, but also to engage public volunteers with the work of the State Archives, namely through transcription. So far, our volunteers have transcribed over 16,000 pages. It’s been such a success we’ve started adding our more obscure digitized material to TranscribeNC, like the historical Will Books. While they are included in the Archives’ will index, there is so much more information in the actual text of the will books, like possibly the names of enslaved peoples, which means making those more accessible is a main initiative of the Archives right now.
How are you recruiting or finding volunteers/collaborators?
Mostly social media and information about TranscribeNC during other Archives events. We also make sure to have clear information about virtual volunteering opportunities, TranscribeNC, on our volunteer information page. We also currently have over 1000 registered volunteers, so we’ve done a great job so far!
Can you share your experience using FromThePage?
It's been great. It’s straightforward and easy to use. It’s also being continually improved upon which is great for both us and our volunteers. We’re excited to start using the new spreadsheet feature. This really opens up what kinds of records volunteers can transcribe. The Tax Lists and Records and District Superior Court Records projects both use this feature.
How does FromThePage & crowdsourcing fit within state archives?
We use it to transcribe materials that are in the North Carolina Digital Collections, making them more keyword accessible, and making the more historical documents easier to read. We’ve also added transcription viability when deciding on new digitization projects. But we also work with other Archives departments. For example, our Outreach Coordinator is working on compiling a cookbook based on recipes found in the Archives and asked if we’d be able to get some recipes transcribed. Since we already had some in our digital collections, it was quite simple, and those are almost completely transcribed, perhaps within a couple of months of being available.
What would you tell folks considering a similar project?
When thinking about what materials to have transcribed, try to consider not only the historical significance of the materials and their current level of accessibility but also the subject matter interests for your intended audience of volunteers.
We think one thing that has helped us reach a broader audience and kept our volunteers engaged is the wide variety of materials included in both typescript material and handwritten materials projects.
Also having guides and stylesheets from the outset makes training much easier and ensures better consistency of the transcriptions throughout the projects.
Anything else you'd like to tell us?
We have various information sources on transcription, including for colonial handwriting. They can be found on our website, along with our transcription reference guide for volunteers, https://archives.ncdcr.gov/researchers/transcribenc