How good is good enough for your transcription project? We all have a tendency to want things to be “perfect”. Some of us even have a legal obligation for things to be “good”. But humans aren’t perfect. We’ve talked about the errors medieval scribes made transcribing – and they were professionals! Humans today also make mistakes. So, how much effort do you put into finding and fixing those mistakes?
When we talk to folks about quality and reviewing documents, we tell two stories that demonstrate the opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Maryland State Archives had a long-running project indexing marriage records – vital records of living people – in order to make them findable. This project needed to be *right* because folks need the records for things like authorizing hospital care. (And in fact, Liz, the archivist running the project, sent out a note to her transcribers explaining how their work let her find a marriage certificate quickly and enabled someone to get COVID care for a spouse.) So MSA had staff members review every single certificate. Multiple people were dedicating hours of their week to make sure the work was correct.
The Library of Virginia, on the other hand, has a collection of colonial court records. Their goal in transcribing these very difficult documents is to make them more findable and discoverable. They pull anything that’s available – complete or incomplete pages or documents, without review – into their DAMs. The attitude is “anything is better than nothing”.
Your needs probably fall somewhere in between. FromThePage offers multiple review configurations: “review optional” (transcribers check a box if they would like a page reviewed); “review required” (all pages are marked as needing review, but anyone can review); and “restricted review” (all pages are marked as needing review but only staff or designated volunteer reviewers can review).
As you make these choices for your projects, realize everything is a trade-off. Here are some things to consider:
- If you were paying an offshore company to transcribe your documents, what level of quality would you receive? I’m guessing it wouldn’t be perfect, but would be “good enough”.
- Transcribers love their work, and take it very seriously. It’s not a job, it’s a passion and because many of them are genealogists, they understand how important accurate transcriptions are to folks researching in your archives.
- Reviewing is not nearly as much fun as transcribing. Volunteers may not choose to do it.
- You can “promote” super volunteers to reviewers, leveraging a feeling of significance and honor to ask some of your volunteers to do less fun work.
- We’ve also seen heritage organizations – like the DAR – act as reviewers. In the case I’m thinking of, volunteers were competing for volunteer hours and ran out of material to transcribe on a regular basis! Reviewing, though, was still needed.
- You may end up doing most of the reviews with your labor, or your co-workers.
- You can decide it’s “good enough” at any point and quit, even with pages left to review.
- Do you have a way for “downstream” researchers to report problems? This is a great way to acknowledge that work isn’t 100% perfect, and encourage the public to help you QA documents as they are being used.
Once you’ve decided how to approach quality, FromThePage has a review dashboard that focuses on review efforts. We want this to be as painless as possible! The next few newsletters will dive into different tools & approaches to help with review.