Jennifer Noffze, Collections Manager at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, kindly spoke with Sara Brumfield about her experience using FromThePage.
First, tell us about your documents.
Our collection includes over 6,000 letters written to Ryan White along with condolence cards sent to his mother, Jeanne White Ginder. Ryan was an Indiana teenager who became internationally known in the early 1980s when he contracted HIV/AIDS and he fought a very public battle to attend school. In 2001, we received the entire contents of Ryan’s bedroom, which we re-created in The Power of Children permanent exhibit. Jeanne kept all of the letters sent to Ryan and she gave the collection to the museum. Over the years, we had four different individuals access the collection for their dissertation research, and we wanted to make the collection more widely available. In 2016, the museum received an IMLS grant to digitize the letters and make them publicly available. In addition to creating a digital archive, a huge component of this digital project was the creation of a public transcription site where schools, families and volunteer audiences would help us transcribe the letters.
A postcard sent to Ryan White in 1985.
What are your goals for the project? How are you recruiting or finding volunteers/collaborators?
While the ultimate goal with any transcription project is to make the collection more easily searchable, we also wanted to allow educators to use the transcription site to teach students about this vital part of historical research. Our education staff created Units of Study that incorporated the letters, and we also provided on-site visitors with an interactive space where they can transcribe letters. We used social media to help recruit volunteers and we were happy that a contact at the National Archives even shared our project on their social media channels! We also spoke about the project at the Society of Indiana Archivists and Alliance of American Museums annual meetings. Lastly, we are blessed with a wonderful Volunteer Services Department who helped us recruit volunteers.
A greeting card from students to Ryan White.
Can you share your experience using FromThePage?
Working with FromThePage was a breeze! When the transcription idea was initially formulating, we kept hearing about their successful collaboration with other libraries and archives and knew we would like to work with FromThePage. We were truly in capable hands and they provided prompt responses to any questions or concerns. Plus, they were intrigued by this collection and what we were doing. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is unique because we actually have a collection, and a large one at that! These letters fit perfectly in with our museum because they were largely written by children and teenagers. The Ryan White Letters are no longer a hidden treasure!
Further advantages of working with FromThePage include their expertise on how to run a transcription program. We really appreciated their Volunteer Guide, which we relied on heavily when creating our own guide. The site has never had any issues and has always been stable. Plus, the daily dashboard updates are super helpful as our Volunteer Services Department tracks volunteer hours.
What would you tell folks considering a similar project?
My main advice to anyone considering a transcription project is to make sure that your collection is cataloged and ready for digitization. Other than that, your colleagues at FromThePage will safely steer you in the right direction and your collection will truly have a global reach.