"Volunpeers” is a flexible term for volunteers, organizations, and institutions to succinctly represent the knowledge-building activities and collaborative enterprise in which they are engaged.
-Dr. Meghan Ferriter, Project Coordinator, Smithsonian Transcription Center
If you're considering recruiting volunteers for your transcription project, you don't want to miss some of the helpful insights already shared by major programs. One of the best known and most successful is the Smithsonian Transcription Center.
In July 2014, Transcription Center Project Coordinator Dr. Meghan Ferriter reported in her Smithsonian Institution Archives blog post, "Growing to a Community of Volunpeers: Communication & Discovery," that there were 450 volunteers working on 46 different projects. Ferriter explored how the act of transcribing transformed individual volunteers to a community of "volunpeers," a term she coined. The Transcription Center's web-based volunteer dashboard features handy links to lists of ongoing projects and highlights the latest updates. Transcribers also interacted using the notes feature within the site, where they share ideas, ask questions, and collaborate on a page-by-page basis. The Smithsonian's volunpeers are also encouraged to share their discoveries on social media; there are thousands of tweets and Facebook posts using the hashtag #volunpeers. Smithsonian staff can also interact with far-flung contributors who ask questions publicly and online, which also serves to draw attention to the Transcription Center, widening the net of potential volunpeers. By the end of 2016, their ranks had grown to 7,060 contibutors!
In a 2014 Smithsonian Magazine article by Helen Thompson, the Transcription Center shared some great information and resources, including strategies for crowd-sourcing transcriptions (hint: enlist multiple transcribers and an expert final reviewer for each document); ask for help (not just from in-house experts, but through your own networks, including online); attract volunteers by diversifying your document sets, including various types, subjects, time periods, and formats where possible; and make the resulting transcriptions public, insofar as possible--this not only increases access and use, but can also serve as a recruitment tool for additional volunteers.
Thompson's article also underlined the importance of not just assembling a pool of volunteers but of fostering the development of a community. Even if your volunteer team is a virtual one, separated physically but working on the same project online, providing an opportunity for participants to ask questions, brainstorm, and share tips and tricks is a great idea. Beyond whatever tools are being used for transcription and project administration, many repositories also encourage volunteers to share their experiences on social media. The Smithsonian Transcription Center does this not only through the tools in the transcription platform itself, but also by maintaining a Facebook presence, an addictive Instagram stream, and a very active Twitter account, @TranscribeSI, where Ferriter fields questions and signal boosts the volunpeers and their work.
Mike Ashenfelder's December 2016 article, '"Volun-peers' Help Liberate Smithsonian Digital Collections," published on the Library of Congress blog The Signal, includes an interview with Ferriter. Two years after creating the term, she underlined how "volunpeers" are integrated into the work of the Transcription Center through a collapsing of conventional institutional hierarchical authority, the nurturing of relationships using social media, and--most crucially--mutual trust. The result? Crowd-sourced contributors who are much more than just that: not only are the volunpeers transcribing more and more pages each year, but their manual transcriptions have thus far proven to be statistically superior to OCR.
The Transcription center is proving that "crowd-sourced" may not be the best moniker or practical approach to our projects. A community is, after all, much more than just a crowd--even when its members are physically far removed from one another and the institution they serve. As Smithsonian Senior Project Manager Ching-hsien Wang, said, "Volunteers feel privileged and take the responsibility seriously. And they like that the Smithsonian values what they do."
Volunpeers: Hashtag, Identity, & Collaborative Engagement, by Dr. Meghan Ferriter, April 5, 2014
Growing to a Community of Volunpeers: Communication & Discovery, by Dr. Meghan Ferriter, The Bigger Picture: Smithsonian Institution Archives blog, July 8, 2014
The Smithsonian Wants You! (To Help Transcribe Its Collections), by Helen Thompson, smithsonian.com, August 12, 2014
Cultural Institutions Embrace Crowdsourcing, by Mike Ashenfelder, The Signal, Library of Congress blog, September 16, 2015
Inviting Engagement, Supporting Success: How to Manage a Transcription Center, by Dr. Meghan Ferriter, Collections Vol 12, Issue 2, Spring 2016, edited by Juilee Decker, p. 97-115
The Creation and Evolution of the Transcription Center, Smithsonian Institution's Digital Volunteer Platform, by Andrew Gunther, Michael Schall, and Ching-hsien Wang, Collections Vol 12, Issue 2, Spring 2016, edited by Juilee Decker, p. 87-96
“Volun-peers” Help Liberate Smithsonian Digital Collections, by Mike Ashenfelder, The Signal, Library of Congress blog, December 21, 2016
Smithsonian Transcription Center on Twitter
#volunpeers on Facebook
#volunpeers on Twitter
Chien-hsien Wang on Twitter
Dr. Meghan Ferriter on Twitter
Smithsonian Transcription Center