Virtual transcribathons are a great way to interact and engage with your volunteers and collaborators on a transcription project.
These virtual events bring together your institution and the public to collaborate and support one another when transcribing material. However, if you’ve never held a virtual transcribathon before, you may not know how to start or where to begin.
FromThePage has asked some of our partners how they organized their virtual transcribathons and what they’ve learned along the way.
From Sonya Coleman, Library of Virginia
You’ll want to send three to four emails beforehand and ask them to sign up for an account and any joining info for whatever system you're using. Only half to three-quarters of those who sign up will show up - fewer than for in-person events.
For these events, we try to have no more than 20-25 minutes of introductory information before folks start working. We've found Zoom to be the best platform. Not only are folks more familiar with the format and controls, the breakout rooms provide a way to have a quick one-on-one consultation with any users experiencing issues. You can easily pop a user and a staff member into a breakout room where they can share screens and address specific questions without interrupting the work of the entire group.
A good group size is 15-30 and I recommend two to three staff members for this, precisely because some users will need individual attention to be successful.
This is the general structure we use for a 2-hour program - it goes by quickly!
- Welcome, Rules, Program Structure
- Collection Information
- Using FromThePage demo
- Historical Context - "Featured Footnote"
- Work Independently (at least 1 hour)
- Discussion - Questions will vary with materials, but we connected Covid-19 with the 1918 flu, talked about where soldiers were from, and anything interesting they had found. Due to the framing we had provided, there were more questions and observations about race in Virginia at the time. It's good to select a few themes to keep in mind as you steer the discussion.
- For Further Info and reminder that FTP can be used at any time, outside of staff-led transcribe-a-thons.
We may change the order slightly to have the historical context before the FTP demo, so that they go straight into transcribing after that. It can take a bit of experimentation to make sure that the flow is smooth for your volunteers.
When we did the History Unfolded events, we also focused on making sure that volunteers left feeling successful and understanding why their contributions are important. To assist with that, we had specific assignments for each user for those events and shared them in a Google Spreadsheet. We did not think that was necessary for the FromThePage events, since there are so many documents to select from in the WWI collection.
Heather Wolfe, Folger Shakespeare Library
I’d suggest using multiple moderators or experts, and using Zoom’s break out room feature to work one-on-one with folks if they need it.
Emily Wahl, Folger Shakespeare Library
We’ve seen folks post screenshots of difficult transcription tasks on twitter, with a hashtag for the transcribathon, to start public conversations.
From Riley Bogren, Sandy Spring Museum
Our transcribathon went well, and definitely had a lot of learning opportunities.
We held ours for four hours, which I felt was certainly long enough. When volunteers registered, an automatic email was sent out encouraging them to watch our transcription training video and register for FromThePage before the event, but I still spent the first 30 to 45 minutes of the events walking through the signup process with people.
I shared my screen and gave basic advice on how to begin transcribing, which was very helpful. Since a lot of our volunteers during the transcribathon were new to transcription, and several were middle to high school age students, I made sure our collections had some documents that were a combination of handwritten and typed so that participants struggling with the handwriting or cursive could still participate in the overall experience without getting too frustrated. It was also a great benefit to have several more experienced transcribers as part of the mix, as they gave a lot of helpful advice to some of the new folks.
I also encouraged transcribers to share interesting or funny tidbits they found during the process, which I hoped would encourage more engagement with the documents. One thing that I didn't plan for was that several people tried working on the same document at once, and someone would finish their transcription only to find that they couldn't save their work because someone else was on the page. I would make it very clear to volunteers that if they see the warning that someone else is working on the page they should find another document to work on to avoid confusion.
Another useful tip we’ve found was to use a messenger service, such as Slack or Discord, to help with communication. These platforms allow for voice communication in real-time and allow you to share your screen to help troubleshoot any problems that may arise.