The Smithsonian Wants You! (To Help Transcribe Its Collections)

Many myths surround the Smithsonian Institution’s archives—from legends of underground facilities hidden beneath the National Mall to rumors of secret archaeological excavations. One underlying truth persists amid these fallacies: the Institution’s archives are indeed massive. Preserving these collections in a digital age is a gargantuan task, especially when it comes to handwritten documents. Ink fades with time, and individual scrawls sometimes resemble hieroglyphics. It could literally take decades.
The Smithsonian, instead, aims to shorten that timeframe with the help of anyone with an Internet connection. After about a year of testing with a small group of volunteers, the Smithsonian opened up their Transcription Center website to the public last month. Today, they issued a called for volunteers to help decipher everything from handwritten specimen tags to the personal letters of iconic artists to early U.S. currency. “For years, the vast resources of the Smithsonian were powered by the pen; they can now be powered by the pixel,” Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough said in a statement.

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