21 Apr

Remote Volunteer Opportunity: Library of Congress By the People Campaigns

One aspect that is important for both professional historians and public understandings of American history – and how we understand who we are as a people – is the ability for the public to access the documents that are housed in the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress has digital collections of American History; Government, Law & Politics; Social & Business History, and other themes available for members of the public to freely access primary texts. But of course many of these documents were originally hand written, requiring transcription.

This provides an opportunity for remote volunteers. The Library of Congress invites members of the public to help transcribe historical documents, and review the transcriptions others have done. Current campaigns include American Federation of Labor (AFL) Letters in the Progressive Era, which “coincided with widespread industrialization, urbanization, and immigration, all of which intersected with a burgeoning civil rights movement and a cresting women’s suffrage campaign.” Others focus on the papers of Clara Barton, nurse, philanthropist, and founder of the American Red Cross; Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, social reformer, and diplomat; and presidents James Garfield and Theodore Roosevelt.

As a scholar of nonprofit management and fundraising, I frequently see stories about topics like crowdsourcing, or remote volunteering trends such as “clicktivism.” As the ability to read cursive becomes a special skill, documents that illuminate the experiences of people whose actions led to women’s suffrage, civil rights, and other political and social movements risk being further removed from our common narrative as a nation. The By the People campaign is one way for people to volunteer some of their time to help expand access to these documents, regardless of geography or mobility. Even short periods of time combine with others’ work to contribute to digitizing collections.

If this type of service is attractive to you, you can find out more from the Library of Congress. A complete list of LOC By the People campaigns is at . Resources for transcribers are also available.

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