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Volunteers Transcribe Material For Smithsonian's Digital Project


The Smithsonian is getting help from a special kind of volunteer - volunteers like Michelle Marshall (ph).

MICHELLE MARSHALL: I am a serious nerd, definitely.

INSKEEP: And that nerdiness is just what the Smithsonian says it needs. The American museum complex is running a crowd-sourcing project. It is asking thousands of people to transcribe the Smithsonian's vast collection of hand-written materials.


The goal is to create searchable digital files. Here's why Michelle Marshall goes in for the drudgery. She discovers letters, like one by African-American artist Beauford Delaney from the Harlem Renaissance.

MARSHALL: He was writing about how he dearly wished that his friend Al would come to visit him - that he really missed him. And he says, I will show you the place where there are happy feet and weary blues - also, barbecued ribs.

INSKEEP: Now, beyond the letters, volunteers like Laura While (ph) are transcribing everything for the print on American currency to the tiny labels of the bumblebee collection.

LAURA WHILE: There were a lot of umbus, I think.

CORNISH: And project coordinator Meghan Ferriter says, transcribers are especially eager to read diaries.

MEGHAN FERRITER: Well, it seems that our volunteers get really excited about what they are transcribing and become quickly attached to the individuals who are writing the diaries that they're reading.

INSKEEP: The volunteers are not likely to run out of work any time soon.

CORNISH: The Smithsonian has 19 museums and 137 million objects. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.