Transcription work at Special Collections & Archives and beyond

Hi, my name is Sue and I am one of the Library Associates in Special Collections & Archives (SCA).

Like many of you, I found the move to working from home an adjustment. SCA has been very successful moving our research services and class instruction online thanks to our previous and continuing work updating and adding to our Archives Database and Waterloo Digital Library. My daily work transitioned into;

  • updating and adding records from our in-house databases to the Archives Database
  • uploading digital objects to an open source digital preservation system, Archivematica
  • remote patron research and
  • transcribing select material from our local history collections, including items that are digitized and appear on the Waterloo Digital Library.

Transcription work is a favourite of mine. I enjoy the challenge of deciphering handwriting and performing research on local or world events mentioned in diaries or correspondence. I worked on transcribing the Calendar of events from the Kitchener-Waterloo Record fonds (view the Kitchener-Waterloo Record calendar of events of the Waterloo Digital Library) and this is just one example of reading history as it happened. This calendar was used by newspaper staff and contains a page for each day of the year recording historical international, national and local events. Digitization and transcription work increases accessibility to archival collections for researchers from all walks of life, both Waterloo affiliated and otherwise. This was especially true as SCA has been closed to visitors owing to the public health situation.

In July of 2020, myself and Connie Deighan, Connie Kovac and Nick Maier, all UW Library staff, volunteered to participate in the Canadian Research Knowledge Network’s (CRKN) crowdsourced transcription project. Volunteers provide transcriptions for content in the Héritage collection. Héritage is part of the CRKN’s Canadiana collections which includes 41 million pages of archival records, over half being handwritten. Transcription of these documents can be used to provide full-text search capability as Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software cannot be used to create accurate, searchable versions of handwritten items. Our department was also interested in learning more about the functionality of the CRKN’s transcription tool with a view for use in our future transcription projects.

Most weeks, I devote around an hour a day to the project, usually at the end of the workday, depending on meetings or other projects taking priority. I chose to transcribe minutes from meetings of the National Council of Women of Canada collection, starting from its foundational meeting held by Canadian women who attended the World's Congress of Representative Women. This congress was held within the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair) in May of 1893. I was excited when I saw this collection as it ties in nicely with SCA’s Lady Aberdeen and Women’s Studies collections. Lady Aberdeen took a leading role in the foundation, and was the first President of, this Canadian organization of women. I’ve been finding the development of an organization solely for the promotion and advancement of women’s concerns and organizations fascinating, especially an organization founded many years before the majority of women in Canada had the right to vote or own property.

With thousands of pages still be transcribed, I’ll be kept busy doing work I enjoy and contributing towards the accessibility of these valuable historical records from anywhere in the world.

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