Volunteer from home: you can begin today!

On-site volunteering may be on hold due to the temporary closure, but the Smithsonian still has ways you can be involved. Caitlin Haynes takes us on a virtual tour of the Smithsonian Transcription Center, and explains how you can volunteer from home anytime you want.

While Smithsonian sites remain closed during this unprecedented time, Smithsonian collections can still be explored online – and YOU can play a pivotal role in enhancing those collections by joining the Smithsonian Transcription Center (TC) as a digital volunteer.

Screenshot of website

The Smithsonian Transcription Center homepage (courtesy Smithsonian Transcription Center)

In the Transcription Center, anyone with internet access and a computer can browse, transcribe, and review digitized Smithsonian materials, dating from the 17th century to the present day. Every word transcribed makes the content within these collections readable, searchable, and accessible; and with thousands of projects completed and ongoing – including historic diaries, letters, scientific field books, botanical specimen sheets, sound recordings, and more in over 26 different languages – there’s something for everyone to explore.

Participation in the Transcription Center also means joining a worldwide community of more than 15,000 digital volunteers. Volunpeers – as we call our amazing volunteers – work together and independently to complete ongoing projects. By communicating in the notes field of project pages, on social media, or by emailing the TC team, volunpeers can collaborate to decipher challenging handwriting, share tips and tricks for transcribing, and highlight interesting finds. Together, we’ve made over 500,000 pages of Smithsonian collections more accessible.

Screenshot of Twitter thread

A “volunpeer” shares her feelings about transcribing via TC social media
(Courtesy Smithsonian Transcription Center)

Screenshot of Twitter post

A “volunpeer” offers a suggestion on how to get started via social media
(Courtesy Smithsonian Transcription Center)

There is also no participation requirement or specific time commitment needed to become a TC volunpeer. Instead, users can contribute in any way that works best for them. From one word to hundreds of pages – every contribution in TC makes a difference. Looking to participate in TC as part of a volunteer or service requirement? Great! You can find full details on how to track your transcription activity in this PDF.

Through social media, virtual and in-person volunteer events, and outreach campaigns, volunpeers can stay connected with each other and Smithsonian staff, discover what happens behind-the-scenes to get materials into the Transcription Center, and learn more about how volunpeer work makes an impact on research.

Interested? Join us! To register for a Transcription Center volunpeer account head to the “sign up” tab in the upper right menu bar of our home page and enter an email address and username. Once you confirm your account, check out our community guidelines, instructions for transcription and review, and FAQ’s to familiarize yourself with the website. Then dive into any ongoing project that interests you! Current projects include materials from astronaut Sally Ride, records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, diaries of female artists, Chinese banknotes from the Ming Dynasty to the present day, and field books of Smithsonian scientists.

Website screenshot

The TC website shows what percentage of each project has already been completed by other “volunpeers.” (Courtesy Smithsonian Transcription Center)

Reach out to the TC team anytime with questions, discoveries, or just to say hi by emailing us at! Together, we’re improving access to the Smithsonian’s richly diverse collections and learning something new every day.

Caitlin Haynes is the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center Coordinator, a position she has held since 2018. In this role, Caitlin manages digital volunteer engagement, outreach, and the coordination of new projects for crowdsourced transcription. She holds an MA in United States History and an MLIS in Archives and Records Management from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Posted: 30 March 2020
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The Torch relies on contributions from the entire Smithsonian community.

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