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Archive for the 'Users' Category

Project Update – Transcribe Bentham, women and citizen science

By Louise Seaward, on 23 March 2018

We were honoured to be invited to present on 19th March 2018 at a UCL event celebrating the participation of women in citizen science and crowdsourcing projects.  Representation of the people in science: women in civic and citizen science brought together an all-female panel of researchers, citizen scientists and volunteers to discuss their different projects.

I gave the audience an overview of Transcribe Bentham and the benefits it brings for scholarship, access to historical material and our volunteers.  Since September 2010, there have been 639 people who have transcribed something at least once on our site (check out our Hall of Fame!).  But the majority of the transcription on Transcribe Bentham has been carried out by around 30 volunteers.  These volunteers are known as our ‘super-transcribers’ and we typically have between 3 and 5 of these users transcribing every week.  According to our latest user survey, the gender balance of our super-transcribers is actually relatively even: 58% of our super-transcribers are male and 42% are female.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was happy to have one of our most active users alongside me to give her perspective on being a Transcribe Bentham volunteer.  Gill Hague (or ‘ohsoldgirl’) has been contributing to the initiative for many years, transcribing hundreds of pages across that time.  With her permission, I have included an excerpt from her presentation which gives an insight into her experience and some advice for new transcribers:

‘As a freelancer I found I had periods of time where either I was waiting for the phone to ring with news of some work, or I had days on a project where I had nothing specific to do, but I had to be available on the phone at a moments’ notice.   This made it hard to get involved in anything external that required a regular commitment of time, but watching daytime television soon lost its attraction.

In September 2011 I saw a small piece in the Sunday Times about Transcribe Bentham.   With a particular interest in new ways of applying technology – crowdsourcing was a relatively new concept at the time – I was interested to learn more and so logged on to the website.   I had done Economic History at A level so Bentham’s name rang a faint bell and looking at the site I saw parallels with image enabled databases I had previously been involved in developing.   Then we had used OCR to make printed text searchable – here I could see that transcribing made the handwritten text accessible in the same way.   I was encouraged that anyone was welcome to have a go at transcribing, and, after reading the guidance, set out on an initial page.   Submitting this eventually for review, I was very pleased to receive a swift email thanking me for my contribution and encouraging me to do more.

To anyone new to transcribing I would say just have a go.   The handwriting can be challenging but there’s a sense of achievement when you decipher it, and the more you do the easier it becomes.   The more pages you transcribe, the more confident and competent you become with the mark up, and it’s very satisfying when you get it all right and the page renders as you expect.    Once you get your head round the principles it’s really a very logical process.   You’ll get plenty of feedback and encouragement from the Transcribe Bentham team and make a valuable contribution to their work.’

It was great to see another citizen scientist presenting at the event.  Jo Hurford is a local artist and community leader and is part of a group of Euston residents who have made attempts to raise concerns about air quality and the environment in opposition to the plans for the HS2 high-speed railway.  The group worked with Professor Muki Haklay from UCL Extreme Citizen Science who taught them how to measure air quality along proposed construction routes and their findings proved that the impact will be severe.  They also tried to highlight the need to save greenspaces by knitting scarves for trees – you may have seen some of them in Euston Square Gardens.  Jo praised the citizen science movement for helping the residents to arm themselves with facts and keep going no matter what.

We also heard from several researchers who are facilitating other citizen science projects.

Dr Cindy Regalado, also from UCL Extreme Citizen Science reported on the myriad events organised as part of the EU-funded Doing It Together Science initiative, which is designed to engage the public in bio-design and environmental science.  These include workshops, science cafes, film nights and most intriguingly the Stick Insect meeting in Belgium where amateurs and scientists presented and curated an exhibition about stick insects!

Dr Cindy Regalado (UCL) summarises just one of a variety of citizen science events organised by ‘Doing it Together Science’.

 

Dr Alice Bell, science writer and director of communications at climate charity 10:10, spoke to us about two related subjects.  First, she explored the radical science movement of the 1970s, which was arguably one of the first attempts to involve the public in science and change perceptions of the subject.  Second, she talked about her current work in climate change action, helping schools and community groups to set up solar panels  on their own buildings.

‘Science for People’ an image from Dr Alice Bell’s presentation.

 

We were also interested to hear from Professor Sarah Bell, Professor of Environment Engineering at UCL.  Professor Bell is the director of Engineering Exchange, which is a network of engineers and specialists who work to make UCL’s Engineering expertise available for local community projects.  Only 9% of engineers in the UK are women and this presentation suggested that the experience of being a minority might help to explain why female engineers are often more drawn to public engagement and citizen science work.

Professor Sarah Bell (UCL) talks about opening up engineering expertise

It was fascinating to gain understanding of the way in which volunteers are engaged in the scientific world and we hope we can develop some closer connections with ongoing citizen science initiatives at UCL.  Thanks to the audience who contributed interesting comments and questions, the organisers at UCL Extreme Citizen Science and and the Doing it Together Science project and to Dr Charlene Jennett, researcher at UCLIC for chairing the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 709443.

Project Update – Quality and Cost-Efficiency of Transcription

By Louise Seaward, on 1 February 2018

Our January project update is running a little late, but I hope I’ll be forgiven!

Amongst other things, I’ve been busy preparing the first edition of the Transcribe Bentham newsletter, a new monthly email update on the project.  You can expect to find out about the latest volunteer discoveries, our progress towards our transcription goals and other Bentham-related news and events.  Sign up here.

Coming back to the subject of today’s blog post, I wanted to celebrate the publication of a new article on Transcribe Bentham. ”Making such bargain: Transcribe Bentham and the quality and cost-effectiveness of crowdsourced transcription’ has been published in the journal, Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (open-access version is coming soon).  It was written by former Transcribe Bentham colleagues Dr Tim Causer, Dr Kris GrintDr Anna-Maria Sichani and Professor Melissa Terras.  The article is a detailed statistical evaluation of the quality and efficiency of Transcribe Bentham as a transcription project.  It reveals that we have a lot to be proud of!

Dr Tim Causer (Bentham Project, UCL), one of the authors of the new Transcribe Bentham article

We have long known that Transcribe Bentham is ground-breaking in terms of public engagement and access to historical material.  We are working with a fantastic community of volunteers and making thousands of pages of Bentham manuscripts and transcripts freely available online.  This article goes into more depth about other benefits of Transcribe Bentham, in terms of the quality and cost-efficiency of the work done by our volunteers.

The article is a pain-staking study of over 4000 transcripts submitted by Transcribe Bentham volunteers and then checked by Transcribe Bentham staff over a 20 month period.  The team analysed the quality of each submitted transcript and the time taken to review and edit it.  This analysis indicated that the work produced by our volunteers is of a very high quality (as we have always suspected!).  Most of the transcripts submitted on the site required only a handful of editorial changes, and nearly half required no changes at all.  It takes Transcribe Bentham staff an average of only 3.5 minutes to check and approve a page submitted by a volunteer.  So we have empirical evidence that the work of our volunteers is accurate enough to be used in a public database and as basis for further research.

Volunteer transcription is not only accurate, but efficient too.  It is much quicker for Transcribe Bentham staff to check transcripts, than to transcribe them from scratch.  There is also significant potential for cost-avoidance, even if we take into account the fact that the Bentham Project has received significant funding to establish and maintain the initiative.  Moreover, Transcribe Bentham contributes hugely to the ongoing work of the Bentham Project in producing the definitive scholarly edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham.  Bentham Project researchers can make use of transcripts produced by volunteers, so they now have a head-start when they are editing Bentham’s papers.  The article also estimates that if our transcribers continue to work at their current rate, Bentham’s papers could be completely transcribed by 2036.  This would be an astonishing achievement, especially considering that the Bentham Project has been working towards this goal since the late 1950s!

We are immensely grateful to our volunteers and do not wish to reduce them to a set of statistics.  Rather, this article is designed to provide evidence of the tangible benefits of crowdsourcing transcription, pointing out the signficant success of Transcribe Bentham and also offering a model for other projects who might like to follow our lead.  It really shows the huge contribution that volunteers are making to Bentham scholarship.

If you have any questions about the article, please contact Dr Tim Causer (Bentham Project, UCL).

If you are interested in finding out more about the history of Transcribe Bentham, you can read other articles at our Publications page.

Project update – box 26 completely transcribed!

By Louise Seaward, on 21 December 2017

Hello!  We’ve one last piece of news before we sign off for Christmas.  We are delighted to announce that Box 26 of the Bentham papers has now been completely transcribed.  This is a huge achievement as Box 26 contains more than 350 folios, many of which are yet to be published as part of Bentham’s Collected Works.  We need to give special congratulations to the transcriber Gill Hague (username: ohsoldgirl) who has transcribed the vast majority of this particular box.  We would also like to take this moment to thank all of the Transcribe Bentham volunteers for their continued contributions to other boxes on the Transcription Desk. 

Box 26 contains material that was written by Bentham between 1808 and 1822 concerning trial by jury, libel law, and the liberty of the press. In particular, Box 26 includes draft material for Elements of the Art of Packing, as applied to Special Juries, Particularly in Cases of Libel Law.  This work was first printed in 1810 but remained unpublished until 1821.  Bentham’s friend, the legal reformer Sir Samuel Romilly advised that the publication of the work could lead to the former’s prosecution.

Throughout Box 26, there are significant signs that Bentham was aware that he was being especially radical in his writings.  In folio one hundred and forty-three Bentham wrote:

‘My endeavour shall be to make myself understood as far as I dare. But what I am sure I can not forget, and what it concerns you all not to forget, [is] that in this Country, with its boasted Constitution, there is now no liberty.’

Bentham then mentioned by name Lord Sidmouth, whom at the time was Home Secretary and was known for his particularly heavy-handed approach to political dissent, as well as Lord Castlereagh, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. However, Bentham also began to write a third name but the manuscript reads only ‘Lord |   |’, with a space left blank on the manuscript, presumably out of cautiousness.

Bentham Papers, UCL Special Collections, Box xxvi, fol. 143 [Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections].

Bentham argued that there should be greater clarity in written legislation and that the legal and political system should serve the interests of the people, rather than the ‘sinister interests’ of lawyers and politicians.  If an adequate definition of libel could not be achieved, Bentham asserted on folio one hundred and fifty-three, ‘no man can without imposture call himself a friend to the liberty of the press’.

We’ll close by hearing from the volunteer Gill Hague about her experience of transcribing Box 26.

‘I have been transcribing Bentham for some six years and usually look in the box index to identify topics which I think will be interesting to work on.   I thought Juries would be an interesting topic as one could relate it to current practice and so it proved.  Seeing that the box was untouched I thought I would start on page one and see if I could work my way through in sequence.   It gave the opportunity to see Bentham’s arguments unfold, and how the expression of his arguments were revised and refined.  As all transcribers will know Bentham often repeats words and phrases, so sometimes deciphering his handwriting – these documents date from the 1820’s when it was not at its clearest – was made easier by having come across words, particularly the legal terms,  used on other documents in the box.   Fortunately, there were also a number of pages of fair copy which were easier to transcribe.   Aside from the handwriting, the hardest pages were the double sized ones with text in four columns, I could type the line break code in my sleep once I’d worked my way through those and, at about 1200 words a page including the markup, they are roughly equivalent to three of a ‘standard’ one – if one can say there is such a thing.   All in all, it was an interesting and satisfying exercise and I hope to start on another box in the New Year.’

Thank you Gill for your efforts!

We would like to wish all our volunteers and readers a Merry Christmas!  The Transcription Desk will remain open over the holidays for those who wish to transcribe.  UCL is closed from 23 December to 2 January so the Transcription Desk will be largely unstaffed across that time.  So we look forward to seeing you all in 2018.

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Thanks go to Chris Riley (PhD student at the Bentham Project) for the research on Box 26 that appears in this blog post.

Project Update – what’s next for Transcribe Bentham?

By Louise Seaward, on 1 December 2017

As we come towards the end of another year, I’ve got my thinking cap on.  I have been considering ways in which we can improve the Transcribe Bentham Transcription Desk, following the thought-provoking results of our recent user survey and impressive activity of participants at the Bentham Hackathon.   I have also been reading about the experiences of other crowdsourcing projects and looking at the functionalities and layout of websites like Shakespeare’s World, the Smithsonian Transcription Centre, Survey of London: Histories of Whitechapel.  Armed with this information, I am working on a plan to upgrade elements of our site to ensure that it remains fun and interesting for users to interact with.  I would welcome any feedback on these ideas in the comments to this post or by email.  I will also be contacting our most active users to ask if there are any glaring omissions from my blueprint!

My thinking cap is a pink bobble hat…

Technical

There are lots of technical improvements we would like to make to the Transcription Desk – from the installation of a ‘next page’ button so that users can easily move from transcribing one manuscript page to the next to making it possible for users to download images and transcripts from the site.  A lack of resources means that significant technical changes are not possible right now but we are hopeful that we will be able to make some enhancements in 2018.  This will involve updating the site with the latest version of Mediawiki, improving our spam filters and making it easier for us to upload new material for volunteers to transcribe.

Instructions

The current guidelines for volunteer transcribers were laid out by Bentham Project researchers in 2010.  Although they have been updated slightly over the years, they are due an overhaul.  The key elements of the instructions will remain unchanged but I would like to clarify information that is currently  a little ambiguous.  I’m thinking of new guidance on how to transcribe tables, pencil markings, printed text and unusual symbols – is there anything else I’m forgetting?

Help for new transcribers

Improved transcription guidelines will be particularly important for new transcribers who join our initiative.  I am considering how I can welcome and help new volunteers, many of whom may be overwhelmed by Bentham’s complex handwriting and intricate ideas.  This question of supporting new users really came out in the Bentham Hackathon, where one team worked on a ‘sandbox’ area where users could consult simplified instructions, practice on a handful of easy manuscripts and gain more immediate feedback on their efforts.

User experience

Our most active users already know how to transcribe Bentham’s writings and they like using our site in its current form (at least, that’s what they tell me!).  But I hope that a few changes could help to make Transcribe Bentham a more enjoyable place to be.  Some of our users may be interested in signing up to a Transcribe Bentham email newsletter to receive the latest news about the project, or participating in a user forum or group where they can discuss transcription with others.  I think we can do more to showcase the work of the transcribers; making sure they understand how they are credited for the work they undertake and highlighting the interesting topics that they have been transcribing.  I also hope that more discussion of the subjects that Bentham Project researchers are working on (and would like transcribed) will be motivating for volunteers.

That all looks like more than enough to be getting on with! New and existing volunteers will be able to transcribe as they always have but I am hopeful that these small changes will improve their experience  and help us to sustain Transcribe Bentham into the future.

Project update – presenting the results of our latest user survey

By Louise Seaward, on 31 October 2017

During the summer we conducted an online survey of our super-transcribers; the most active of our volunteers who have contributed around 90% of the finished transcripts on Transcribe Bentham.  We wanted to reach out to this group to get an idea of their motivations, experience and ideas: what keeps them coming back to Transcribe Bentham and is there anything that they would like to change about the site?

Having been invited to give one of the lectures at an international conference on crowdsourcing, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to showcase the huge amount of work done by our volunteers and discuss the results of this survey.

Le Crowdsourcing: pour partager, enrichir et publier des sources patrimoniales at the Université d’Angers brought together crowdsourcing projects from France and elsewhere in Europe to share experiences and discuss best practice.  Have a look at the conference hashtag on Twitter to follow what went on.

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We heard from projects such as Itinera Nova in Leuven where volunteers help to conserve, digitise and transcribe historic registers of local alderman. The local archivist Marika Ceunen revealed that this is a vibrant volunteer community which holds regular meetings and even brews it’s own beer!

Volunteers at the City Archives Leuven

Volunteers at the City Archives Leuven

There were also presentations on new crowdsourcing projects under construction.  The team behind the Testament de Poilus project gave us a sneak-preview of their bespoke interface to transcribe and tag wills written by French soldiers in World War One and Mia Ridge from the British Library described the thinking behind In the Spotlight, the library’s forthcoming project to transcribe over 200,000 printed playbills.  Ridge talked about the sometimes difficult balance between productivity and engagement in the crowdsourcing world –  user enjoyment is crucial for productivity!

Mia Ridge (The British Library) speaking on balancing productivity and engagement in crowdsourcing

Mia Ridge (The British Library)

Transcribe Bentham was represented twice at the conference.  The first presentation was delivered by Anna-Maria Sichani, a former transcription assistant at the Bentham Project who is now working as a researcher at the Huygens Institute in the Netherlands.  Anna-Maria discussed questions of efficiency and productivity in Transcribe Bentham and displayed some impressive statistics to suggest the quality and cost-effectiveness of crowdsourced transcription.  These results are due to be discussed in a forthcoming article by the Transcribe Bentham team.

When it came time to present my paper, I decided to focus on the opportunities and challenges of user support and motivation in Transcribe Bentham.  Crowdsourcing projects are nothing without their loyal and engaged users and so user support is a vital part of sustainability in crowdsourcing.

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I explained how we try to maintain a connection with our volunteers by providing guidance and contact by email, feedback on submitted transcripts and recognition for the work that they undertake.  I also suggested ways in which we could build upon some of the suggested improvements made by the super-transcribers in our recent survey.  These new possibilities include an email newsletter for transcribers, more clarity about which material needs to be transcribed as a priority and the resurrection of a user forum where transcribers can share tips and ask questions.  We also have longer-term plans to make technical enhancements to the site that could make it more efficient and enjoyable for people to use.  Some of these ideas started to be developed at the Bentham Hackathon event that we held recently in association with IBM and we will be working on them further over the coming months.

Thanks go to the Université d’Angers for the opportunity – I enjoyed hearing about a range of crowdsourcing initiatives in France and beyond!