Announcing the Launch of Transcription Center Sound Projects


We are excited to officially announce the Transcription Center’s (TC) latest feature—transcription projects of digitized audio recordings from around the Smithsonian!


The inclusion of sound into the Transcription Center has been requested by volunpeers and Smithsonian collaborators for many years, and we’ve been working hard with developers, archivists and museum staff, and other stakeholders to make this possible.

So far, we’ve launched the first set of TC Sound projects from the National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Archives of American Art, and the National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives. Over the next two weeks we’ll be posting even more projects from additional Smithsonian units (including Anacostia Community Museum Archives), and diving further into featured collections and audiovisual (AV) materials more generally. Alongside our Smithsonian colleagues, we will be sharing background information on audio recordings, behind-the-scenes videos on audiovisual archives, and tips and tricks for transcribing sound. Follow along with #TCSound on our social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube) to learn more--and while you're at it, check out the Smithsonian Press release announcing the launch of TC Sound.

As we move forward with audio recordings, our Transcription Center team is also working on adapting the platform to incorporate transcription projects of moving image collections (TC Video!), which will be released later this year.



The Impact of TC Sound (why this so important and so awesome):


As the first federal crowdsourcing project to include audio recordings for transcription, we are looking forward to broadening the scope of collection accessibility and readability alongside dedicated volunpeers. Since the launch of the Transcription Center in 2013, over 13,200 volunpeers have transcribed and reviewed more than 460,000 pages of digitized Smithsonian textual materials. This work makes the content within these collections readable and searchable in Smithsonian Collections Search Center database, unlocking historical details for researchers around the world. The inclusion of sound projects in TC will further this work – resulting in even more accessible collections, and presenting even more opportunities for collaborative discovery.

The Smithsonian holds over 290,000 analog audiovisual items in their collections--including more than 150,000 audio recordings--dating from the late 19th century to the present, and ranging in format from wax cylinders, to audio cassettes, films, and reels. Only a portion of these have been digitized and made available to the public. Yet as we know from our extensive work with textual materials, digitization does not equal access.
Transcription offers one solution, making the individual words and stories within digitized materials searchable online. Audiovisual collections present even greater barriers to accessibility. Due to limited staff resources, outdated and obsolete media, and the nature of historical archival donations and collections more generally, descriptive information for audiovisual collection content (or metadata) is often incomplete or unknown altogether. Additionally, without captions, audio and moving images that have been digitized remain inaccessible. Transcription of these materials will not only unlock the historical richness within sound recordings to all interested individuals, regardless of the ability to play or hear the audio, but will also help Smithsonian staff better advocate for the preservation and continued care of these important, but fragile, collections.


AV Cold Storage, Human Studies Film Archives, National Museum of 
Natural History
, Smithsonian Institution


Currently, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, alongside other Smithsonian units, is conducting a number of projects related to the present state and future needs of our audiovisual collections. The first phase of a pan-institutional survey of audiovisual collections, consisting of analog film, audio, and video held across the Institution, was completed in 2017. Proposed by the Audiovisual Archivists Institutional Leadership (AVAIL) group and funded by the Collections Care and Preservation Fund (CCPF), this project provides a foundation for the Smithsonian to develop strategies for the preservation and care of these materials. The final report for this survey was released in March of 2017, and identified group-level data on formats, condition, and storage environments, along with areas of greatest strengths and needs in preservation practices. Findings highlighted the great risk audiovisual collections face due to degradation of media formats and obsolescence of playback equipment, the need for digitization and adequate storage to prevent permanent loss (which experts agree could occur within as little as a decade), and lack of audiovisual preservation staff throughout the Institution. Initial work is underway in response to the audiovisual collections report, including an ongoing project with the Digitization Program Office’s Mass Digitization to digitize (and thus preserve) two collections of radio program recordings from the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the Archives of American Art. Once completed (projected to be end of summer 2019), these recordings will be imported into Transcription Center as TC Sound projects. The work of volunpeers on these projects, as well as other TC sound collections, will support and advance AV pan-institutional efforts by unlocking the content on these obsolete formats, making it accessible to all, now and in the future.



Please note: this data is from the 2017 Audiovisual Survey; current statistics and data have increased. 



Join the TC Sound Effort:


As with all projects in Transcription Center, any interested individual with internet access is welcome to dive into TC Sound! You can browse ongoing projects by heading to If you simply want to transcribe, just grab some headphones, choose any current project, and start typing. To transcribe, review, and track your Transcription Center work, sign up for an account (just click “sign up” in the top right of the website and enter a username and email address). Either way, just be sure to first review the “TC Sound” instructions, where you’ll find step-by-step how-to’s for transcribing sound, video tutorials, completed example projects, and a printable instructions cheat sheet.



Reach out to your fellow volunpeers and Smithsonian staff with questions, discoveries, and other comments anytime through our social media channels or by emailing us at We can’t wait to see what we uncover through #TCSound as #WeListenTogether!


**This blog post was originally published on the Smithsonian Collections Blog***