Javi Fernandez is a sophomore at Florida International University pursuing a B.A. in Mathematics. He hopes to lead a fulfilling life surrounded by loved ones and an ability to engage in creative projects regardless of career path.
I participated in the Smithsonian Transcription Service, as I thought the concept of helping out with old documents in this way was fascinating. I found out about this service through an article listing 25 ways to volunteer from home. Beginning early Saturday morning, I spent about one hour transcribing just two pages of field notes dating back to 1908! Written by Vernon Orlando Bailey, the first page I transcribed related to various bird and plant species in New Mexico and Arizona. I submitted my contribution for review at 2:45am on Saturday morning. The challenge in this transcription was a combination of messy handwriting and my lack of knowledge on fauna genera and species. If I had a hint for what some initial letters were, I would Google them until I found a genus that matched up with what I could make out from the notebook, and do the same for the following species. This was even more difficult considering the number of spelling errors, which both slowed my searching process but also added an extra layer of carefulness, as I had to transcribe every word as it was on the notebook, including any errors.
By the time I woke up, the page had been peer reviewed and any mistakes I made or words I could not transcribe had been corrected. At 5pm on Saturday I got to work again on four pages from Bailey’s next notebook also dating back to 1908. I looked over a partially completed pair of pages for a bit with some nearly indecipherable handwriting, then began to work on another set of 2. This time, the page had been mostly transcribed though it was full of errors, and I again had to look up nearly everything on the page to find a genus that checked out. By this point, I had already begun to get familiar with his handwriting and note-taking; he’d list quantities of species by abbreviations such as “abu.” for abundant and “com.” for common, or “a few.” I had also noticed many transcribers would misread a cursive c for an e, which became the most important factor in speeding up the process. Even various plant genera became more recognizable to me without even having to look them up, such as Baccharis or Koeberlinia. Sunday morning I worked again for an hour and a half on a set of pages, and although I made significant progress, I did not feel comfortable submitting it for review as there were several things I could not transcribe properly.
I believe this experience was very educational, and I look forward to participating more in the near future. I was able to learn about a particular field that I would have never come into contact with otherwise, all while making a difference to an important organization.