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The Smithsonian Is Making a Digital Museum, and Needs Your Help

Aug 12, 2014 12:13 PM EDT

The Smithsonian, the largest assembly of museums and research complexes in the world, has made plans to start digitizing its entire collection, making it available to anyone with a connection to the internet. However, they've already run into a snag in this plan, and are now asking everyone and anyone for help.

"We are thrilled to invite the public to be our partners in the creation of knowledge to help open our resources for professional and casual researchers to make new discoveries," Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough said in a recent statement. "For years, the vast resources of the Smithsonian were powered by the pen; they can now be powered by the pixel."

According to the Smithsonian, the collection shared by its 19 museums and nine research centers is so vast that it would take decades to digitize using its staff alone, even despite their expertise. Uploading images of specimens, art and artifacts is easy enough for the museum, but the real trouble is the transcriptions of more than 45,000 handwritten objects that cannot be automatically interpreted by computer technologies.

To solve this, the museum has opened its digital doors to the public, launching its first online Transcription Center. Here, art lovers can find page-by-page imagery of handwritten letters - the correspondences of struggling artists living their tragic lives. "Armchair archeologists" can find field reports that still need to be typed up. And bird watchers can pass their time away from their binoculars as they help transcribe historic field observations from the 1960s.

And while this all may sound remarkably boring to the not so academically inclined, some excitement may come from it.

Nature World News recently reported how experts at a Pennsylvania museum recently rediscovered an extremely rare and well-preserved skeleton while in the midst of their own digitization of the archives.

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