May 19, 2022

Science: “The John Torrey Papers: Increasing Accessibility with Full Text Transcriptions in the Biodiversity Heritage Library”

From the Biodiversity Heritage Library Blog:

Since July 2016, the papers of taxonomic botanist John Torrey (1796-1873) have been the focus of a digitization and crowdsourced transcription project at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). Digitizing and Transcribing the John Torrey Papers, organized in coordination with the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, was created in an effort to digitize and make virtually accessible the correspondence of John Torrey and his colleagues, specifically letters received by Dr. Torrey.


Digital content management is a crucial aspect of the project, but the heart of the process lies in the crowdsourced transcriptions done by volunteers from the New York Botanical Garden. These volunteers, recruited through citizen science outreach events, workshops, and tabling opportunities at various locations, work on the transcription platform From the Page, which is one of three transcription platforms whose exports are currently accepted by the Biodiversity Heritage Library, allowing the automatically-generated OCR for these items to be replaced with crowdsourced transcriptions, enabling full text search.

The work done by these volunteers is a contribution to the project for two reasons. First, the handwriting, colloquialisms, and personal shorthand of many of Dr. Torrey’s correspondents are exceptionally difficult to read or interpret. With the correspondence of many correspondents containing several hundred pages, it takes a considerable amount of time for our volunteers to develop a proficiency capable of not only accurately deciphering poor handwriting but also of uncovering the intention or context of particular writings.

Learn More, Read the Complete BHL Blog Post

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.