Moderating on the Talk Boards for the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts Transcription Project

Joanna Treasure has been one of our most active and reliable moderators for the Anti-Slavery manuscript transcription project. In this role, she takes questions and addresses concerns from other Zooniverse volunteer transcribers. Zooniverse projects often include moderators who have been recruited from the active participants. This shows that that the management of the project is crowdsourced as well as the actual work. Joanna is a lifelong musician and academic. She is now retired from her National Health Service (U.K.) role as a Consultant Pathologist. She lives in West Lancashire, U.K., with her husband and three sons. Her first Zooniverse project was the search for Exoplanets. This project was promoted on British TV’s "The Sky At Night". The Anti-Slavery Project interested her for different reasons, especially the value of the campaigning work of these letter-writers. Her thoughts on becoming a Zooniverse participant and moderator follow below...

The Zooniverse has been around for 11 years. I’m a relative newcomer.

My first taste of “crowd research” was the Exoplanet project which I saw promoted on British television (The Sky at Night). This mainly involved pattern recognition, with a little help from the tutorial, and regular feedback which gave me welcome reassurance (as well as potential for quality control). I took comfort in the idea that outliers could be ignored.

The Anti-Slavery Project differs in being text based. As the letters deal with genuine historical documents,whether they relate to printing orders and subscriptions, political, theological or humanitarian themes, I felt a sense of responsibility to their authors, to get my transcriptions as close as I am able to being “right”, out of respect for the value of the work they were engaged in.

Unfortunately, I had quite a bit of trouble gettng started. Although I did take care to read the tutorial, I think I missed, or misunderstood, a few key points. So I turned to the Talk Pages for help.

I was shy about writing a post, so I started by reading through other peoples’ posts – and found lots of information there, including answers to quite a few of my own questions. I kept reading – and sometimes I noticed a question from someone who had joined even more recently than me. When I felt I knew the answer, I wrote a post to say what it was and where I’d found it. (After all, I’d made an intensive study of the tutorial after I’d completely misunderstood part of it the first time around!)

In reading the threads, I sometimes came across posts by Sam (@blicksam) and I noticed that she was always very helpful and thoughtful in her comments, often thanking the volunteer for their efforts even if they were complaining about something. I noticed that she was a Moderator. It was also apparent that she was part of the project team as she was able to pick up on the fact that some problems could be bugs that needed fixing and she was able to make that happen.

One day, Sam asked me to consider becoming a Moderator – because she had noticed that I was contributing some helpful and considerately worded posts. I felt touched and honoured. Also very willing to do it, only I made her work hard to try and answer all of my questions first!

The role of a Moderator essentially involves keeping an eye on Talk.

There are a few technical powers to do with Talk Board administration, and I have tried out only one to date.There may be an occasion to act as a referee or keep a discussion on topic, but the volunteers on this project show exemplary Talk Board etiquette so this rarely needs thinking about. When other volunteers raise questions, I can now usually answer any of the basics with confidence, and if I know that the issue needs attention by Sam or the library (or further up the staffing structure), I can nudge it in their direction. This saves them some time so that they can focus on more appropriate stuff. If someone presents as a newcomer, I will hope to notice and welcome them to the company. I guess I may miss some, if they don’t specifically say they’re new, so please forgive that and know that you are, indeed, very welcome!

It does give me a sense of pride to see the “Moderator” tag under my name and know that my commitment to that role is being appreciated.

Please do bear in mind, though, that when I am transcribing, all I am is a volunteer like any other, and with a lot less knowledge of 19th century American History than most of you seem to have 🙂 Dr. Joanna Treasure (Jo)