Saturday, April 23, 2011

What's on the Menu?

Homes once sumptuous and exclu... Digital ID: 809532. New York Public Library

This past Monday evening, the New York Public Library launched What's on the Menu?, a web site which invites the public to transcribe our digitized historical menus. 

It all started about a year ago, when my beloved former colleague Amy Azzarito*,  NYPL Labs manager Ben Vershbow, and I were thinking of new and interesting projects for the culinary collection. Having worked with the menu collection for a few years, I had begun noticing an increasing number of researchers coming in to research specific dishes. Although nearly 10,000 menus in the collection had been digitized, we didn't have an efficient way to search their content. At first we considered, optical character recognition (OCR) software to transcribe the menus, but quickly realized that the menus weren't optimal OCR candidates, due to being hand-written, being mimeographed, using funky fonts, etc.

Then Amy had the brilliant idea to open the digitized menus to the crowd, and invite our hungry public to help us transcribe them.  A year of talking, meeting, and pow-wowing -- with fellow NYPL'ers  Michael Lascarides, Kris Kelly, and Michael Inman -- followed, but it happened! WOTM launched last week.

We're five days in, still fixing and tweaking and planning out our next steps, but so far, so tasty!

Big thanks to everyone at the Library who has helped make this happen, and to the site visitors helping us create a robust catalog of dishes.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

*Amy is now full-time at Design*Sponge


Rachel Laudan said...

What a great idea, Rebecca. Post on the ASFS list. I'm sure members there will be keen to jump in.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Great idea and I look forward to browsing through this site.

Cookbook Fetish said...

I've had a lot of fun transcribing...kept stopping to Google a particular dish or phrase I wasn't familiar with. Still, I probably logged a handful of hours over the weekend & plan to do more. What a great offering for food & history folks!