Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation


Together We Listen: Make Hundreds of NYC Stories Accessible—One Word at a Time


The following blog post is co-authored by Willa Armstrong (NYPL Labs) and Alex Kelly (Adult Programming and Outreach Services).

Are you familiar with the NYPL Community Oral History Project? Take a few moments to listen to some highlights or just dive right into our full collection of stories.

The NYPL Community Oral History Project is truly the people’s project. It’s powered by the public, as hundreds of engaged community members come together to gather oral histories from each other in order to preserve the rich and constantly changing history of New York City. Beginning in 2013 at Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village and building momentum, oral histories have been collected in six additional neighborhoods. Visible Lives, an oral history project on the disability experience is another large scale collection effort, based out of Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library. Read more about our growing collection at

To date, the Community Oral History collection contains over 1,000 stories, with more on the way! This is very exciting, but here’s the issue: We’re faced with the challenge of making this large corpus of audio accessible and searchable to the public. It’s a challenge faced by many organizations and institutions with audio-based collections and archives.

When working to make audio accessible, transcripts are important because they make audio content searchable online, and accessible to people with hearing disabilities. Recent advances in speech-to-text technologies have made great progress in opening audio to the web, but the transcripts they produce are still error-prone and can only be considered first drafts. Though they’re a good start, careful human editing is required to provide polish these computer-generated drafts and ensure accurate, high quality transcripts.

So, how are we going to transcribe these hundreds of audio hours quickly and cost effectively?  People and computers need to collaborate.

And this brings us to our big announcement: NYPL Labs has built a brand new Open Transcript Editor to engage the public in helping to make our oral history collection accessible—one word at a time. The Open Transcript Editor is an interactive transcript editor allowing multiple people to perform the final layer of polish and proofreading on computer-generated transcripts. It’s a big undertaking and we’re inviting the public to pitch in and help correct computer-generated transcripts from our NYPL Community Oral History Project.

Visit to get started and help make this public treasure trove of NYC stories accessible.

Since we’re not the only ones tackling this challenge, the NYPL has teamed up with The Moth, a live storytelling organization with its own growing audio archive, for Together We Listen, a community program that invites our respective audiences to correct transcripts online using this new tool. To get our initial, computer-generated transcripts, both partners have sent their stories through Pop Up Archive, a speech-to-text service that works extensively with the public media and cultural heritage sectors. This project was made possible with generous support provided by the Knight Foundation Protoype Fund, an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Open Transcript Editor codebase itself is open source and is available to be used and further developed around other audio archives.

Anyone can contribute to this effort online and, for the first time ever, NYPL is also organizing in-person events at various library locations to encourage people to get together and help transcribe the oral histories for their own communities. We hope you can join us at an event in your neighborhood!

By editing transcripts, you're helping to create truly accurate transcripts in order to share hundreds of stories from the ongoing Community Oral History Project. Once they have been edited with agreement from enough contributors, completed transcripts will be available to read and download at, along with the audio recordings.

Pitch in now: Tune in and transcribe!

Join the Together We Listen project!

Join our initiative to make New York City history accessible one story at a time! We've partnered with The Moth to create a transcription tool that will allow you to help us improve upon computer-generated transcripts for over 1,000 stories from our Community Oral History Project. Be a part of history today:

Posted by NYPL The New York Public Library on Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Want to receive updates about NYPL digital initiatives? Sign up for our e-mail newsletter.


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Post new comment