The library is asking the public to help transcribe its collection of digitized menus to make a it a fully searchable database.

The New York Public Library has turned to crowdsourcing for its arduous task of transcribing 10,000 restaurant menus in the library’s online gallery. Its menu collection is housed in the Rare Books Division and is already a quarter digitized, growing to over 40k menus since 1900. The effort will turn the digitized collection into a fully searchable database that can be browsed by dish, beverage or price as well as name and date.

Participants are provided a digital image of the menu, and prompted to copy the text exactly how it appears. If it seems curious that a digitized menu needs transcribing -with the availability of Optical Character Recognition technology used by Google to extract searchable text from books-it has everything to do with the oftentimes florid, or ornate nature of menu typography. The library is also interested in unpacking each menu thoroughly for its use in scholarly pursuits.

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