New York Public Library Transcribes Menus

This is really interesting: The New York Public library has been working on getting their collection of restaurant menus (all 10,000 of them) transcribed so that they can be searched online or through a database at the library. The plan involves crowd sourcing: using the public to look at scanned versions of the menus and to transcribe them one at a time so that the entire database becomes searchable.

Why the New York Public library would even want to do this is a little difficult to understand however. The library keeps records of almost everything published, from the best sellers by Stephanie Meyers to seemingly useless junk, like records of old telephone books. Those old telephone books bring to mind, however, an unusual situation that arose which showed exactly why such an esoteric collection can prove useful. A few years back, when new immigration laws were passed allowing immigrants who had come to this country illegally to stay if they could prove they had been here a certain amount of time, people found the telephone books which the library had lovingly preserved to be invaluable evidence of their longevity in the country.

In the case of these vintage menus, however, the value may be more in offering a glimpse into everyday life as it evolved over the past century or so in the city rather than in something more concrete, like proving that a particular dish was served in a particular restaurant. The project, called What’s On the Menu is available online and has already spawned a devoted audience who has worked tirelessly to transcribe the menus. Some volunteers have even said that they hope to bring the same concept to their own communities. Who knows? Perhaps your menu will one day be considered a priceless relic of history showing what life was once like in your neck of the woods.

 

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