Portal to American Jewish History

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Digital Project Demonstration by Susan Malbin and Christine McEvilly (American Jewish Historical Society)

The American Jewish Historical Society is one of the five partners that make up the Center for Jewish History. It provides access to more than 20 million documents and 50,000 books, photographs, art and artifacts that reflect the history of the Jewish presence in the United States from 1654 to the present. The AJHS’s Portal to American Jewish History offers links to hundreds of research resources around the country.

Notes on the Portal to American Jewish History demonstration at the Center for Jewish History’s “From Access to Integration” conference:

The new and improved “Portal to American Jewish History” offers simpler data standards, unified searching (both basic and advanced), data standardization, improved subject browsing and clear links between levels of records. In addition to providing a more user-friendly experience for people interested in researching American Jewish History, these developments also make it easier for smaller institutions to join and make their resources available through the portal.

More partners with diverse data means more challenges. Partners’ records in traditional library catalogs don’t have stable URLs; the portal will instead link to catalog homepages. The automated input processes will rely on standard repository records.

AJHS has established goals for the project that it wishes two accomplish in the next two to five years. These goals include:

  • Finding hidden resources (such as ones in small, unknown collections, or relevant resources currently housed in general topical repositories)
  • Standardizing the modes of discovery (creating uniform digital linking, etc.)
  • Sharing the software (which requires creating a software system that is ideal for partnering; customized modules on open source web and data management software.)
  • Establishing the Portal as an aggregator—a collection of well organized, linked, collected data—that is the perfect platform for exhibits and curriculum gateways
  • Launching portal site outreach initiatives (including curriculum guides and shared information resources)

Browsing options on the homepage help users to search the collections. A user can also search by repository or resource type. In the future, increased browsing opportunities will provide extensive subject browsing. Now, advanced search is provided directly on homepage. Search results offer temporally and geographically diverse records across partners’ collections. For example, searching “Jewish children’s homes” will gets results from four different repositories.

In the future, AJHS would like to expand online resources like the “Jewish Summer camping narrative” into curriculum guides and interactive exhibits.

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