The Expanding Access to American Jewish Archival Collections Initiative

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By the CJH/AJHS Expanding Access to American Jewish Archival Collections Project Team

The Center for Jewish History (the Center) and the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) have completed the first phase of a multi-step collaborative endeavor to expand access to American Jewish archival collections at local Jewish historical societies and museums, as well as within academic special collections on the Eastern seaboard. The primary goal of the initiative is to boost online representation and collection visibility from a local to a national level, making a place for local histories in the larger narratives of American Jewish history. The Center and AJHS are grateful for the generous support of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) for phase one.

Phase one (February 2014-January 2015) focused largely on relationship building and information gathering with 13 participating organizations, in order to facilitate goal setting for the next phases. The Center assigned archival staff members to conduct site visits at 12 of the 13 organizations.  During these visits, Center archivists recorded information about the history and priorities of each institution, archival collection holdings, archival description, systems, preservation needs, and digitization projects. Following the visits, archivists compiled a 2-3 page report.  Based on the surveyor’s findings, the Center and AJHS will be setting measurable goals for upcoming phases of the initiative, tailored to both the unique needs of each participating repository and the services the Center and AJHS can provide.

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Map of Project Participants

After establishing collaborative relationships, the initiative’s next step towards increasing access to American Jewish collections has been the ingestion of collection-level records into AJHS’s Portal to American Jewish History. The Portal is a metadata aggregator that enables researchers to perform complex searches across American Jewish archival collections currently residing at over seven geographically dispersed repositories. As part of phase one, Center and AJHS data implementation specialists ingested 104 collection-level records from three project participants into the Portal.

In its construction and process, the initiative represents an expansion of the collaborative model that currently exists between the Center and its five partner organizations.  The partners of the Center—American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research—are independently managed entities with unique collecting policies related to particular facets of Jewish history. The Center offers a unifying infrastructure for the five organizations in its provision of centralized services, which include archival processing, preservation and digitization services, as well as maintenance of a single OPAC and digital asset management system. The Center’s collaborative environment supports activities central to the partners’ respective missions. It presents a promising model for resource-sharing among local Jewish cultural heritage institutions as well.

In progressive phases—and subject to project participants’ goals and resources—the Center and AJHS plan to migrate additional collection-level records into AJHS’s Portal to American Jewish History, encode legacy finding aids and inventories, process selected collections, digitize selected material, and host the material online in the Center’s OPAC.

For more information on the project, please see the project webpage and a paper authored by the project team.

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