After examining many facets of the Jewish Women’s Archive, we have come to recognize a few themes and principles that seem to guide the way that the JWA operates.

Primarily, the JWA is invested in collaboration–with other institutions and with American Jews and Jewish communities. One example of this is that the JWA spearheads the Small Archives Community on Durspace. This community is designed to be a place where small repositories can collaborate, share knowledge and resources and work together to develop solutions to long-term digital preservation problems. The JWA itself is a small archive and will benefit from working with similar institutions, which often lack the ability to develop or implement preservation solutions on their own. The JWA’s technology team seems to be particularly skilled and innovative and will be a strong resource for this community of small repositories.

The JWA is also invested in innovation. Its use of Duraspace and its involvement in the Small Archives Community on Duraspace show that commitment. Unlike some other digital repositories, the JWA has no physical counterpart–the physical originals of much of the archival and historical material on the JWA’s website belong to other individuals or repositories. This frees the JWA to think creatively about how to present, acquire and support the use of its materials without having to worry about maintaining a physical archive or coordinating a mass digitization project of physical holdings. Some of the material the JWA possesses is born-digital–video interviews, crowdsourced information and the planned people’s compendium to the online Encyclopedia, for instance. The existence of this material encourages the JWA to innovate in its preservation and presentation.

The JWA also encourages participation in its project by individuals and communities who have an interest in documenting, preserving and educating others about Jewish women’s history. Through outreach and crowdsourcing, the JWA encourages users to become invested in the archive–to contribute content, add comments or corrections and to form a community. The JWA also provides participatory action resources such as curricula and oral history guides so that users can research–and possibly contribute–their own history.

While these user interactions and contributions without a doubt make the JWA a richer, more complete resource, the JWA’s devotion to encouraging them also shows its commitment to advocating for the Jewish community and its history. The JWA notes that much of the history of Jewish women in America is unknown or uncelebrated:

The past is told not just in books and on websites. It is all around us, but we rarely see it, especially the history of women. You can visit a handful of places that are landmarks in American Jewish women’s history…but like other under-represented groups, Jewish women have left few lasting marks on the American landscape.

Encouraging user collaboration, providing resources for education and research and maintaining a rich, easily-navigable website all contribute to the JWA’s mission “to uncover, chronicle, and transmit to a broad public the rich history of American Jewish women”–and to create an innovative community archive for a physically disparate community.


Funding the JWA

Sustaining a cultural heritage institution like the JWA brings about a number of challenges. As the JWA engages members of its community in creating solutions for sustainability and preservation, the institution is also faced with the challenge of ensuring that it has the funding it needs to operate now and into the future. This is an important part of the operations and plans of any repository. Sustainability is comprised of more than just the technologies and information professionals that will ensure that an institution’s materials will remain preserved and accessible. A sustainable repository is also a repository that has the funding that can make these other components possible.

According to its 2009 Annual Report, the JWA’s total net assets were $7,102,061 while its total net liabilities were $68,917. While these numbers may not seem to very large when we apply them to larger institutions, they allow a small digital archive like the JWA to operate. The Annual Report also provides information on the board of directors of the JWA and the institution’s donors. The donors listed include those who donated $100,000 and more to those who donated $250 and everyone else in between.

The JWA is frank about the fundraising efforts one their website. They encourage visitors to donate and these donations can be made for specific purposes. For example, the development of the oral history archive that we touched on previously is supported in part by users and visitors of the JWA website. Sponsors of cultural heritage institutions can be comprised of both individuals and commercial businesses. The JWA seems to embrace this approach to building on the financial piece of the sustainability puzzle.

Interactivity and Community Participation at the JWA

The Jewish Women’s Archive sees itself as a “destination for people seeking knowledge, a sense of connection and community”. The JWA’s online interface is clearly designed to support this community-centered mission; although it is an online repository, it is still a community archive. encourages community participation–users are not expected to be passive consumers of the exhibits and other archival materials available on the site. Crowdsourcing, social media, comments and discussion and community tools are prominently-placed throughout the site, encouraging users to contribute to the JWA’s mission “to uncover, chronicle, and transmit to a broad public the rich history of American Jewish women.”

Caitlin has already discussed crowdsourcing at length in her post “Crowdsourcing Content at the JWA“. However, it is important to consider crowdsourcing not only as a source of content but also as a tool to encourage user participation and interaction. When users are given simple, straightforward ways to contribute content, they are more likely to do so. Such contributions and investment are key in developing a community of users and contributors.

Another way the JWA encourages user interaction with its site and collections is through the use of social media. The JWA has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. The JWA uses these social media tools to connect to users, to share or highlight content, solicit comments, encourage discussion and promote the archive. By maintaining a presence on these social media sites, the JWA is connecting to users and potential users where they already spend time–Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are all in the top 20 most visited websites in the world. (Source.) These sites also allow the JWA to emphasize different parts of its collection. For example, while the JWA’s Twitter focuses on the contents of the JWA blog and its ‘This Week in History’ feature, the JWA’s Flickr photostream focuses on visual materials and event photographs.

The JWA’s Twitter account, left, and its Flickr photostream.

The JWA also uses social media to allow users to share its content. In several locations on, social media widgets give users the option to share content on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Digg and StumbleUpon. This feature is becoming more and more popular across the web, and many web-savvy users have come to expect that they will be able to share content with their social networks using widgets like these. These social media widgets are especially prominent on the JWA’s blog, Jewesses with Attitude. This makes sense: blog posts are very commonly shared on social media sites, and posts such as these can be shared without copyright concerns because, unlike some of the JWA’s archival content, they belong exclusively to the JWA.

The JWA also encourages users to add comments and contribute corrections to its content. Sections such as the JWA blog, We Remember, and Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia invite and display user comments. For example, the JWA’s encyclopedia of Jewish Women, published in 2006, solicits comments in this way:

This encyclopedia was first published in 2005. Do you have updates to this person’s life? Links to online resources of interest? Are there areas of this person’s life you feel should be mentioned in the article, or mentioned in more detail? Let us know.

User comments are visible to JWA employees but also to other users, in the hopes that they will promote discussion, engage users and allow the JWA and the user community it is trying to create to benefit from user knowledge. Although the majority of user comments are made on the JWA blog, there is potential for the comment community to grow on other parts of the site. Regardless, these comment functions promote users’ ability to ‘talk back’ to content, to discuss with other users and to add content, corrections or meaning to the site–all of which are vital to the continued existence of a community archive.

Finally, the JWA website encourages users to contribute not only to the site directly, but to the Jewish community at large. The JWA provides a number of tools which users can use to record their family or community history. For example, on the JWA site My Bat Mitzvah Story, Jewish girls and their families and religious communities are encouraged to use the age-appropriate “Family History Tool Kit” to conduct oral history interviews of family and friends. Elsewhere on the JWA site, a free PDF on oral history, In Our Own Voices: Conducting Life History Interviews with American Jewish Women, is available for download. Other resources for users include educational curricula, mother/daughter activities and book and movie guides. These tools encourage users to engage with content on and with Jewish history in their local communities. While little if any of the material generated by these tools will be published on the JWA site, these tools are significant in that they encourage users to engage directly with Jewish women’s history. Like other interactive tools–crowdsourcing, social media, and comments–these tools take advantage of the collaborative, user-centered nature of the online environment to create a true community archive in the digital environment.

A Comparison of Other Virtual Archives’ Content

In order to more fully understand the types of content the JWA provides, and the methods used by the JWA, I decided to look into a few other virtual archives and compare the content offered at each. This comparison is by no means exhaustive, but I thought would be a good way of determining the most commonly used practices of virtual archives.

So, first up: Westchester County Virtual Archives. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my home county of Westchester, New York, has a virtual archive (and their website states that they are “one of the few government-sponsored, online archives in New York State”!). The archive is a collaborative project between the Westchester County Archives and the Westchester County Historical Society, both of which are located in Elmsford, NY. The Westchester County Virtual Archives seem to be solely deriving their content through digitization efforts – according to their website, “Here you will find estate records, minutes from the county’s Board of Supervisors and local government sessions, poll lists, maps, assessment rolls, census records, newspaper articles, pictures, diaries, letters and all types of ephemera.” The Virtual Archive’s website goes on to explain that they have also collaborated with other local governments and LAMs in the area to provide source material not held by either of the two main partner agencies. I was excited when I saw a link labelled “Your Opportunity to Comment and Question” on the “About” page, as I thought it might lead to a page explaining commenting functions on items or online exhibits, or perhaps even describe a crowdsourcing project of some kind… but no such luck – it was just a link to the general information email address of the Virtual Archive. The service that the Westchester County Virtual Archives provides appears to be primarily a publicity one, with the added benefit that users looking to research any of the areas the five online exhibitions cover may be able to more easily locate resources. While the exhibits offered are very informative and appear to be well researched, I am a little disappointed that the content appears so static, and to have very little input or interaction from “regular” community members.

The next archive I looked was the The Vietnam Center and Archive’s Virtual Vietnam Archive. The Vietnam center is housed at Texas Tech University, and the Virtual Vietnam Archive makes available “over 3.2 million pages of scanned materials” from the Center’s holdings. What makes this virtual archive so interesting is that the holdings of the Vietnam Center, according to their website, “tend to be more personal in nature – personal photographs, letters home, etc. While there are some official records, particularly from the USMC… these are generally copies kept and donated to us by veterans or researchers of the war.” This means that the digitized materials made available through the Virtual Vietnam Archive are more than just official war documents – these more personal papers could be a treasure trove for researchers of this era. Also, the Virtual Vietnam Archive has a helpful list of tutorials, designed to assist users in navigating the collections and locating the items they want. Although the content made available by the Virtual Vietnam Archive is incredibly rich, like the Westchester County Virtual Archives, there does not seem to be a community watch and participation component, and all content is digitized from sources held (or, in the case of Westchester, used with permission from other LAMs) by the larger body responsible for the virtual archive. In a sense, the only born-digital aspect of these two virtual archives is the method of content delivery.

The final virtual archive I looked at for comparison was Georgia’s Virtual Vault, a project of the Georgia Archives. As the Virtual Vault’s website explains, “Most items are selected systematically as part of a long-term digitization plan: county maps or district plat maps, for instance, are selected and scanned as a group. In other cases the digitization is random and ad hoc: a patron orders a digital copy of a photograph, or documents are scanned before being placed on exhibit. Whether created systematically or ad hoc, all of these images are stored on the Archives’ servers and constitute a rich visual resource of Georgia history. The Virtual Vault was created to provide access to this wealth.” While this explanation may lead a user to believe that the Virtual Vault’s collections are somewhat spotty or incomplete, but there is a massive amount of incredibly interesting and useful content (and it appears as though the patron copies are placed in an “ad hoc collection,” which is a bit more random than the planned digitization projects). Like the Westchester County Virtual Archive and the Vietnam Virtual Archive, all of the content shared by Georgia’s Virtual Vault is digitized, but the Virtual Vault has a somewhat unique way of inviting users to interact with that content: “View, compare, delete and move collection items you have saved to My Favorites within CONTENTdm. Create and share My Favorites with others or view saved items as a slideshow.”

Screenshot of my My Favorites page, April 26, 2012.

ContentDM is a type of digital collection management software, operated by OCLC, that allows repositories to  make their digital collections available. While I have heard of other repositories using ContentDM, I haven’t had the opportunity of seeing it used as a platform for users to select and save items within collections in this way. I can definitely see the value for those using the Virtual Vault for research, as users can save a vast number of objects and return to them at a later time for further analysis and comparison.

Some of the differences between the way the JWA acquires and makes content available and the ways the three mentioned virtual archives choose to do so may have to do with the JWA’s mission – the JWA attempts to “uncover, chronicle, and transmit to a broad public the rich history of American Jewish women,” making it more akin to a community archive than a government or academic-based one. In order to collect content that fulfills this mission, it is important for the JWA to maintain close ties to the Jewish community in general, and to Jewish women in particular. By allowing users to directly contribute content, the JWA is able to collect more material while also cultivating ties to the community the organization attempts to describe and serve. While crowdsourcing and user participation may be desirable (and necessary) for the JWA, perhaps it is not seen that way by the Westchester County Virtual Archive, the Virtual Vietnam Archive, or Georgia’s Virtual Vault.

Oral History and the JWA

The rise of Oral History is one of the most exciting developments in the fields of History and Cultural Heritage Studies. Oral histories bring about new voices and sources to fields and allow us to look at the past in new ways. However, creating and preserving oral histories presents us with a number of new challenges as well.

As a relatively small cultural heritage repository, the JWA has taken on a role as both a repository of oral histories but as a guide for others who wish to conduct and preserve oral histories as well.

Oral history allows a number of different people to participate in creating narratives of the past. The JWA recognizes and encourages this kind of participatory action research. They have created a guide for conducting oral history, In Our Own Voices: Conducting Life History Interviews with American Jewish Women. About the guide, they state, “Designed for use by individuals, as well as community groups, the guide invites readers to become “makers of history” by using oral history to capture and preserve the stories of their mothers and grandmothers, teachers and colleagues, community members and friends.”

An important thing to note is that In Our Own Voices is licensed under Creative Commons and available for download as a free PDF on the JWA website. By creating resources such as this guide, the JWA is not only encouraging others to conduct oral history interviews, they are directly engaging in a discourse that promotes access to and sustainability of cultural heritage.

Preserving oral history can be particularly difficult as it dictates that the recordings be maintained carefully across their (hopefully long) lifespan. The JWA has an oral history archive that they are working to make easily accessible to the public while ensuring that the materials remain preserved. According to their website:

“For over a decade, the Jewish Women’s Archive has been conducting oral histories. Parts of these interviews have been used in various exhibits on our website. Now we have embarked upon an ambitious program to preserve the interviews by digitizing and maintaining them, along with edited transcripts and other digital artifacts, in a secure repository. Over the next few years we will be increasing access to these materials and making them easier to find and search. We are also developing tools so that teachers and students can use the interviews, selected clips, images, and other primary documents to create online displays and presentations. We began podcasting from this resource in the fall of 2008, and the first full oral histories were moved to a digital repository in winter 2009. We are currently seeking funding and support to make contents in this repository publicly accessible as we continue our work to assure its long-term preservation.”

According to Ari Davidow’s report on the work he and his colleagues are doing at the JWA oral histories, preservation and sustainability of materials like oral histories can happen for small institutions when they turn to cloud computing and open source software. The JWA has turned to Drupal and Fedora in this effort. Davidow states, “In this project we approached long-term Digital Asset Management by accomplishing just enough work with Fedora so that our most urgent assets could be ingested and managed. At the same time we directed development in Drupal, an open source content management system. So that as we develop our public web ‘face’ we are also developing the common ways of working with data and displaying digital objects. Soon, Drupal, an excellent CMS which has no particular digital asset management affordances will be ready to serve as the front end to Fedora, an excellent Digital Repository Framework with enviable digital asset management hooks, but no interface of which to speak.”

Through collaboration with different communities, the JWA is working towards solutions for digital sustainability and a historical landscape with and increased plurality of voices.

Crowdsourcing Content at the JWA

Crowdsourcing can been seen as a redefinition of outsourcing, or “the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call” [Oomen, Johan & Lora Aroyo (2011) “Crowdsourcing in the Cultural Heritage Domain: Opportunities and Challenges”, C&T’11, 29 June-2 July 2011, QUT, Brisbane, Australia: Crowdsourcing is a growing way to both elicit community participation (falling primarily under the community watch and participation section of the Digital Curation Centre’s Curation Lifecycle model), and to complete vast projects that overwhelm staff resources (allowing for community members to contribute to various other portions of the DCC’s lifecycle model).

The JWA utilizes crowdsourcing on several of its projects, including: Jewish Women On the Map, This Week in History, and We Remember.

The “On the Map” project attempts to compile a map of sites, buildings, and public art related to Jewish women – as the JWA’s website notes, “like other under-represented groups, Jewish women have left few lasting marks on the American landscape.” By allowing users to add locations (and photos, if they wish), the JWA is able to provide access to physical sites that have communal meaning, and share that meaning with viewers from around the globe.

Screenshot of “On the Map”, April 25, 2012.

“This Week in History” is a calendar of events related to Jewish women. Calendar events may be submitted by users, or written by staff members, and feature the ability to comment on individual entries. Reading like a combination of oral history and personal testimonials, “We Remember” is a collection of memorials to deceased Jewish women – the JWA provides a list of guidelines and tips to help users contribute to this unique feature. In addition to these current features, the JWA is fundraising for project to add a “people’s compendium” to Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia – the people’s compendium would add a component similar to Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia, which would allow users to add their own content. Each entry currently includes a comment section, designed to allow users to submit their thoughts, but also point out any errors within entries.

There are several challenges to crowdsourcing as a tool used by cultural heritage sites. One issue is that of expertise – how do you know that the information users are inputting is correct? How does an institution ensure an adequate amount of community input and participation? An email exchange with Ari Davidow, the JWA’s Director of Online Strategy, shed some light on how the JWA deals with the pitfalls inherent in crowdsourcing: “Yes, we always worry that no one will contribute, and indeed, without ongoing advertising (usually in the form of tweets, facebook updates, e-letters, etc.) anything on the web vanishes quickly. People are also more likely to contribute when/if their friends have done so, so much work to build community around specific projects. We try to be clear that user-generated content may not be accurate and, especially, that nobody is vetting such content.” In some respects, a virtual archive may be easier to adapt to the challenges of crowdsourcing – since the JWA has always existed online, rather than in a physical repository, gathering a virtual community was a challenge being met head-on, rather than something the institution had to decide to invest resources in. As Ari mentions, the JWA attempts to keep their users informed that, since user-generated content is not being checked over by the staff, errors may appear. On the website’s FAQ, there is a section that directs users to email the JWA, or comment directly on the section of the site that is incorrect, in order to have that error fixed.

As Johan Oomen and Lora Aroya state in their “Crowdsourcing in the Cultural Heritage Domain: Opportunities and Challenges,” while crowdsourcing may not be perfect, it “as the potential to help build a more open, connected, and smart cultural heritage with involved consumers and providers…” Getting users involved and benefitting from their knowledge and passion allows a cultural heritage organization to not only enrich their own collections, but to also build and maintain a devoted user base that will potentially visit the site multiple times, donate funds, and encourage other community members to get involved as well. Given these objectives and possibilities, crowdsourced content appears to be a perfect fit for the JWA.

Legal Issues in an Online Repository

Because it is a digital repository with no physical counterpart, the Jewish Women’s Archive faces a number of unique legal situations. The JWA addresses legal concerns in two different areas of its website: its terms of use and its privacy policy. The JWA Privacy Policy addresses the legal issues surrounding the collection of user information such as IP addresses and personal information provided voluntarily by users responding to surveys, adding content, commenting or communicating with the JWA. The more pertinent information related to digital stewardship and management concerns can be found in the Terms of Use.

The terms of use primarily concern copyright issues. The terms of use specify that site content, defined as “all text, images, marks, logos and other content of the website”, is protected by copyright law, and that it may only be downloaded, printed or used in personal, non-commercial and/or educational contexts. While the terms of use do not provide specific guidelines on what constitutes personal, non-commercial or educational use, it does stipulate that even these uses are only permissible if the JWA is properly credited or cited. These seem to be fairly typical terms of use but their vagueness may be a somewhat intentional response to the fluid, always-changing nature of the digital environment.

Because the JWA does not hold physical archival materials, its collections and exhibitions are mostly a result of either digitization projects or crowdsourcing. This raises a number of other potential issues because the JWA does not hold copyright on some of its material. All such material has been marked or noted, and the JWA addresses potential copyright violations in this context by putting the onus on the user to get permission from copyright holders to use this material. It also provides recourse for copyright holders who believe that their material has been used or credited incorrectly on the JWA website, asking these copyright holders to contact the JWA by phone or email with any concerns.

The terms of use also clearly state that although the Jewish Women’s Archive is an online archive, accessible to users all over the world, it is based in Brookline, Massachusetts and is therefore governed by the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as well as those of the United States.

The JWA’s Terms of Use are succinct and easily-comprehensible to laypersons. Although many of the issues covered by the terms of use–copyright, for example–are familiar to managers and users of traditional physical repositories, in the digital environment they are sometimes complicated by issues of jurisdiction, ease of reproduction and proprietary distinctions.