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. JWA.org 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 also uses social media to allow users to share its content. In several locations on JWA.org, 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 JWA.org 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.