Author Archives: Emily


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.


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.

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.

Digital Stewardship at the Jewish Women’s Archive

This blog aims to explore topics within digital stewardship at the Jewish Women’s Archive, a virtual archive headquartered in Brookline, Massachusetts.  For more information on the JWA, see their website or the About page of this blog.