The challenges faced by a digital archive like the Jewish Women’s Archive can be quite different from those faced by more traditional analog archives. Though issues such as sustainability and preservation need to be tackled by both types of repositories, the nature of the repositories ensures that these issues are approached in different ways.
Clearly, preservation of digital materials is vastly different than preservation of materials such as paper manuscripts. It requires constant upkeep in addition to both hardware and software that can prove to be expensive.
As a digital archive, the JWA is at the forefront of the digital cultural heritage field. One way that they are choosing to address the sustainability and preservation challenges they face is through collaboration with others in the field that are sure to face the same challenges. On the JWA Technology page they state, “We initiated and co-founded the DuraSpace “Small Archives” Community to find long-term, Open Source solutions that will enable preservation of all of our materials in an affordable, sustainable way.” The technologies to ensure that digital materials are preserved are still being developed and perfected. Ensuring that they include Open Source options is vital for non-proprietary organizations that value access like the JWA.
DuraSpace is an ideal solution for small digital archives as its charge is to provide these kinds of organizations with software and services in providing open access to their materials. The Small Archives Community on DuraSpace is intended to provide support for archives that are not highly funded and staffed. Their mission statement is as follows: “The mission of the Small Archive Solution Community is to address the need for small organizations to assure preservation of, dissemination of, and long term access to their cultural heritage assets. As a community we can not only further preservation access and foster knowledge sharing, but can collaborate to secure resources to develop tools, training, documentation, and general solutions. This community is intended for the thousands of small cultural heritage organizations who lack resources to implement a solution on their own.”
By collaborating with others in the field and spearheading the Small Archives Community, the JWA is not only helping themselves, they are also ensuring that the field of cultural heritage continues to thrive. By promoting the development of Open Source technologies and solutions to preservation, the JWA is working towards a cultural heritage field where digital archives are both accessible and sustained.
As a virtual archive, the JWA does not physically hold archival materials. Rather, according to their website, they “provide access to a wide variety of resources, including many primary sources, which tell the stories of Jewish women in North America.” Much of the material made available by the JWA is either staff-generated, or derives from digitization projects undertaken by the organization. The JWA aims to facilitate research at more traditional archives (the website features a searchable database that identifies material on Jewish women held by American repositories), and staff curate online exhibitions on various topics related to the lives of Jewish women, contribute to the “Jewesses with Attitude” blog, and provide resources for teachers (including running a professional development program for teachers and creating downloadable lesson plans). The JWA staff also made Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia available (and searchable!) online, digitized a four-year run of The American Jewess, and created an online walking tour of the Triangle Factory fire.
According to an email exchange with Ari Davidow, the JWA’s Director of Online Strategy, “Things get digitized when there is funding to do so! Almost everything we do is project driven, so even if I desperately want to update something or to digitize new items, tough luck for me.I can either put together a project and find a way to get it funded, or live without. I have some small discretion, but not much. On the other hand, we’re not a traditional archive. We don’t generally have assets that need digitization. A more usual process for us it to find assets in other archives that we wish permission to use for a new project (a new curriculum, for instance) and negotiating appropriate rights.” Since the JWA doesn’t have traditional archival holding, Davidow points out that their digitization projects are always collaborative efforts that involve ensuring the JWA’s ability to display that content legally – projects mentioned above, such as Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia and The American Jewess, are excellent examples of this type of content.
But in addition to gathering together and creating all of these excellent resources for researching Jewish women, the JWA also crowdsources material for many of its features. My next post will concentrate on the how crowdsourcing works at the JWA, by focusing on specific projects coordinated by the 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.