The newest processing project at the American Jewish Historical Society is the HIAS Collection Project. Over the next three years, we will be blogging at ontherescuefront.wordpress.com – please join us there for information on the history and personalities connected with HIAS, a refugee rescue and resettlement organization still engaged in vitally important work. http://www.hias.org. And as always, we’ll be writing about the process of archival work and what we enjoy about it. See you there!
January 29, 2016
December 30, 2015
Although the UJA-Federation of New York project was completed on October 2, 2015, we are posting the WordPress 2015 annual report for our blog. A new project is beginning in January 2016 and we’ll post a link here to our new project blog when we start opening up boxes.
Here’s the report on 2015 at This Can Go Back To The Archives:
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.
October 2, 2015
We posted the finding aid today and linked it to the container list that lists every folder in the collection. The finding aid can be accessed from a link on the project webpage. It can also be found when searching in the Center for Jewish History catalog at search.cjh.org or access.cjh.org.
We’ve enjoyed working on this wonderful collection and look forward to blogging on collections in the future.
Regards from Eric, Leah, Marvin and Susan
September 30, 2015
It’s difficult to write summarily about a project that we’ve worked on for four years. As mentioned in Susan’s post, through working with these materials, we’ve lived with and thought about this organization and the people that built it for a long time now. Below find an unofficial timeline of some of the highlights of the project, as we wrap up our work with the UJA-Federation of New York collection.
Fall 2011: Project begins. The UJA-Federation of New York collection at this time contains over 3,200 bankers boxes of records from approximately 1909 to 2000 — in varying preservation condition– stored in the Citistorage warehouse in Brooklyn. Project staff includes Senior Archivist Susan Woodland, and AJHS Archivists Eric Fritzler, Marvin Rusinek, and Vital Zajka.
What does it mean to “process” a collection? In short, it means to arrange and describe a set of records. Archivists arrange the records in a clear order (this could be chronological, alphabetical, according to the order the records were received, or in some other way that makes sense for the particular records), and then describe this order and the content of the records in a finding aid to make the collection accessible for researchers.
The first step of an archival processing project is, usually, to survey the collection (archivists look through boxes and any existing documentation about the boxes—such as folder lists). This helps archivists to get a sense of the records and the ways in which they might be arranged, and develop a processing plan. Due to the nature of this unusually large collection, the archival team had to develop a processing plan without looking through all the boxes, and instead familiarized themselves with UJA-Federation of New York organizational history through reading secondary sources (see our Selected Bibliography) to inform their processing decisions, and to utilize material found within the collection itself to better understand people’s roles within the organization and the structure of the organization itself.
Processing initially began with the Oral History Project records, which we packed up at the UJA-Federation offices and worked with first, as this was a relatively small and distinct part of the collection.
December 2011: The first boxes arrive from the Citistorage warehouse, and processing begins on the rest of the collection. These boxes include some of the oldest records of the organization. The collection is split into four chronological subgroups: Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (FJP) 1909-1986, United Jewish Appeal (UJA) 1938-1986, UJA-Federation Joint Campaign (UFJC) 1973-1986, and UJA-Federation of New York (UJF) 1986-2000. The fifth subgroup, composed of UJA-Federation’s Oral History Project, has already been processed.
April 2013: Digitization of the Oral History Project is completed.
May 2013: Heather Halliday, former Photograph and Reference Archivist at the American Jewish Historical Society, joins the project.
December 2013: Processing of budget files from the Office of Management and Budget, the largest chunk of records in the collection (over 500 linear feet, or 5 football fields!), is completed. These files contain annual agency files, Budget Department subject files, financial reports, agency financial reports, audited agency reports, Distribution Committee reports, functional committee reports, Greater New York Fund files, and Financial Experience of Affiliated Societies files.
April 2014: Processing of UJF Executive Vice President files is completed. Over 167 linear feet, these files span UJF’s existence, from 1986-2000.
May 2014: Processing and digitization of Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities material, a precursor organization to FJP, is completed.
June 2014: A large selection of Board minutes from 1916-1992 are digitized.
Sept 2014: A preliminary finding aid for the FJP subgroup is completed, and the over 500 boxes described in this section are now available to researchers. With the completion of the project, this finding aid will be replaced with the full collection finding aid.
Oct 2014: Leah Edelman, newly minted archivist from the Simmons SLIS program, joins the project.
Jan 2015: A fire in the Citistorage warehouse destroys 123 out of 305 boxes remaining in storage. Fortunately, over 90% of the collection had already been removed from the warehouse, and processed.
June 2015: Nearly 500 images from the collection are digitized, dating from the 1910s through the 2000s.
July 2015: An online interactive map of Federation agencies goes live.
August 2015: With the completion of processing of oversize, artifact, and audiovisual materials (including the digitization of numerous sound recordings and films), processing of the UJA-Federation of New York collection is completed! The final box count is 2,021.
September 2015: During this final month, project staff is wrapping up last (but not small!) tasks, such as the completion of the finding aid and container list. We say goodbye on October 2!
September 25, 2015
Our blog has been quiet for the past few weeks as we focused simply on completing the project, which ends officially on October 2nd. The container list is nearly complete. It is a huge spreadsheet that lists ever folder in the collection, arranged hierarchically by subgroup, series, subseries, and so on. The collection is huge. It has ended up being contained in 2021 bankers boxes (each bankers box is 1.2 cubic feet for those of you who can visualize in three dimensions), 24 oversize boxes and 4 oversize folders too large for our shelves and housed in a flat file with very, very wide drawers.
Also nearly complete is the finding aid to the collection, that will link out at every level to the container list. The finding aid explains the arrangement of the collection at every level, and gives historical information as well as content information on each section. This 184 page WORD document is being encoded over the next few days in order to be able to place it online where it will be accessible to researchers everywhere. The easiest way to take a look at it, after October 2nd, will be from the collection webpage. The first link on this page will be to the finding aid. (Currently linked as the finding aid are three sections of a partial finding aid we’ve had up for the past year. The finding aid to the complete collection will replace these links.)
While finishing up the documentation for this project and cleaning up our work spaces, I found a box full of metal fasteners that were pulled from various levels of the excavation that was a big part of the work we’ve done over the past four years. We knew these metal bits were destined for the trash; we removed them so they wouldn’t further damage the paper with rust or simply because of their thickness in a folder. We didn’t keep track of what years they were in use or which subseries they came from. But for some of us, they summon a sense of the people who wrote the memos and the reports, who slipped on a paper clip or added files to a binder before closing up a folder for the last time.
I think that the nail fell into the box by mistake, but everything else was used in one or more of the decades that we’ve lived through in the past four years.
Many things can summon up a moment from the past, even one you didn’t live through yourself. Of course many things about this collection, or any collection that spans the better part of a century, make you vividly aware that the people who created the documents lived very different lives than we do today.
We’ll write at least one final post next week before we depart for our next projects.
August 28, 2015
We are happy to report that our entire audiovisual (AV) collection is processed! We have nine boxes of AV materials, including audio reels, cassettes, records, 16mm films, floppy disks, VHS tapes, CDs, wire recordings, and microfilm.
Here’s a breakdown of how we process AV material:
- We find AV items mixed in with the regular collection, or acquire larger items (such as the 16mm film reels) in their own containers that are usually not preservation-friendly.
- We remove the AV item and place one copy of a transfer form in its original location, and keep the other copy with the item. This way, we can note the intellectual location of the item, even though it will not physically be housed in its correct subgroup and series.
- We try to deduce the content of the AV item, and make some decisions regarding the importance of keeping and also digitizing the item. Some items are labeled (though labels aren’t always correct) and some are not. Based on labeling and original location in the collection, if an item seems important — such as Board minutes — we listen to it or view it and, if necessary, create a digital version. Some items may not have content on them at all (blank cassettes, for example), or may have degraded so much that they are unable to be viewed or listened to. These items are weeded from the collection.
- In order to be efficient and cost effective when digitizing, we group materials by format and determine the best vendor for the process. We are lucky enough to have much equipment to play and digitize various media here at the Center for Jewish History, including cassette players, record players, disk drives, etc, though we did (and many other repositories do) send out certain formats for digitization. For our films and audio reels, we used MediaPreserve. Once a digital file has been created, we ingest the file into our digital asset management system and gather metadata about the digital version. This digital file has now become its own item in our collection, and is publicly available through the Center for Jewish History’s Digital Collections.
- When the digitization process is complete, we carefully rehouse the AV item with its transfer form, usually with materials of the same format, in preservation friendly containers. Some materials (like cassettes and diskettes) can be stored together, while other materials (like 16mm film) are prone to decay and should be housed individually. We also try to keep digitized items in separate boxes for easier retrieval.
- We then create a separate AV folder list to keep track of the AV boxes and their contents and location, and connect all digital versions to their physical counterparts through links in our regular folder lists. In addition to our digitized films, below are some links to other digitized AV items of interest in the collection, and in case you forgot what some of these old AV formats look like, at the very bottom are photographs!
August 17, 2015
Finally, after 3 years and 10 months, the mammoth UJA-Federation of New York collection is completely processed. A photograph taken below shows the last box prior to being processed. The second photo depicts the refoldered folders in an acid-free bankers box.
The last box contained the Government Relations files of Anita Altman, Director of Resource Management and Resource Development at Federation. The files in the box were a mixture of agency files, foundations, and issues pertaining to Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC).
Having processed the collection for almost four years, I am immensely relieved and satisfied that the entire collection is now processed. By the end of September a finding aid to the entire collection will be posted online, easily accessible from the project’s webpage. Researchers will be able to view the searchable container list to the collection along with the online finding aid in order to request materials to view in the Center for Jewish History’s Reading Room. Links to materials and collections will be available through the container list and from the project webpage. We hope that researchers will find the collection of great value and easily accessible. We welcome and value your feedback.
August 12, 2015
After our success with MediaPreserve digitizing a number of sound recordings earlier in the year, we returned back to the vendor to digitize five short films. These films have been reviewed, described, ingested into a digital repository, and are now available through the Center’s Digital Collections.
Five films were selected for digitization:
Two of the films, “A Journey into Life” and “At Any Given Moment,” have celebrity narrators, Sid Caesar and Alan King, respectively, to guide and appeal to viewers as part of the Federation’s educational, fundraising, and outreach efforts within the metropolitan New York area.
However, perhaps the greatest find is, among these newly digitized and available resources, the Dial-a-thon footage that captures the exuberance and excitement of a themed fundraising event with hand drawn tigers, ringing telephones, and circus music.
We have been able to positively identify Federation President Lawrence B. Buttenweiser, Martha K. Selig, comptroller and soon-to-be Mayor Abraham Beame, and Bess Myerson in Dial-a-thon. If you are able to identify any persons in the five films, please contact us and we can add this valuable information to the description of the footage.
July 28, 2015
Isidore Sobeloff, the Director of Public Affairs for the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York, compiled a scrapbook of material that his department created in 1929. The scrapbook was held by the Sobeloff family and was recently donated by Susan Sobeloff to the UJA-Federation of New York Archives Project in March. Since March, the scrapbook underwent preservation treatment and has been digitized and made available online.
Available along with many other digitized minutes, oral histories and photographs ingested within the Center for Jewish History Digital Collections, the digitized version of the scrapbook captures the order and feel of the original material. Before digitization, the scrapbook underwent a series of preservation actions in the Werner J. and Gisella Levi Cahnman Preservation Laboratory, including unbinding the book and separating fragile, deteriorating newspaper clippings from acidic pages and one another. The Preservation Lab took photographs of the scrapbook before digitization and these photographs can be viewed as part of the digitized version of the scrapbook under the label, “Scrapbook before preservation treatment.”
The scrapbook, in many ways, reads both like the history of a tumultuous campaign year and, also, like an artist’s portfolio, highlights his decisions as the director. Clippings mention Federation agencies and fundraising effort and publications illustrate how the department was the ambassador or mouthpiece for the philanthropic organization.
The scrapbook documents the activities of Sobeloff and the Public Affair Department during a time period for which we have very little archival material, both before the Public Affairs Department started to be called the Public Relations Department and before the Federation merged with the Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities to become the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York.
In addition to the wonderful campaign information related to outreach to new members and a significant effort to further democratize Federation, the scrapbook is filled with allusions to the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the difficulties associated with fundraising in the midst of the largest economic downturn in United States history. For instance, he offers that:
As we look back at 1929, we must divide the planned program into the period referred to until now and the period from immediately after the market collapse until the end of the year. Out of all the confusion came the decision that our public had to be convinced that giving to Federation was a constant all-year-round problem unaffected by outside factors; that regardless of business conditions, the work of healing and mercy must go on.
The scrapbook details some of the decisions made to prompt campaign pledgers and workers to give and meet their commitments both in spite of the crash and, ironically, to help deal with even greater need because of the crash.
Later, Mr. Sobeloff relocated to Detroit to become the executive director of the Detroit Federation. His oral history is digitized and available. In his oral history interview, Sobeloff recounts his training in Jewish communal service, time as Director of Public Relations for Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York, and his experience as a communal leader in Detroit from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Special thanks to Susan Sobeloff for her donation of the scrapbook to the American Jewish Historical Society on behalf of the Sobeloff Family.
July 24, 2015
As we approach the end of our project, we are starting to tie up some odds and ends regarding the arrangement and housing of the collection, before we move into finishing the description of the collection in the finding aid. Although we have almost 2000 bankers boxes, there are still some items that just don’t fit, and these items are deemed “oversized material.” We now have 18 oversized boxes holding maps, charts, blueprints, newspapers, photographs, scrapbooks, plaques, and other items that need to lie flat for optimal preservation. These 18 boxes are different sizes themselves, and range from OS (oversized) 1 to 3, with the largest items in a flat file cabinet.
Here’s a breakdown of how we process oversized material:
- We find oversized items folded up in regular boxes, or acquire them in their own containers that are usually not preservation-friendly
- We remove the oversized item and place one copy of a transfer form in its original location, and keep the other copy with the item. This way, we can note the intellectual location of the item, even though it will not physically be housed in its correct subgroup and series
- We carefully rehouse the oversized item with its transfer form in an appropriately sized box. Within the box, some items are fragile and need their own folders, some (such as newspapers) are acidic and need to be interleaved, and some can be carefully grouped together with other like items in a folder
- We create a separate oversized folder list to keep track of the OS boxes and their contents and location, and once again make sure each item links back to a folder in the regular collection
- We are then able to digitize some especially interesting material. We have digitized many of the maps (including the one that inspired our interactive map of Federation agencies), and are currently working on Isidore Sobeloff’s scrapbook. Sobeloff was Director of Public Relations for Federation in the 1920s, and his scrapbook from 1929 contains clippings of his work, as well as information about the crash of 1929 and how it affected Federation. (See next week’s blog post for more on Sobeloff and links to his scrapbook!)
Here are some other oversized items of interest in the collection:
Publications from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including “Federation Campaigner,” “Campaign World,” “Jewish Week,” and “Appeal”
Car cards from the Jewish Vacation Association, from the 1960s
Blueprints and maps for many early agency sites, including Educational Alliance, Montefiore Hospital, Washington Heights-Inwood and Boro Park YM-YWHA’s, and Camps Rainbow, Ella Fohs, and Forrestburgh
Charts and statistics regarding the 1981 Jewish population study, including a “Distinctive Jewish Names Analysis”