Archivists' Toolkit Repository Profile: Hadassah Archives

Question responses date from approximately 2010-2011.

 Institution Description

The Hadassah Archives were established in 1980 thanks to the proceeds of a planning grant from NEH. The Archives exist to document the history of Hadassah, now in its 99th year – both the projects Hadassah has funded in Palestine/Israel, and Hadassah’s membership and fundraising programs in the United States.

The Archives have been on deposit with the American Jewish Historical Society, located at the Center for Jewish History (CJH) in New York City since November 2000. Encompassing approximately 1000 linear feet, the record groups used most frequently include the papers of the Hadassah Medical Organization and Hadassah’s collection on Youth Aliyah, both of which can be explored in comprehensive finding aids in the CJH catalog, thanks to the Archivists’ Toolkit. Current projects in the Archives include the preservation and digitization of a 1946 film on Hadassah’s founder Henrietta Szold, funded by New York Women in Film & Television; and the digitization of 20 years of the Hadassah Newsletter and of 50 audio reels, 1949-1976, funded by the Metropolitan New York Library Council.


Why did you adopt the Archivists’ Toolkit?

One of the systems librarians at the Center for Jewish History was a beta tester on the Toolkit. He knew I’d been struggling with an older database, and I was hoping to develop a workflow that would allow Hadassah to export finding aids to the CJH catalog. Because Hadassah is not a full partner at the Center and the collection operates as one-person archive, I was looking for a database with the following attributes:

  1. I could easily work with it myself, with little in-house support needed
  2. I could easily teach interns and part-time workers to use it
  3. Hierarchical and expandable
  4. Inexpensive
  5. Create finding aids that looked and functioned like the other finding aids at CJH, which had been created with other databases.
  6. Compatible with the CJH catalog – to be able to export files to CJH’s Aleph, without a lot of customization.


Did the Toolkit replace an existing database?

We had used InMagic’s DBTextworks for 7 or 8 years, and the data was available via the Hadassah website. Because of how DBT was set up, however, the output functioned more as folder lists than full finding aids, and the lack of a hierarchy for related series of records had become problematic. As an institutional archive, we have 23 record groups, some of which are quite large and with complex structures of series and subseries.

We wanted better finding aids, and we wanted them to be accessible in a real catalog; the Toolkit made perfect sense.


When did you start using the Toolkit and what was involved?

We spent about a year looking into the ramifications of using the Toolkit, which included:

  1. Discussion with Hadassah’s IT people as well as the IT people and systems librarians at CJH
  2. I attended a program sponsored by the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York given by the Toolkit staff then based at NYU
  3. Invited the software developer to meet with us for an informal demo

In 2008 we began the migration of data from DBT. Unfortunately, because the formatting of the folder lists was so inconsistent from record to record, none of the data from the folder lists (perhaps 75% of our data) could be migrated programmatically. Other than that, the migration went smoothly.

The Toolkit is surprisingly easy to learn and to adapt to. We created a faux record group, our own sandbox, which is where new staff becomes comfortable adding data, deleting data, creating siblings and children and moving elements around. One intern who was hesitant to move folders around and feared deleting anything (“what exactly do they mean by component here?”) created our sandbox and it has helped enormously in avoiding inadvertent loss of data.

Using the Toolkit has forced us into a more consistent use of data and adherence to DACS. Because the Toolkit has made it possible for our collection to be included in the CJH catalog, Names and Subject Headings unique to our collection are now part of this community’s authority files, with the expectation that our records will be discovered more easily in online searches.


What was the biggest hurdle?

The customization of the style sheet so that it conformed to the appearance of the other finding aids in the CJH catalog was an unexpected issue for us. Unfamiliar with encoding for style sheets, we were forced to go outside for help. Fortunately, the systems librarian who had originally recommended that we use the Toolkit had done work with style sheets at CJH and was able to adjust the Toolkit style sheet into conformity.


What resources were needed to implement the Toolkit?

The staff in the Hadassah Archives consisted of 2 fulltime archivists when we made the decision to implement the Toolkit. We hired the original Toolkit software developer, Lee Mandell, to migrate our data. One of our staff archivists did the initial set up, making decisions about how to use which fields and standardizing formats and authority files according to DACS.

With continual part-time help we would be able to manually migrate the data that remains in InMagic and then begin to work on record groups for which only folder lists currently exist. As with any database project, dedicated staff is necessary to move the project along. With budgetary constraints over the last 2 years, progress has been slow. In addition to dedicated staff hours, the only additional direct costs that we incurred were for the initial data migration, and for the customization of the style sheet.

The Hadassah archives has been fortunate to have the support of the systems librarians at CJH, who were able without much difficulty to import our data and provide wonderful user-friendly access to our collection.


Lessons learned in the process?

The Toolkit was much easier to set up and modify than DBT, and allows us to create beautiful finding aids that are much more accessible to the general public.

I learned more than I ever knew there was to know about style sheets, and learned to call on experts when needed to change and improve the appearance of the finding aids.

We also learned to keep the data consistent, and to present it in a consistent way. One intern created a style manual of Hadassah protocol and format in working with the Toolkit.

We took the opportunity during the set up process to go through every single name in our authority file – which left us with a very clean and useful set of accurate names. I now find the Toolkit is a wonderful resource for checking names and subject headings when working on other projects.


Answers provided by Susan Woodland, Director, Hadassah Archives at the American Jewish Historical Society