Author Archives: Emily Holmes

Hebrew and Judaica Manuscripts Project

Tefilot u-piyuṭim : le-ben Pesaḥ le-ʻAtseret aḥar ha-pereḳ תפלות ופיוטים לבין פסח לעצרת אחר הפרק. [כת”י] (Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University)

Between 2014 – 2015 at the behest of Michelle Chesner, Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies, PDCD staff completed a project to make a number of previously photographed Hebrew and Judaica Manuscripts fully accessible to the world on the Internet Archive. Here is some background from Michelle:

Ketubah : Venice, 1673 (Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University)

“Columbia’s Hebrew manuscript collection is one of the largest in the country, behind only the Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. It was, however, unknown by many due to a lack of cataloging and exposure until recently.  After a generous donation from the Norman E. Alexander Foundation endowed funds for Judaica in the libraries in 2010, CUL was able to catalog nearly all of the manuscripts in the first step toward accessibility.  The next step was an exhibit of the manuscripts in 2012 – 2013.  A partnership with the National Library of Israel yielded digitized images for many of the manuscripts that had been previously unrecorded, and they became accessible via the NLI’s Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts and their new Ktiv interface for digitized Hebrew manuscripts.  Posting the images to the Internet Archive allowed us to create a space to highlight the manuscripts at Columbia (the NLI sites contain manuscripts from all over the world) and it has become a place to point to for a sampling of our extensive collection.” — Michelle Chesner

 

Ketubah Damascus, 1830 (Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University)

In PDCD, we worked from Michelle’s detailed spreadsheets to derive new catalog records for the electronic versions of the materials. We then used Photoshop to crop and deskew them and uploaded them in large batches into their own special subcollection on Internet Archive. We also updated all the records in OCLC and Voyager so that the materials will be findable both as objects on Internet Archive, but also through OCLC First Search, the international bibliographic database.

There are now 244 titles in this very rich collection, containing numerous ketubot (marriage contracts), Torahs, books on poetry, fairy tales, astronomy and numerous other topics. Many are brightly illustrated, like the ones featured in this post.

Here is a link to the full collection on Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/culhebrewmss

A Brief History of the Preservation Reformatting Department

Columbia’s Preservation Reformatting Department (PRD) began as a reprographic services unit back in the 1930s. In the 1970s-1980s, the department gradually became a reprogaphy unit with an emphasis on the preservation of brittle and deteriorating materials.

While the Preservation Division was taking shape, the world was just beginning to understand the slow moving disaster headed our way: the acids within wood pulp paper, which would eventually consume our books and documents. A number of studies done as early as the 1930s had found that an overwhelming percentage of research collections were printed on acidic paper which, under less than pristine conditions, would eventually become embrittled, ensuring the eventual destruction of more than a century of scholarly works.

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Columbia Daily Spectator, Dec. 8, 1941

In an attempt to cope with this looming catastrophe, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) issued a number of grants to research libraries throughout the U.S., including CUL. These funds, along with emerging best practices established by the Research Library Group (RLG), provided us with the means of moving nascent reformatting projects into large scale reformatting programs, which endure to this day, albeit in a much evolved form.

As of 2016, PRD has transformed itself in many ways; a reflection of the revolutionary technological changes happening outside and within the library doors. We continue to prioritize materials in demand but have expanded our capacity. You may be surprised to hear that we still do send out shipments of microfilm for brittle, circulating collections, primarily due to copyright restrictions. We also still create preservation photocopies for materials for which we really need physical copies on the shelves, such as music scores and reference materials.

In addition, we have a fully developed program for ebook creation for public domain materials and PRD staff is responsible for every step of this process, as they have been for many years with microfilming and photocopying. The staff collates items, searches for existing copies, creates copy catalogued records for the new formats, sends and receives vendor reformatted materials, and is responsible for all QC, image processing and uploading and organizing on Internet Archive.

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A pamphlet from the Missionary Research Library (Burke Library)

A future blog post will explore this process and some of the customizations and enhancements that PRD has come up with over the years.

Finally, we are also responsible for the front end of patron services and for numerous special projects, such as the Columbia Spectator digitization project and Burke’s Missionary Research Library digitization, images of which are included in this post.