The In-House Digital Laboratory: Possibilities and Responsibilities (at the Center for Jewish History)

The following chapter excerpt is from the second section of Digitization in the Real World; "A Diverse Digital Landscape: Digital Collections in Public Libraries, Museums, Cultural Heritage Institutions, and Knowledge-Based Organizations."  Download the entire chapter (PDF)  or purchase online at

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Andrea Buchner (Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory, Center for Jewish History)


The Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory at the Center for Jewish History has been building sustainable digital collections since 2005. It has worked on more than 100 different projects and digitized a wide variety of materials. This chapter highlights projects that include the digitization of books, photographs, and archival collections. It covers digitization from start to finish, touching upon the selection of materials for digitization, digitization practices and workflows, the management of digital assets, online delivery and users’ reactions to digital collections. It concludes with a discussion of the feasibility of an in-house digital laboratory for archives and libraries in general. 


The Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory at the Center for Jewish History was established in 2005 with the generous support of the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation. Today, the lab is at the center of a digital program whose mission is to preserve the digital assets of the Center and its five partner organizations and to ensure long-term access to them. Since 2005, the digital lab has been involved in more than 100 digitization projects and has created more than 68,000 high-quality digital images. It has also created 300 hours of high-quality digital audio files by digitizing oral histories and Sephardic music stored on cassette tapes and reel-to-reel tapes.

The digital lab manages all digital assets via ExLibris’ DigiTool, a digital asset management system for libraries and archives ( The public interface is CJH Digital Collections ( The digital collections are an integral part of the Center’s Online Public Access Catalog ( This catalog provides access to the Center’s and partners’ archival collections and library holdings. If a digital reproduction exists in CJH Digital Collections, the respective catalog record links to them. As of December 2009, 21,000 digital objects were accessible. In 2009 alone, 174,000 users requested digital objects. All materials are accessible to the public free of charge and the collections are constantly growing.

This chapter will examine a variety of projects. They illustrate approaches to the digitization of different types of materials: books, photographs, and archival collections. This chapter will also discuss digital asset management, online delivery, users’ reactions to digital collections, and the feasibility of an in-house digital laboratory.

The Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory

The Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory (digital lab) is a department within the Center for Jewish History.

The Center for Jewish History is the home of five prominent Jewish institutions dedicated to history, culture, and art. They are the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), the American Sephardi Federation (ASF), the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI), the Yeshiva University Museum (YUM), and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (YIVO). The combined holdings of the partner organizations bring together the rich variety of Jewish historical experience, ranging from Eastern European Jewry, Sephardic Jewry, German-speaking Jewry, to the American Jewish community.

 The collections include more than 500,000 volumes, 25,500 linear feet of archival documents, and thousands of museum objects. Since its opening in October 2000, over 40,000 researchers have visited the Center and roughly 210,000 patrons have attended various public exhibitions, conferences, and other events that the Center and partners held.

The Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory, a department of the Center, collaborates with all five partner organizations in numerous ways by digitizing their collections, managing the resulting digital assets, and providing digital consultancy services. During the first two years of the lab’s operation it was fully funded through the grant from the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation. When this period ended in 2007, the Center made the digital lab an integral part of its functions and services and continued to offer the lab’s digital collections building services to the partner organizations. In order to defray some of the costs, however, the digital lab charges for its services whenever external funding becomes available to the partners. When this is not the case, the lab provides pro bono digitization services.

A typical digitization project starts with an idea put forth either by Center or partner staff. This is followed by discussions, examinations of materials, and following established procedures (including the completion of forms) to ensure that materials arrive in the lab that have been thoroughly vetted in regard to their value, physical condition, rights, and available metadata. Once the selected materials have been prepared and arrive in the lab, the process of digitization begins. Projects may involve one or multiple partner organizations.

 Download the entire chapter (PDF) or purchase online at


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