Building the ALBA Digital Library (at NYU's Tamiment Library)

The following chapter excerpt is from the first section of Digitization in the Real World; "Small is Beautiful: Planning and Implementing Digitization Projects with Limited Resources." Download the entire chapter for free (PDF) or purchase the book online at 

Access the collections here.


Jill Annitto (Archivist)


This chapter serves as a case study of how a professional digital library can be successfully built with a small staff and budget. It discusses the planning and experiments with beta versions of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) Digital Library, the final version of which is available on ALBA’s website, through Metropolitan New York Library Council’s (METRO) Digital Metro New York program, and OCLC WorldCat. The sensitive issues of digitizing another institution’s collection while maintaining ownership of the final product are also explored.

In 1979, recognizing the vital importance of their radical history, and the need to collect writings, letters, photographs, oral histories and artifacts that would preserve their story, the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the American volunteers who fought with Republican forces against Generalissimo Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), formed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA). Today ALBA lends its name to a major archive at New York University's (NYU) Tamiment Library and independently supports cultural and educational activities related to the war. The ALBA collections are the most requested at the Tamiment Library. ALBA’s relationship with NYU is non-traditional, which makes the ALBA Digital Library unique. NYU owns and maintains the Archives and hosts many of ALBA’s programs, yet the ALBA name gives a different impression.

This chapter explores the challenges of digitizing a collection that is owned by another institution and how to overcome working with a limited budget, dated technology, and minimal staff to produce a professional digital resource. The ALBA Digital Library (Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 2008) evolved from an ineffective form-based website tool to a fully indexed resource using CONTENTdm in a matter of months.

ALBA Goes Digital

Until a full-time Executive Director was hired in 2007, ALBA was initially run by a group of volunteers followed by a string of part-time administrators. The ALBA Board of Governors hired me as the Assistant Director in May 2008 just as they began reconsidering their outdated website, a major step for the small organization.

By June 2008 the Executive Director had resigned, leaving me as ALBA’s only employee. It provided me with a great opportunity to help redesign the website alongside a subcommittee of the Board of Governors. The Web Committee, consisting of four history professors living across the United States, set a timeline of four months for the site’s overhaul, with an anticipated launch date of early October. The Board wanted to stake a claim as the premier electronic resource for information on the Spanish Civil War.

Download the entire chapter for free (PDF) or purchase the book online at


Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. (2008). ALBA Digital Library. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from resources/digital-library

Dublin Core metadata initiative. (2010). Retrieved March 30, 2010, from

New York Heritage. (2008). Retrieved March 30, 2010, from

Simkin, J. (1997). Spartacus educational. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from

University of California, San Diego. (n.d.). Southworth Spanish Civil War Collection. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from UC San Diego Libraries website, collections/southworth-spanish-civil-war-collection.html

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (n.d.). Spanish Civil War Collection. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Rare Book and Manuscript Library website,

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (2006). Transportation around the World, 1911-1993. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from Digital Collections -Transportation around the World, 1911-1993 website,