Something New for Something Old: Innovative Approaches to Managing Archives and Special Collections

December 4-5, 2008 at the Union League of Philadelphia



Overview and Updates

Schedule and Speakers


Information for Attendees


Bob Sink
Center for Jewish History

Biographical Statement

After a 20-year career at the New York Public Library, Bob Sink became the Archivist and Project Director for the Center for Jewish History. Last year he was named Chief of Archive & Library Services at the Center. In this position he oversees the primary professional activities at CJH and advises on professional standards relating to those activities. Direct reports include the Directors of Public Services, the Gruss Lipper Digital Lab, the Cahnman Preservation Lab, the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute, and Library Systems. For the past 20 years, Bob also has been an archival educator, and he currently teaches in NYU’s History Department.

Bob trained for his archival career by earning an MA in History from the City College of New York and an MS in Library Science from Pratt Institute.

He has been honored by his peers by being named a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists; the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York honored him in 1996 with its first award for Distinguished Achievement in the Archival Profession; he was named one of New York City’s Centennial Historians in 1998; and named as a 50th Anniversary Distinguished Member by Beta Phi Mu the international library science honorary society.

member of Infrastructure panel

Project Description

15 West 16th Street
New York City, NY 10011

The Center for Jewish History has been renowned as an almost unprecedented success in the international Jewish community – bringing together under one roof five distinct Jewish organizations to share resources, exchange ideas, and provide a single access point to one of the world’s largest repositories on the modern Jewish experience.

After a decade of planning and building, the Center opened to the public in 2000. Immediately, out highest and most pressing priority became to maximize access to the five Partners’ vast collections. The Center, the federal government, public charities, and private philanthropists have all joined forces over the past eight years to invest more than $4 million in what has become the Center’s proudest achievement to-date: its Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC).

Visit our website

CJH Background

The Center for Jewish History is composed of five organizations, or Partners, that agreed to move into a single space, to share resources, and to adopt common professional standards. Each of the Partners is dedicated to stewardship over materials that document segments of the history of the Jewish people. The Partners are:

  • American Jewish Historical Society ( which is the oldest ethnic historical society in the United States.
  • American Sephardi Federation ( which documents the Sephardi experience around the world.
  • Leo Baeck Institute ( which collects the German-Jewish experience.
  • Yeshiva University Museum ( which collects Jewish art and artifacts dating from the Bronze Age to the 21th century.
  • YIVO ( which focuses on the East European Jewish experience and is the largest of the Partners.

Together the building holds 500,000 volumes, 25,000 linear feet of archival material and 19,000 artifacts, which comprise the most comprehensive collection of materials in the United States, related to modern Jewish history and culture.

Each of the five Partners remains an autonomous institution. Each Partner collects within its own defined sphere and each Partner catalogs its own collections. On the other hand, we are the most integrated with our public interface. We share a common reading room with a shared reference collection, and we have implemented a single on-line public access catalog (OPAC) for all five Partners.

Our Vision

As the Partners have embarked on a process of cooperation, integration has come to define our vision of stewardship of the cultural resources in the Center.

Integration operates on many levels while still preserving the Partners’ autonomy. First of all, it is important to us to achieve integration across all five Partners. The five distinct collections are also complimentary and users of one can frequently benefit from using the holdings of another Partner. It is important that our on-line catalog integrates our holdings across formats. We want a single search to find not just the holdings of multiple Partners, but we want users to have the ability to locate archival records, books, and museum objects in a single search if they so desire. We also want to include digital objects within that search as well.

We want an integrated system for archival description that incorporates a bibliographic record in the OPAC, a link to an EAD finding aid residing on the web server, a silo of EAD finding aids that can be searched, and then digital images linked to the EAD finding aid for archival material or to the bib record for books and the item record for artifacts.

What We Acquired

The initial hope of our OPAC project (which was funded by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission) was to install a single integrated collection management system for administering and providing access to all our holdings. In 2002 we issued an RFP to a dozen North American and European vendors who claimed to provide collection management software for administering archival, library, and museum collections. Although some vendors promised they could meet all of our integration needs, we certainly found that not to be the case.

We finally purchased library software from Ex Libris (ALEPH and MetaLib) and museum software from KE Software (called EMu). ALEPH holds MARC bibliographic records for library and archival material. EMu manages the Partners’ museum holdings. We also purchased DigiTool from Ex Libris as our digital asset management system. DigiTool not only provides access to our digital objects but also provides the silo of EAD finding aids. MetaLib is a portal searching both ALEPH, EMu, and DigiTool and thus we will provide our users with a single search across the three formats.

Visit our website
Search our Catalog
Search our Digital Collections
Search Museum Collections

Our Results

The NHPRC project, which funded the implementation of the OPAC, also helped us to process a total of 600 linear feet of archival collections and also do retrospective conversion of 34,525 books and serials.

The success of the NHPRC effort was followed by support from a number of other sources. They have included:

  • The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany awarded us a grant to create bibliographic records for nearly 34,000 books and serials from the Holocaust period.
  • The Gruss Lipper Family Foundation gave us a grnat to establish our digital lab and we have more than 40,000 digital images and 350 EAD finding aids in DigiTool.
  • The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is supporting the cataloging of another 30,000 books, serials, photographs, sound recordings and artifacts.
  • A recent grant from the Leon Levy Foundation will result in the processing of an additional 1,200 linear feet of priority archival collections.

The OPAC now contains over 340,000 bibliographic records and we are embarking on a project to barcode all of the library volumes and archival boxes in the collections.

Our statistics show that the OPAC gets an average of 1,500 sessions a day from users around the world. Sessions is a better measure of usefulness than hits (which average 6,500 per day) since a session mean that the user is actually searching or browsing the OPAC.




Last updated September 16, 2008. Questions may be directed to Laura Blanchard,