New home, new opportunities: A report from the Magnes archivist

Posted by Lara Michels on Wednesday August 18 2010

As the archivist for The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the Bancroft Library, I am currently stationed out at a new, state-of-the-art storage facility on Regatta Blvd in Richmond, California.  The Western Jewish History Center archival collections, housed for forty three years in the attic of the Magnes Museum building on Russell Street, are here with me.  My immediate job, quite simply put, is to process these collections for access at their new home in the Bancroft Library.  Each archival collection must be prepared for physical access in a new Reading Room and intellectual access in a variety of electronic catalogs and tools, including Oskicat (UC Berkeley’s Library Catalog), IDEA (the Magnes’ own collection management system and online catalog), and the Magnes’ new website.  It will be a lot of work, but this new home brings some wonderful opportunities for deepening our knowledge of these important collections.

I am most excited by the the potential I see for this processing project to bring together, in an electronic form finally, everything we know about the Magnes’ Western Jewish Americana archives.  Over the decades, excellent work has been done to describe these collections. Among the precious resources generated by my predecessors are Ruth Rafael’s 1987 guide to the archival and oral history collections of the Western Jewish History Center, the print-outs of an old photograph catalog, a card catalog for the WJHC archival collections, and a range of finding aids, inventories, and indexes.  The possibility of bringing together the various sources of information about the collections is genuinely exciting to me.

I am also looking forward to the ways in which this processing project will lead to new discoveries and the addition of new and important details to our already rich records. Even the seemingly simple act of physically preparing a collection–re-foldering, re-boxing, re-labelling–has the potential to reveal hitherto unrecorded details about a collection that can be used to increase access. Just yesterday, I was doing some physical work on some of the Magnes’ small collections and noticed, in the Bashe Rubenchik Rosenbloom papers, a series of photographs of this Petaluma farm and Jewish farming family in the 1930s (including a particularly nice photograph of a Petaluma farm house).

Photographs from the Bashe Rubenchik Rosenbloom papers and photographs (WJHC 1982.005)

The records for this collection are just fine and do mention the existence of “family photographs.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, if throughout this processing project I am able to add just a bit more detail to records for collections like the Bashe Rubenchik Rosenbloom papers, to guide users to a few more of the particularly interesting items in these collections?  The transition into our new place/space at the Bancroft offers, I think, some new opportunities for increasing access to our deserving collections and I am looking forward to seizing these opportunities.

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Filed under: Collections andRandom Musings

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