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Ruby Williamson starts her internship at the Holocaust Memorial Museum Library.

Digitizing Books and Holocaust Survivor Memoirs

The library has committed itself to providing digital versions of items and resources in the collection as a way to expand access.

This includes acquiring digital materials, such as purchasing e-books, and digitizing existing parts of the collection. The library even has Digitization Librarian, who works to manage all of these different projects and materials.

What does it take to digitize a book?

Digitizing books means sitting in front of a scanner and scanning each page individually (front and back, even if the back is blank) until the entire book has been processed. The front and back covers of the book are also scanned.

The Digitization Librarian then compiles all of those images into a pdf file, and adds them to the Library’s catalog. The Museum is able to make many of these digital materials globally accessible through the Museum’s Collections Search. The Museum also uses the Internet Archive as a hosting platform, which can be found here.

How long does digitizing take?

Depending on the book’s length and binding, scanning it can take a decent chunk of time. I have digitized three books thus far.

I had fun learning how to use the scanner program and figure out the best way to scan the books. If the book is bound, the pages are more difficult to scan and the text may be uneven or skewed. If the book is loose leaf paper in a binder or folder, the process is much easier.

For loose leaf paper, it’s a simple matter of placing the page on the scan bed and flipping it over to scan both sides.

For bound books, I have to work harder to make sure each image came out as straight as possible. This means pushing the spine of the book against the edge of the scanner and pressing down to keep the pages as flat as possible. I often rescan a page multiple times until the text is even and not skewed on the page.

My goal isn’t just to present a neat, legible digital document. I want to treat these stories with dignity and respect.

Digitizing Holocaust survivor memoirs

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a large collection of survivor memoirs and family histories. We are working very hard to digitize those materials – to both preserve their contents and make them widely available when possible. Items from this collection, which consist of both born digital and digitized materials, can be found here.

I digitized two books that were written by survivors of the Holocaust. They wrote their stories after surviving tragedies both personal and historical. I am honored and humbled to be a temporary steward of their words.

My goal isn’t just to present a neat, legible digital document. I want to treat these stories with dignity and respect. I think that is my favorite part of this project. We are preserving human stories and human experiences, and in doing so, we are preserving history.

Partnership with the Claims Conference

Due to the success of the Library’s Holocaust Survivor Memoir Project, the Museum fostered a partnership with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany Inc. (Claims Conference).

The Claims Conference has been working to achieve justice for Jewish people who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Through this partnership, the Museum acquired the Claims Conference’s collection of memoirs. The Museum wants to make them accessible, with the intention of making them digitally available.

These memoirs are both published books and typescript manuscripts, sometimes with added hand-written notes or corrections. They can be found here, as a special collection on the Museum’s Collection Search, and here, hosted by the Internet Archive.

The life of a digitization librarian

I have really enjoyed the time that I’ve spent with the Digitization Librarian. I’ve learned so much, and I can’t wait to take that knowledge with me into my future. She expressed that she enjoys working with memoirs.

She often gets the chance to meet the authors: the survivors who wrote them. It grants her the opportunity to see the person behind the words, and it makes those words all the more real. I hope to soon attend such a meeting with her so that I can meet a survivor and discuss their memoir with them.

Why is digitization important?

Digitization is such an important part of libraries. Digital Humanities, taught by Patrick Williams, introduced me to all of the possibilities of materials born digital and not.

I was especially interested in the relationships that librarians, as stewards, have with the digital resources in their care. We also addressed the issue of access. Digitization serves to increase access to resources that would have otherwise been kept from users.

The librarians at the museum embody the ideal of responsible stewards. They care deeply for their collections and they work hard to maintain them. They are also exceptionally dedicated to making the Library’s resources available to as many people as possible. I am so grateful to be involved in their efforts.

Ruby Williamson

Ruby Williamson

My name is Elizabeth ‘Ruby’ Williamson. I am starting my second year in the Library and Information Science graduate program at Syracuse University. I grew up just north of Austin, Texas, which explains my passion for queso and breakfast tacos.

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