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More than Just a Moment—Unlocking the Value of the LBI Photo Collection

Walter Schlect
Thu, Oct 22, 2015

The Leo Baeck Institute’s photo collection contains tens of thousands of photographs of individuals, organizations, synagogues, and important historical events. In recent years, digitization has radically expanded access to this unique collection, but LBI recently launched an initiative to improve access to historic photographs in order to keep pace with evolving standards. Archivist Walter Schlect explains LBI’s work to bring these photographs to light.

Most photographs in LBI collections came with donations of family papers to the archives. In the past, they were separated from the archival collections and filed by subject (portraits of men, portraits of woman, synagogues, Jewish schools, etc).

In recent years, most of these images were digitized, which has made it possible for researchers to locate and view photographs— from the iconic image of Albert Einstein riding a bicycle to anonymous snapshots of family vacations in the 1930s.

However, not all photographs have been digitized, and many were not digitized at high resolutions for various reasons. Furthermore, the metadata that would answer key questions about the photograph—Who is depicted? Who took the photograph? Was it ever published? Where and when was it taken?— is often inadequate to take advantage of the rich possibilities for browsing and discovery in modern digital catalogs.