Collaboration and Generosity Provide the Missing Issue of The American Jewess

What started with a bit of wondering and conversation within our unit of the Library led to my reaching out to Princeton University with a request but no expectations of having that request fulfilled. Individuals at Princeton, however, considered the request and agreed to provide us with the single issue of The American Jewess that we needed to complete the full run of the periodical within our digital collection. Especially in these stressful times, we are delighted to bring you a positive story, one of collaboration and generosity across institutions, while also sharing the now-complete digital collection itself.

In 2004 the University of Michigan Library collaborated with the Jewish Women’s Archive, which provided the physical copies of The American Jewess journal that they had access to, thanks to the generosity of the Klau Library at the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, the Brandeis University Libraries, and the Library of Congress.  The Digital Conversion Unit within the U-M Library scanned the physical journals that were provided and created digital files that went into the newly created The American Jewess digital collection. One issue was missing — no physical copy could be located in any American library at the time — from what would otherwise have been a full run of the journal: Volume 5, Number 3 from June 1897.

The missing issue stayed in the mind of Chris Powell, our digital collections manager for texts, who had helped to create the original digital collection. I talked with Chris in March 2019 about The American Jewess as I was gathering documentation about the collection’s background. As Chris considered the history of the collection she remembered the missing issue and began a bit of online research. She found an article noting that a set of issues of the journal had been recently sold through an auction, including a copy of the issue we were lacking in our digital collection. Chris and I discussed this as an interesting event, wondering how the issues may have ended up there, speculating about its future, and poking around online to try to learn more. During this, Chris found that the collection had been donated to Princeton University. Wouldn’t it be great if Princeton were willing to provide the missing issue?

In April, Chris and I looked through our documentation of who had been involved in the original digital collection, and I contacted the stakeholders from the Jewish Women’s Archive to see if they would mind my reaching out to Princeton to see if they would be able to give us a copy of the missing issue. Adding this issue, if we were able to obtain it, would change the nature of our digital collection, and it was important for the collection stakeholders to be aware of that before proceeding. Our contacts at the Jewish Women’s Archive were excited to learn that a copy of the missing issue existed and were on board with trying to add it to the digital collection.

I then reached out to Daniel J. Linke, Interim Associate University Librarian for Rare Books and Special Collections, at Princeton University. After some consideration on their side as to what they could provide, in May Princeton indicated that they would be able to provide a digital copy of the missing issue, though they had not yet scanned the physical items and it might be a while yet before the digital file could be sent to us. 

On November 18, 2019, I was thrilled to receive an email from Emma Sarconi, Reference Professional for Special Collections at Princeton University with the digital file we needed. This issue has now been added to our existing digital collection, which now contains a full run of the periodical! At the same time, we also made additional improvements to the digital collection to enhance the interface.

Wondering if we could complete our digital collection led to musings that we didn’t initially think would lead to anything of note. When I reached out to Princeton University, I didn’t have high expectations of actually being able to get our missing issue, even though I was hopeful. That Princeton was willing and then delivered that content so quickly was a generous act of camaraderie that ultimately serves the public good, not just a single institution. A complete digital set of the periodical is now available to a public audience because of the collaboration, and our institutional relationships are also strengthened. The inclusion of this new issue in the digital collection also points back to Princeton’s resources as well, so users may follow that path to even further discovery. 

These kinds of collaborations are not uncommon among academic organizations, and this is one of the reasons why I so enjoy working with the organizations and people with whom I do; working for the benefit of everyone ultimately, not just immediate stakeholders, has the potential to help a worldwide audience. As we have seen through the ongoing pandemic, we are all connected across the world, in good ways and bad. Our connections and collaborations can also strengthen us. I am so proud of all of the organizations and individuals who were involved in this wonderful adventure. I thank you and look forward to many more projects that will benefit us all!

About The American Jewess Digital Collection

The American Jewess (1895-1899) described itself as "the only magazine in the world devoted to the interests of Jewish women." It was the first English-language periodical targeted to American Jewish women, covering an evocative range of topics that ranged from women's place in the synagogue to whether women should ride bicycles.

Founded and edited by Rosa Sonneschein (1847-1932), it offered the first sustained critique, by Jewish women, of gender inequities in Jewish worship and communal life. Assembled and digitized for online access by the Jewish Women's Archive, this digital reproduction of the 8 volumes of The American Jewess was assembled from the collections of Princeton University, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Klau Library, Brandeis University Libraries, the Library of Congress, and the Jewish Women's Archive.