(The following is a recent interview with Jessie, conducted by Johnna Kaplan, editor of the AJHS-NEA e-newsletter.)
How did you become interested in archives? Was Jewish history a particular interest of yours before working at AJHS? What led you to AJHS-Boston?
I first started working at AJHS-Boston as a part-time intern in the spring of 2012. It was my junior year at college. I was introduced to this organization by an advisor at Northeastern University. He didn’t tell me much about archives but he did emphasize that AJHS really needed a hand to help them with their collection.
After my internship, I decided to volunteer at AJHS because I knew what I had done could allow more scholars, students and ordinary people to access the resource, and I would love to do it. That’s when I started to get to know digital archives.
[Then] I become a full-time employee at AJHS-Boston as a digital archivist.
Was Jewish history a particular interest of yours before?
I took many history and anthropology classes, some of them were related to Jews, Jewish culture and World War II. The people, the culture and the history of Jewish caught my attention, and I enjoyed studying them and was eager to know them more and better.
What do you do at work on a typical day?
Digital archives are quite different from what I did during the internship because I don’t get to touch or see the original copies onsite and it requires skill to run and upload the collection using software. It was a little challenging at first because all of the software was new to me and I did not take any information science classes at school.
Normally when a new collection arrives, I will be creating text files from the full metadata that was transferred along with the collection, and finding images if it is from the old system, converting the images and the uploading them online. I will try to upload as many collections and as fast as I can. It may take one week to finish processing a small collection (less than ten boxes) and it will be online and open to researchers the following week.
However, a bigger collection, like the one I am processing right now – the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which contains more than 200 boxes – will take much longer to be finished. We have been working on JCRC for more than a year and about 25% of the collection still remains.
I love what I have been doing and it’s always nice and fun to share what I found in the collection that I processed to my coworkers.
What’s your favorite collection or item in the archive?
I spent about five months at AJHS-Boston for my internship, and most of the work I did was processing the Records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS.) I was attached to those individual cases and was touched by their paths of seeking a haven from hell during and after WWII. I was surprised to find out that some Chinese families immigrated to the U.S. through HIAS after the war as well. Therefore, I wrote an article, The Story of the Ma* Familyand had it posted on the AJHS-Boston webpage after I did research on an individual case in the HIAS collection.
From then on, I tended to do more research on Jews in China and I was excited to learn that a lot of Jews used to live in my hometown, Harbin. Some of them went there for business; some of them were for home.
One of my favorite collections is the Stanley and Mary Ann Snider Family Papers. It contains a lot of slides and photos of their family and trips around the world. Since I love traveling, I felt like being taken to a tour with them, full of joy and happiness. After finishing this collection, I told my coworkers: they really lived their life!
What do you see yourself doing professionally in the future?
I graduated from Northeastern University last May, major in International Affairs and Economics. I am planning to get a master degree in finance when the right time comes.