Meet Lindsay Sprechman, Collections Archivist at Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society

by Thera Webb

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Lindsay Sprechman, the Collections Archivist for the Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society. Sprechman became interested in archives during college when she was an intern at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, where she produced articles for the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities. Her research utilized town and synagogue archives to trace the history of Jews in towns in the American south.

As an MLIS student at Simmons College, she interned at the UMass Boston Archives, as well as at the American Jewish Historical Society-New England Archives. Upon graduation she became the archivist at Temple Israel in Boston, where she worked as the sole member of the archives, handling processing, outreach, and records management, until being hired as a Processing Archivist at the Jewish Heritage Center, where she has worked for four two and a half years.

The Jewish Heritage Center (JHC), is in the midst of a unique opportunity – having rebranded in 2017, there are many opportunities for outreach within the organization.  For many years, the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), the oldest ethnic historical society in the country, has had two archives—the national archive in New York City and another archive in the Boston area, known as AJHS-New England Archives (AJHS-NEA). In 2010, AJHS and the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) launched a collaboration when AJHS-NEA moved into NEHGS, first as an autonomous organization, and then as a strategic partner. In 2015, the collaboration was further strengthened when AJHS-NEA had its collections permanently deposited at NEHGS and officially became a part of the organization. In 2017, the Jewish Heritage Center was launched, with AJHS-NEA as its cornerstone, to engage historians, genealogists, youth, and the general public in programming and research to advance the study of the history, culture, and institutional legacies of Jewish families in New England and beyond by educating, inspiring, and connecting people through scholarship, collections, and expertise while serving as an archival and educational resource for other Jewish organizations and institutions. With so many changes occurring, outreach is especially important to raise awareness for the archives in order to attract patrons as well as to assist with fundraising efforts and acquiring collections.

With only four staff members, everybody on the team at the JHC plays a role in outreach and advocacy for the organization. Stephanie Call, the Manager of the Jewish Heritage Center, is responsible for overseeing the JHC’s core activities of archival preservation, family history, and educational outreach.  Kelsey Sawyer, the Reference and Photo Archivist, manages reference requests and assists researchers with navigating the archives, as well as handling a large-scale photography digitization survey. And Jessie Xu, the Digital Projects Coordinator, is the lead staff person on the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society- Boston digitization project, as well as all other digitization tasks. The team takes a three-pronged approach to outreach: exhibits, resource development, and social media.

Social media is, in many ways, the simplest but also the most challenging kind of outreach. Staying on top of regular posting can be difficult for a busy team with no specific communications administrator. To solve this issue, each member takes over social media for a month at a time, switching off throughout the year. Social media for the JHC includes not only Facebook and Instagram, but also Pinterest, Tumblr, and Historypin, as well at the main website. During her assigned month, Sprechman will go through archival items and create daily posts for the Center’s social media platforms. By taking turns, the team is able to stay on top of social media while still making headway on the day-to-day projects.

Exhibits are another tool for outreach. By hosting exhibits online, the JHC encourages web traffic to their site, which can lead to users exploring more online collections and coming in person to the archives. The JHC recently collaborated with NEHGS on the exhibit Voices of War: Americans in World War I, incorporating stories of the Jewish soldiers of WWI from the archives.

However, not all exhibits are online. Theeducation center at the NEHGS building on Newbury Street currently hosts a collection of ephemera and records from early Jewish doctors in America, focusing on the contributions made by Dr. Saul Hertz who pioneered the use of radioactive isotopes in treating disease. Programming is held in the education center, as well as in various venues around the city, as the JHC works with partners in the community to plan interesting and compelling presentations for people of all ages.

Resource Development is the third arm of their outreach program, focusing on making their collections easily accessible. While working on a huge digitization project of photos from the archives, the team at the JHC is also compiling subject guides for researchers. Currently they have two comprehensive guides online – for Labor History in the Collections, and for Music in the Collections. They are planning on creating guides for many other subjects, as well as a resource guide to Jewish Archives in other parts of the country and the world.

Being located on Newbury Street right by Copley Square permits the JHC to take part in summertime activities such as Open Newbury Street, and Free Fun Fridays, which help engage the community with hands-on activities in and around the archives.

Using a multilayered approach to outreach and advocacy, and driven by the newly rebranded JHC and it’s updated mission statement, Sprechman and her coworkers are creating multiple entry points to the collection for people from all walks of life and encouraging people from Boston and further to engage with the Jewish heritage and records they maintain.