ASIS&T Tours the Center for Jewish History

By JillMarie

This month, Pratt’s student chapter of ASIS&T (the Association for Information Science and Technology) was invited to tour the Center for Jewish History. The Center is a partnership of five organizations focused on Jewish history, scholarship, and art, with all five collections housed in their Manhattan location. The Center represents the largest collection of Jewish history in the United States, and serves as a central location for research and exhibitions open to the public.

The five organizations that make up the Center for Jewish History (American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute New York, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research) operate as partners with separate budgets and collections but shared resources to preserve the collections. Altogether, the Center houses artifacts that span 500 years of history, 500-thousand books across five dozen languages, and 50-thousand digitized photographs. All five collections can be accessed through a single research portal at, which allows researchers of all kinds to peruse the resource.

The Lillian Goldman Reading Room

ASIS&T was kindly given a guided tour of the facility by several of the research liaisons, divided by floor and department. The tour began on the top floor where the research center and the Lillian Goldman Reading Room are found. The research portal at can be access from the convenience of your home, but utilizing the research center on site gains you access to additional catalogs organized by location and subject, as well as direct assistance from researchers already familiar with the collections. Items from the collection can be checked out in the research room, which are then made available for study in the Lillian Goldman Reading Room, a beautiful two-story location with large skylights and books in every wall. Items from the collection can only be studied in-house, and most of the collection is available for this purpose.

18th Century Rabbinic Book on Astronomy

After touring the research and reading rooms, ASIS&T was brought back to the first floor where the public exhibits are found. Each organization with the Center for Jewish History has space on the first floor to display exhibits of their choosing. Ongoing now is YIVO’s “Jews in Space” exhibit, which features everything from rare 18th and 19th century rabbinic books on astronomy to Jewish pop-culture scifi references. The exhibit includes a timeline of Jewish achievements in astronomy and aeronautics, including items carried by astronauts to perform the first Jewish ceremonies in space.

While the first and upper floors are exciting for the general public and researchers, the heart of the Center for Jewish History is the basement, where the archives work takes place. The basement is composed of a long hallway with windows on either side where you can see the various stages of the archival process take place.

The tour of the basement began with the data center where the digital catalogers work. The Center opted for on-site servers in order to ensure that the catalog is always available during the Center’s hours of operation, and it’s the digital catalogs department’s job to make sure the catalog is up-to-date and available for the upstairs research center and the Center’s website. This responsibility includes converting the entire catalog from an old cataloging software to the latest system, which is a years-long process due to the size and complexity of the five collections. While the department itself is only a few years old, the metadata they’re charged with converting is up to 12 years old and was created over several generations of archivists at the Center. This complicates the process, since each archivist used their own methods to catalog the collections, all with varying levels of detail (or not), leaving this new team of digital experts with a range of decisions regarding how to store the information in a consistent system that needs to withstand yet another 12 years of use.

Next was a tour of the digitization room, a large and dim space filled with cameras, computers, and various recording equipment for both film and audio. The role of the digitization department is to, of course, digitize selected collections from the archive. Collections are selected by the partner organizations (or whoever is funding the digitization project) and are prioritized by on-site management. The Center has enough funding and interest in digital archives to have a constant stream of work, ranging from taking high-resolution photographs of books or photos to digitizing old film, negatives, and audio recordings. This department has a special rig designed to photograph maps and large posters, which sometimes involves taking photos of each segment (moving the camera rather than the item in order to minimize the risk of damage) and then stitching the photos together in Photoshop. This department produces “terabytes upon terabytes” of data that is then aggregated by the catalog department next door. Through years of effort by the digitization team, about one-fifth of the Center’s collection has been digitally archived.

On the opposite side of the hall from the digitization room is the digitization research room, where a small team of researchers are tasked with determining whether an item from the collection can qualify for digitization. This team curates the digital collection, first determining if the incoming item would hold value as a digital object, and then determining whether copyright and HIPAA legislation would allow for the item to be digitized (and if so, to what degree the item should be made available to the public.) Due to the age of the items and how they usually come into the Center’s possession (frequently by donation from Jewish families), copyright law doesn’t apply in many cases. In cases where the item is protected by copyright, however, it must be passed over for digitization and the Center must decide if the physical item itself should be preserved. This research department also handles some digitization tasks themselves, such as converting old computer files into formats that can be used by modern software. They’re also one of the largest contributors to Wikipedia in the Jewish history space. Incoming candidates for digitization are organized into projects, and once a project is complete, this department is responsible for updating and creating articles on Wikipedia that are connected to the primary sources that the Center has archived.

The last stop on ASIS&T’s tour was a large, bright room at the very end of the hallway where preservation and restoration of the Center’s items takes place. This room is filled with tables, some of which have plastic domes secured to them with holes and gloves so that objects can be managed with the utmost care. Items are selected for preservation based on the “intrinsic value” of the item itself, such as if the binding of a book is special or if the item was held by an important person. Preserving these items is a monumental task, requiring a surprising amount of knowledge not just of the items themselves but of environmental moisture and local insects. On the day ASIS&T arrived, the preservation department had spent the entire morning checking insect traps under a microscope, attempting to determine if a firebrat found earlier that day was a lone insect or the beginning of an infestation. Along this line, the preservation room is also equipped with investigative tools like endoscopes, which can be fed into walls and ceilings in order to check the Center for mold. The preservation of physical objects also has an interesting financial perspective: while funding for digitization can be exciting for donors, funding for a new HVAC system is significantly less so. The difficulty associated with preserving physical artifacts is one reason these five organizations partnered to create the Center for Jewish History.

Altogether, ASIS&T’s tour of the Center for Jewish History was a fascinating inside look at a local archive. It was exciting to see the perspectives and subjects of several papers from the Information Professions course come together in a real life environment, particularly in seeing how all the departments function. The Center for Jewish History is open six days a week and the galleries are free for the public, so if you haven’t checked out this site yet, you should!

Democratize AI : Event Series

By Caitlin Ballingall


On March 8, I attended the launch of Democratize AI, an event series that now takes place on the second Thursday of each month at Work-Bench. For this first event in the series, the venue held a panel discussion that focused on “The Future Work” of AI. To be more specific, Artificial Intelligence in the workplace.

Panelists included:

Arthur Tisi – the CEO of He has a background in engineering, computer science and marketing. Among Arthur’s critical goals is the focus on how people can use AI products, services, or solutions to solve real-world business and social problems and avoid seeing Artificial Intelligence as simply a shiny object.

Bill Marino – the co-founder and CEO of Uru, which uses computer vision and deep learning to help business and brands better understand and leverage all the video being created on the internet.

Oliver Christie – a consultant at Foxy Machine, who advises companies on the use of AI and business strategy to produce radical transformation.

Questions were posed to the panel such as;

  • How are artificial intelligence and automation transforming the way humans work?
  • What are the impacts on society and relationships in the workplace?
  • What will recruiters look for in an AI-first world?

Many themes emerged such as AI in the medical field acting as a second opinion for doctors and patients, AI eliminating bias in the hiring process and the jobs (if any) AI will replace in the future. For the purposes of this paper I will focus on the main themes the emerged from the event, and how these themes relate to the class discussion/readings, rather than naming the specific panelist’s opinions.

Definition of Artificial Intelligence

To kick off the discussion, presenters were asked if they could come to an agreed upon a shared definition of AI. This proved to be difficult but ideas around “pure AI,” “narrow AI” and AI cognition were among the main themes. Presenters did agree that AI is ready for a “pivot” as the technology and concepts that surround it seem to still be grounded in”legacy thinking.”      

Zooming in on the notion of narrow AI, defining this as AI that does not think like a human. To broaden AI, past legacy thinking, AI that only does one thing in a situation, developers should use the human mind as a model to create AI that embodies cognition, or can adapt to a situation.  Panelists mentioned how some people think AI can do this already, because of pop-culture’s manifestation of AI in television and movies, the word has become an alarmist term, and does not truly relate to what AI is or can be.

Thinking of AI as having human cognition is daunting, and viewing this idea through the lense of pop culture, which depicts this evolution as the beginning of the end, and apocalyptic, has its drawbacks. In our class, Black Mirror episodes were referenced and we discussed when AI has truly gone too far, and that is when it has become self-aware, or in Don Norman’s words “deceitful”. However, the truth is AI has been around for sometime, and hasn’t taken over the world yet, and is far from it.

During the panel, the speakers discussed that AI was developed in the 50’s and has failed a number of times. In Phoebe Sengers, Practice for Machine Culture, she makes reference to this in way of the cybernetics, which were small mobile robots, that moved around with little cognition. She claims these robots “fell out of fashion”, and research focused on cognitive abilities of AIs soon after. The hope was that one day the AI system would be merged with the robot or “cybernetic”.  Sengers states that this idea of merging the two concepts was indefinitely deferred for a time. The development of AI becoming more cognitive, tangible and more human like was also echoed by the panelists as a “far off” in the future idea. With some speakers expressing that we would not see this in our lifetime.

Human & AI Job Integration

With that, the conversation moved directions to what is in the near future, AI job integration. Humans working alongside AI to understand it and use it to their advantage, like it is already being done in the medical field. Doctors use it to transcribe patient interviews, speaking the words and allowing the computer to type them up, saving massive amounts of time. However, what is even more innovative is the use of AI as “decision support”.

In 2014, Sloan Kettering integrated IBM’s Watson into its patient diagnostic plan and process. Watson is an AI that has a large database of medical research documents. Doctors submit patient files to Watson, and within minutes the system formulates a medical opinion and test recommendations for the patient. Watson has become the “second opinion” for doctors and patients. Saving both parties time, by reducing the amount of tests the patient must endure, and money in medical expenses. Watson is also a system that works through machine learning, thus not only is the AI using uploaded medical research documents, but it also uses patient files to learn to see similar patterns for future patient diagnosis.

This is truly remarkable as doctors see countless patients and having to recall, compare and evaluate diagnosis can be difficult, and Watson as it is a machine, is able to recall everything, and furthermore, learn. In Don Norman’s, The Invisible Computer, Norman sympathizes with humans stating “People excel at qualitative considerations, machines at quantitative ones. As a result, for people, decisions are flexible because they follow qualitative as well as quantitative assessment, modified by special circumstances and context. For the machine, decisions are consistent, based upon quantitative evaluation of numerically specified, context-free variables. Which is to be preferred? Neither: we need both.” I think sums up where AI should be, decision support in the medical field as doctors and nurses are human beings and as much as they try they cannot remember every detail of every patient file to draw comparisons, and should not be faulted for this. Offloading this job to an AI as a second opinion is truly ideal.

AI Eliminating Bias

As one of the panelists companies works to eliminate bias in the job hiring process, this idea was discussed. Also, as it was International Women’s Day, I think the event hosts thought this would cover for the fact that there were no women on the panel, however there was a female moderator. Either way, talks focused around AI that could crawl resumes to find candidates for a specific job by looking at their experience first and not their name or gender to eliminate bias. When people annotate the job search there is deep bias, but with AI this is eliminated like a blind audition. AI now becomes an assessment tool for employers.

This idea like decision support sounded great, but the panel brought up that AI can be biased by people creating the AI. The idea of what makes a great candidate can be deeply subjective. With that, there has to be a plan in place to also eliminate bias in the creation phase. Panelists did not discuss how that would look.


Lastly, Panelists briefly discussed the relevant skill set people would need entering the AI job field. These suggestions focused on three ideas. (i) More machine learning engineers, which is relevant to Watson in the medical field. (ii) Productizing or AI, helping consumers know what the technology can do, and meet their expectations. Then Translating these technologies that work for people in their everyday work environments.  (iii) Companies are now hiring people with emotional intelligence over IQ. This trait is important for companies as the creative and emotional side of things will help companies advance in Tech and AI tech.

Overall, panelists agreed that AI’s purpose should come from “us”. It should be a human decision of where it goes. It is currently missing purpose. Norman also echoed this sentiment back in 1990 stating, “However, this is useful only if the machine adapts itself to human requirements. Alas, most of today’s machines, especially the computer, force people to use them on their terms, terms that are antithetical to the way people work and think.”   AI must have a purpose, as it is evolving, and we have a responsibility to define AI.

ASIS&T Speakeasy: Assistive Learning Technologies

By Lindsay Menachemi

Staircase picture

“The world is disabling to people in a wheelchair only if the people building it are filling it with stairs.” – Marc Castellini, Pratt Institute student


The way we design our physical and digital worlds can promote social inclusion if done well, or social exclusion if done poorly. It may not always be a designer’s intent to purposefully exclude certain people, but even ignorance is a choice. If a designer doesn’t consider accessibility or universality to be a part of their approach, more often than not, the resultant products restrict people in unanticipated ways.

On Tuesday, November 7, the ASIS&T student organization at Pratt Institute sponsored a speakeasy on Assistive Learning Technologies. Three students in the Information Technologies core curriculum class –Marc Castellini, Arushi Jaiswal, and Hanyu Zhang— presented a research-based web guide on assistive learning technologies, geared towards universities. I think that much of what they discussed can be applied more broadly to libraries, and to UX design principles for any product.


Why LIS professionals need to care

First, let’s highlight the problem in more detail. As Library and Information Science students, we have a responsibility to promote equity and inclusion. Social exclusion, after all, is just another form of powerlessness. (Gehner 41) Compound this with the ALA’s official position: in December 2006, the ALA implemented the “Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy,” a policy that recognized that “many people with disabilities face economic inequity, illiteracy, cultural isolation, and discrimination in employment and the broad range of societal activities” (ALA 2006). As part of the policy, it recommends proactive integration of assistive technology in libraries. A wonderful sentiment, only, there are two issues afoot here:

  • The policy was approved and published 10 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is not a matter to ignore; it tells us much about the prioritization of assisting those with disabilities.  And of all organizations, why would the ALA, an organization devoted to equal, unfettered access to information, respond in such a latent manner? This surprised me greatly.
  • The policy states that library staff “should be aware of how available technologies address disabilities and know how to assist all users with library technology.” (ALA 2006) “Should” is always hard to implement and track – “must” is usually much more effective, as it implies some sort of consequence. But surely there are guidebooks on the ALA website to assist librarians with their education and integration of assistive technologies? Well, the only tool on the ALA website dedicated to serving adults with disabilities is the “ASCLA Professional Tools – Standards and Guidelines – Resource List” link, and when selected, it returned a ‘404 – Page Cannot Be Found’ error. There are two other resource links, but these serve a very specific audience: children with disabilities that affect their ability to read print materials.
  • This resources page was last updated in 2007. March 29, 2007. I’m sure I don’t need to tell all of you how much technology has changed in 10 years.

It all begs the question: as a profession, how serious are we about providing services to people of all ages with all kinds of disabilities? How serious can we be when our own flagship organization offers this level of service?


How big is this problem, anyway?

I know, I know, in principle, it shouldn’t matter how many people this issue impacts, but it seems to matter nonetheless. ADA-PARC (ADA Participatory Action Research Consortium) made 2014 American Community Survey data available in interactive format.  (ADA-PARC 2014) It shows us that 12.3% of the total U.S. population self-declares as having a disability of some kind. That equates to approximately 43.5 million people. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to conceptualize a picture of how many people that figure truly represents. What if I told you that 43.5 million people is the number of people living in the entire country of Canada…. if it had 10 million more people! The level of social exclusion here is huge by any means – whether you’re measuring by numbers or principle.


Equalizing power through assistive technology tools

Our responsibility as LIS professionals escalates when you consider that, “Social exclusion is not simply a result of ‘bad luck’ or personal inadequacies, but rather a product of flaws in the system that create disadvantages for certain segments of the population.” (Gehner 2010) So what can we do? What Castellini, Jaiswal, and Zhang have created is a great start. The web toolkit provides a wide overview of cognitive and physical impairments and maps them to the specific LT (low-tech) and HT (high-tech) assistive technologies that can help. Low-tech can include things that are low-cost, and low-barrier of entry: highlighters, pencil grips, raised line paper. High-tech is the cool stuff we read about in Wired: speech-to-text programs or voice recognition are good examples, both of which limit the need for a keyboard. For dyslexic students, it’s even possible to use symbol-based learning, such as Widget symbols on SymbolWorld, or Makaton symbols, to improve understanding and absorption. Last but not least, web accessibility is another area that incurs massive reward without incurring massive expense. Simple changes can include: using the W3C’s HTML tag best practices to assist with read-aloud services, avoiding dropdown menus, and eliminating Javascript use. There are many, many ways to get started, and I encourage you to view their site to learn more.


Looking ahead

So, how can we escalate this issue to more LIS professionals’ attention? Here are a few things I’ve done so far, and a few thoughts of what else we might do:

  • I’ve privately corresponded with the student group that created the Assistive Learning Technologies site, and asked if they would consider submitting their work to the ALA for linking. Considering the paucity of information on the site, I felt that it would be a worthy contribution to the ALA Diversity group’s page. Even if they don’t include the site itself, my hope is that it brings to the ALA’s attention the lack of updated information available on their site.
  • I’ve emailed the Diversity committee at ALA to request that the broken link to their outreach toolkit is addressed, and that they consider updating their page to reflect current resources and technologies.
  • Next time you’re at an industry event or surfing a group’s website, get curious. See what you can find about assistive technology integration, or accessibility issues in general. How is the group addressing these issues? Do you agree with their approach? How can it be improved? If you can’t find anything at all, what a great opportunity to begin the conversation!
  • If you are an information professional currently working in an organization, assess the ways in which your organization (its website, its programs, etc.) are inclusive or exclusive of people with disabilities. If it can do better (and it usually can), can you adopt some of these technologies or re-design the website in a way that facilitates universal use?

Last but not least, look at the world around you with a critical eye. Sometimes all it takes to start moving things in the right direction is the different point of view.



ADA-PARC. (2014). “Percentage of Total Population with Disabilities.” Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2006 December 4). “Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy.” Retrieved on November 8, 2017 from

American Library Association. (2007 March 29). “Outreach Resources for Services to People with Disabilities.” Retrieved from

Castellini, M., Jaiswal, A., Zhang, Hanyu. (2017). “Assistive Learning Technologies.” Retrieved from

Gehner, John. (2010). “Libraries, Low-Income People, and Social Exclusion.” Public Library Quarterly, 29:1, 39-47

SLA New York Conference and Expo 2017

By asrp

On Friday October 20th I attended the 2017 SLA NY chapter’s conference and expo at Baruch College in New York City. This year’s theme was Resilience: Navigating the Information Landscape. They had a lineup of fantastic speakers from all areas of information professions, all of whom have been resilient and successful in their careers in the ever-changing information world. The conference hosted two keynote speakers, and eight panels throughout the day. Although each panel held noteworthy speakers with much insight on career paths and the growth of information professionals, this article will focus on the two keynote speakers and a panel on fake news and how to combat misinformation.

The conference kicked off with our morning keynote speaker, CEO of Sterling Talent Solutions, Clare Hart, talking about opportunity, resilience, and success. Hart started by congratulating the audience, most of which have obtained or are in the process of obtaining a master’s degree, a degree held by less than ten percent of adults over the age of 25 in the United States. A Master’s of Library and Information Science can open up many opportunities to individuals seeking professions in libraries, information, data, and increasingly in the technology fields. There is an opinion by some that there will be less of a need for information professionals in the future, as more information is accessible to the public. Hart retaliates by discussing just a few information/data jobs that will be seeing a growth in the near future, such as: Market Research Analyst, Data Scientist, Operations Research Analysis, and Data Governance/Data Domain Curator. At a time of societal change, where some doors close others will open, and there will always be a need for information professionals in the digital shift. We are in an age of acceleration, and “we can’t escape these accelerations. We have to dive into them, take advantage of their energy and flows where possible, move with them, use them to learn faster, design smarter, and collaborate deeper.” Hart addresses the need to retool our educational systems to maximize skills and attributes that will prepare people with top employability skills, placing an emphasis on the communication and planning skillsets. Referencing her own transitional stages between jobs, Hart gives us a list of things to write down during times of transition: write down what you did well, what you could’ve done better or differently, where you want to go/what kind of company or organization you want to work for, research that job and write down the top choices while weighing the pros and cons. These lists will serve as lessons in self-awareness, one of the major components of being a successful and resilient information professional. It’s important to remember that we are all unique, and with a master’s in LIS we already have or are working towards “fabulous credentials,” that will help us take advantage of the many opportunities that are being created in the market today. We must remember that it’s our attitude that will help us get the most out of lifelong learning, and that being self-aware will lead to positive transitions. Hart concluded her presentation with those key takeaways to carry with us into our future professions.

With the rise of social media and the growing access of information and opinions to the public, fake news has become a buzzword. One of the morning panels, In-Credible Sources: Fake News in the Info Age, addresses the fake news of today and how journalists and researchers can combat it.  The panel was hosted by Brandy Zadrozny and Kathy Deveny. Zadrozny is a researcher and reporter for the Daily Beast, and previously worked as a news librarian at ABC News and Fox News. Deveny is a managing director at Kekst, a leading strategic, corporate, and financial communications firm, and previously worked as an editor and writer, including deputy editor of Newsweek. Both speakers focused on the topic of misinformation in an overly-saturated information society. News outlets like Fox employed news librarians to help with research and fact-checking, but now with the cutting of many news librarian jobs, the reporters are in charge of doing their own research and fact-checking. Zadrozny points out that many people are just simply over fact-checks and will continue to read what they want to read. A popular culprit of misinformation is what is known as the “sexy press releases.” In science and health research, scientists need funding, and they get funding by writing articles. The articles are boosted by press releases that feed the public snippets of facts that are easily misconstrued into untruths. Deveny talks about fake news in the corporate realm. A lot of fake news on corporations comes from competitors causing chaos. A company’s reputation is more in danger now than ever as people take to social media and the emergence of online boycotts. How do we combat fake news in the media when people just aren’t skeptical enough? This is the challenge for information professionals like Zadrozny and Deveny, how do we teach people to be more skeptical? A short answer lies somewhere in feeding the public what they want, turning fact-checks into something easily digestible by telling a story in a fun and entertaining way. To combat fake news and get beneath the lies and untruths of misinformation, we need to follow through on skepticism, going with our gut feelings. If a story doesn’t sound right, we need to get interested in checking things out, we need to start poking holes. By contradicting things and being more skeptical, we create controversy and garner more attention. Journalists and reporters can also start by putting out factual videos to combat fake news. But as people are flooded with an abundance of information through Twitter, Facebook, and dark areas of the internet, the challenge on how to get people to this level of skepticism still remains.

The challenges that information professionals are facing, how to bridge the gap between information producers and information consumers, how to teach people to be more skeptical, or how to make our transitions into the growing technological society positive ones, are hard issues. Our afternoon keynote speaker Cynthia Cheng Correia, author, adjunct professor at Simmons College, and member of the Council of Competitive Intelligence Fellows, gave us some thoughts on how to address these challenges in her presentation, How Strong is your Professional Resilience? Correia teaches her students about competitive intelligence and how to prepare for the newer information landscape with tools to look at indicators in foresight. The questions she aims to tackle revolve around building a collective resilience. By combining professional preparation and personal resilience, we can create professional resilience in mindset and perspective. Resilience means being able to persist and adapt in the face of changes. It’s not just about fixing problems, but learning from them. In regard to the changes in information tools, Correia states that we need to keep up, that we need to think about how to respond, and that we need to anticipate. So how do we do this? We start with ourselves, our own independent resilience. It’s important to foster healthy relationships, through friends, family, colleagues, mentorships, and professional networks. These will give us a foundation of support, validation, empathy, and perspective. We also must be able to make a plan, this will aid in focus, problem-solving, foresight, and compartmentalizing. While making plans we must also remember to be positive in outlook (adjusting our approach to the problem at hand), realism (looking at the situation as it is), and a constant forward-looking attitude. Correia further goes into the importance of fostering our passions and growing with them, stating that the growth process isn’t about overcoming, it’s about enjoying the process and learning from it. She addresses the barriers to resilience: denial, habits, biases, silos (walls that we put up as “safe spaces”), behaviors, fear of failure, lack of self-awareness, and life’s challenges. These barriers aren’t just in individuals but in whole professions as well. In order to keep up with the changing information landscape, we must move past these barriers, strengthening our resilience, and re-evaluating our educational system to provide the proper tools for successfully navigation an information-heavy society.

The world of information is constantly changing and technologies are providing new ways of accessing and analyzing data and information. The information professions must keep up with these changes, following the latest news and trends in technology and building resilience in the workplace. This year’s SLA conference addressed some of these issues we are facing in current shifts, and provided stepping stones as to how to navigate them.

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