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Unlocking the Archive: A new way to use and re-use digital information

Most visitors to the Jewish Women's Archive use a wide range of materials from many different features on the site. How could we make it possible, JWA educational staff wondered, for users to pull these disparate images and objects together into new frameworks and contexts that would be most meaningful to them?

The Unlocking the Archive project is our answer. In the summer of 2009, the Jewish Women’s Archive partnered with Linnovate to design a new set of open source tools to create, share, and display presentations on the web using objects and media on the Jewish Women’s Archive website, and also to add customized text slides or to upload new objects.

Unlike existing software such as Microsoft Powerpoint, this application is open source (using a file format called "OAI-ORE"), ensuring that the presentations created with it can be viewed and explored with any Web browsing software. Because images and multimedia objects will be “pointed to,” rather than copied and stored locally, users will avoid the huge files and the frustrations involved in using products such as Powerpoint to display and annotate high quality audio or video properly. This means that these presentations can be accessed easily from any computer with an internet connection.

The Unlocking the Archive tool will be introduced to the public in 2011. The tool will be integrated into select lessons in the “Living the Legacy” curriculum through presentations curated by the Jewish Women's Archive as well as suggestions for ways to use this tool with students. The tool will thus provide a way for educators and students to engage with sources at, thinking imaginatively about uses for and meanings of the Archive's material as they create their own presentations.

As we develop our implementation further, it is easy to envision a future version of the Jewish Women's Archive website where every multi-media object includes a button that asks, "Add this to a presentation?" Potential uses range from slideshows to accompany a lecture, to collaborative student assignments, to family history projects drawing on materials from JWA collections such as Katrina's Jewish Voices or Weaving Women's Words, alongside personal images or audio/video clips.

The Jewish Women's Archive is offering the core code for free, as open source software from, to encourage others to develop further uses of this tool. Over the next few months, we will be adding application notes and demonstrations to help people imagine not just how they will use this tool with materials from the Jewish Women's Archive, but how to install it on other websites, for other uses, still unimagined.

Future versions of this toolset will include the ability to import slideshows created elsewhere, and to link to online resources on other websites without uploading them to our site.

The Unlocking the Archive project was partially funded by the Revson Foundation.

Technical Information

"Unlocking the Archive" was developed using open source technology, and the key pieces of the project were made available for free downloading from the website in August 2009. You can read more about the specific modules and how they fit together from the Linnovate presentation proposed for Drupal Paris 2009: Semantic Media Syndication, powered by Drupal, Flex and OAI-ORE, by Zohar Stolar.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Unlocking the Archive: A new way to use and re-use digital information." (Viewed on August 27, 2016) <>.


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