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Dialogue on Digitization

Giora Zwilling, head of the department which prepares the Yad Vashem Memorial´s holdings for digitization, spent three days in December 2010 at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen learning about the work being done there. “It was extraordinary to gain an understanding of the considerable tasks and topics which the ITS handles,” said Zwilling after his visit. “I now have a clear picture and will be able to use much of this experience in the future.”

He learned about the document holdings, status of the conservation, processing of requests and how the research is approached. “It was fascinating to see how the tracing of family members is done in comparison to how we do it at Yad Vashem,” Zwilling reported. “I also found it remarkable how hungry the second and also the third generation is for information.” Naturally Zwilling was most interested in the digitization at the ITS. “I was impressed,” he said. “We don´t always choose the same solutions in both of our institutions but the problems are comparable. I think we both had the same experience.”

Zwilling was able to see how the ITS approaches digitization from a structural point of view; each step of the process is intertwined. Nearly all the historical documents in Bad Arolsen have been scanned, excluding the correspondence files totaling 60 million pieces of paper. “It is interesting for me to see how other institutions deal with their digitization questions,” said Zwilling. To that end, he also visited the National Library in Israel. There is currently an intensive debate at archives in Germany about how holdings should be digitized and financed.

Zwilling has been at Yad Vashem for two and a half years, where he and his team of 7 full-time employees and several volunteers prepare documents for digitization. They check the quality of the documents, number them, remove paper clips, and coordinate the work with the conservation, restoration and digitization departments. Yad Vashem has digitized all audio and video testimonials and the entire photo archive, and has also scanned half of the microfilms. Paper documents are in the process of being digitized.

Zwilling studied history and previously worked in cataloguing at Yad Vashem. “Every day in this job you hold at least one document in your hands where you can say to yourself: “This is why I am here,” says the historian. “It makes the job meaningful. I have learned so much.”