The Alliance israélite universelle, a living memory to Jews
The Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) is an international Jewish institution devoted to fostering success at school and at work. Its role is to ensure the transmission of an identity based on the writings from the tradition, culture, history and geography of Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Founded in Paris in 1860, the institution is the guardian of an entire history and culture. This task of preserving and mediating falls on a team of six people who manage the library (open to the general public) and the historical archives.
To provide widespread access to its archives, the institution began to digitize them in 2000. In 2015, they were put online in the Limb Gallery digital library. To date, 13,783 documents (printed texts, manuscripts, and photographs), for a total of 330,000 images, as well as audio-visual archives are available to the general public and to researchers.
This account by Jean-Claude Kuperminc, Director of the AIU library and archives, and his staff, describes the role of the audio-visual collections in their cultural mediation activities.
Staff of the AIU Library
What convinced your establishment to put your audio-visual collections online in your digital library?
The institution’s archives hold a rich audio-visual collection, some of which date back to the early 20th century. These collections on 16 and 35mm film had already been identified as in danger as the rolls were deteriorating. It was also becoming difficult to view them through a lack of adequate equipment. Finally, our institution regularly received requests to quote or use samples of these films (reportages, documentaries, etc.).
In 2010, for the preparations for the Alliance’s 150th anniversary, we began digitizing these archives. In addition to conserving the archives, we wanted to use them as a communication tool to commemorate the institution’s anniversary. On this basis, Rabbi Josy Eisenberg has made two 50-minute films for his Sunday television programme. These digitization campaigns have also enabled us to ensure future content to add to the AIU’s various communication channels.
Following these campaigns, we published these audio-visual archives first on YouTube and then in our own digital library.
Can you tell us more about the origins of your audio-visual collections?
The oldest back to the early 20th century (1920). Other films from the 1950s to 70s were then made to promote the AIU. These videos have documentary and historic value with a view of the institution as well as of schools in France, Tunisia and Israel.
Video “Give me your hand”
The AIU also intends to create tomorrow’s archives: we make video recordings of conferences and other cultural events. This aims to promote to a wide range of audiences initiatives such as book releases, conferences and symposia.
Conference: Alain Finkielkraut and the absent God
Finally, the AIU staff to collect “Letters from readers” through oral archive collection programmes. This short form of video recording collects visitors’ opinions while also helping to increase the visibility of people like researchers, etc.
What advantage do you think these audio-visual collections bring to your digital library?
There is no doubt that digitizing these audio-visual collections and putting them online increases their visibility and therefore dissemination. Of course, the films add a more current aspect and provide a bit of relief, making an entire history and culture more tangible.
Because our institution is educational by nature, this digital library, and in particular the videos, provides teachers in the Alliance classes and elsewhere with stimulating work tools.
These audio-visual collections are also valuable resources that help us to illustrate the articles and content of our electronic newsletters. The Alliance publishes a newsletter aimed at all its members, which contains an insert on heritage that gives information about the media library.
What’s more, the Alliance library looks after its own community of readers with a special newsletter informing them about events and containing articles on particular collections or documents.
Alliance Library Newsletter
These communications play an effective role in revitalising visits to our digital library. The day after a broadcast, we notice a peak in traffic to the site and high rates of opening and clicks on links to the resources. The audio-visual content takes pride of place in the most viewed documents.
How do you put your audio-visual collections online?
We have chosen to make only a selection of videos available on our digital library. However, all of our videos are available on our YouTube channel.
Our videos are published only on YouTube. We see several advantages in that:
- YouTube gives optimal visibility on Internet
- It is widely used by a fairly Internet-savvy public
- YouTube offers a certain number of useful functions (sub-titles, automatic translations, reading speed, etc.)
- We did not want to host these videos internally as that is a profession in its own right, and we did not have the human resources needed
- Last but not least, of course, the economic aspect which must not be forgotten when you want to host your own audio-visual collections
What are your next plans for your digital library?
First, we will shortly be offering our digital library for browsing and consultation in English and Hebrew. This will increase the readership of our archives.
Second, we are continuing our work on digitizing our archives. These digitization programmes will add to the collections already available and accessible online. A new collection of Hebrew manuscripts from the Middle Ages will shortly be available.
Finally, we will of course be continuing our video recordings of lectures and conferences. Recording these events and putting them online becomes all the more important and relevant in current times because, thanks to the magic of digitization, reading them online lets people avoid the difficulty of gaining access to the Alliance’s physical premises.
Our ambition is to establish the AIU library and archives as a benchmark library thanks in particular to our digital library.