By: Benjamin Koslowe  | 

Letter to the Editor: Digital Archives at Long Last

To the Editor:

I would like to thank the archivists of the Yeshiva University Libraries for their very important work this past summer uploading the vast majority of old Commentator and Observer issues for the public to access and enjoy.

As a Yeshiva College student, I spent countless evenings behind the Gottesman Library’s reference desk poring over binders of old student newspapers dating back to 1935. Beyond satisfying my own interest in Yeshiva University history, these investigative escapades contributed substantially to many of the articles that I published during my tenure as editor of this newspaper, as well as to my senior thesis. I was so enamored by the relatively unknown gold mine that was these archives such that, in my inaugural blueprint editorial, I decided that my first stated goal would be the objective of initializing and completing a full digitization project of The Commentator and the Observer archives by the time that I would graduate.

Despite early support for my wide-eyed enthusiasm from YU’s librarians, the project proved to spawn various complications. As my graduation neared and the project had yet to take wing, I wrote another editorial calling on Yeshiva University to actively support the digitization project. Shortly thereafter I graduated, handing off the newspaper to new leadership and resigning myself to the reality that the archives would likely remain accessible only to a privileged small set of undergraduate student journalists.

But something happened then that I did not expect. In the most unlikely time imaginable — in the throes of an unforeseen global pandemic that reshaped society — I noticed a trickle of intriguing uploads materializing on YU’s online academic repository. I aired my cautiously excited suspicions to two of YU’s librarians, both of whom confirmed that an uploading initiative was underway. As of the publication of this letter to the editor, the YU Libraries have uploaded Commentator archives through the year 2000, and Observer archives through the year 1976.

As it stands, this uploading project is not perfect. Per my understanding, the YU Libraries do not currently possess digital scans of archives past the year 2000; given the typically slow pace at which scanning projects move, this will leave 20 years of archives inaccessible to the public for the time being. Additionally, though most of the scans are quite readable, a more advanced project would host the files as fully-searchable PDFs with optical character recognition (OCR) (for reference, see such platforms hosted by The Daily Pennsylvanian and The Cornell Daily Sun).

Still, the ongoing newspaper archiving project is very good, and the hard work that has gone into this project ought to be commended. To this end, I would like to thank YU’s librarians; specifically, Shuli Berger, Dena Schwimmer, Sara Saiger, Stephanie Gross and Paul Glassman. Yashar kochachem! May your hard work be enjoyed by the extended Yeshiva community for many years to come.

Benjamin Koslowe (YC ‘19)