When Carnegie Mellon University launched its Web-based archive of Pittsburgh Jewish newspapers — past and present — Gabrielle Michalek couldn’t believe what happened next.
While the Web site got more hits than expected — tens of thousands per month, according to its staff — “what I didn’t anticipate is where those hits are coming form,” Michalek said. “Really, people all over the globe are using this as a resource. As a matter of fact, many institutions of higher learning are linking to it as a valuable resource for Jewish studies, as a history database as well as genealogists really loving it.”
Well, not quite. The Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper project (pjn.library.cmu.edu) is out of money, and unless new sources of funding can be found soon, the program will shut down.
“We’ve been out of money,” said Michalek, head of archives and digital library initiatives at Carnegie Mellon University Libraries.
“We’ve been doing this, using our own resources for almost a year now. Because the university is making cutbacks, we can no longer afford to do that.”
At first, CMU shared expenses with the United Jewish Federation, according to Gloriana St. Clair, dean of the university library.
“But this last year we’ve been absorbing the whole bill ourselves,” St. Clair said. “Because the economy is so difficult and because the university asked all the colleges and units to take a 5-10 percent cut over the next three years, we’re really kind of desperate to get some money for this wonderful, wonderful database.”
“As a librarian,” she continued, “I hate things that don’t get completed. “Librarians are very fussy about having all the things we can have, and this [database] is just so heavily used and people enjoy having, it would be such a tragedy if we can’t finish it.”
Launched in 2007, more than 160,000 images have been digitized through the PJN to date.
For now, CMU’s library staff continues to add new images to the site, including back issues of The Chronicle, but the Chronicle is only digitized through 1989, and while The Jewish Criterion (published from 1895-1962) is complete, most of The American Jewish Outlook (1934-1962) remains to be done.
If the program does shut down, the Web site will stay up, Michalek said.
“When we did this, we promised to keep it up forever we just don’t anticipate adding any new information or doing any new development to the Web site.”
To date $100,000 has been invested in the PJN, most of which came from CMU and the United Jewish Federation.
But CMU needs at least another $100,000 to finish the job.
That may seem like a lot, but Michaelek claims it’s a bargain.
She said she recently learned that Brigham Young University about received a $1 million federal grant in 2003 “to do the same sort of project with less material, so what they’re getting a million dollars to do we can deliver for about $200,000.”
Rodef Shalom Congregation Archives, The Rauh Jewish Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center and The Jewish Chronicle also have supported the project, making their archives available.
Now, new funding sources are needed.
“We’ve been reaching out to some individual donors and asking both if they’re will to contribute and if they have other ideas about where to go for funding,” St. Clair said.
She also plans to approach the UJF for help.
If the PJN shuts down, it’s not necessarily the end of it; work on the project can be revived if a new funding source is located, Michalek said.
In fact, “if funding can come through soon we can just keep going we haven’t shut it down totally yet, but we’re on the verge of doing that,” she said. “We’re looking for more support.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)