Observing the Leo Baeck Institute

The information space I chose to observe for this blog post is the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI), my workplace.  The Institute is named after Leo Baeck, a Jewish Rabbi in Germany during the time of the Second World War and a survivor of Theresienstadt concentration camp.  Its mission is preserving the vast collection of documents, books, and artworks created by and describing the history of German-speaking Jewish people. Housed in the Center for Jewish History, LBI is one of five partner organizations that contribute to the expansion of access to Jewish history and culture.  My job at LBI is to physically process books to be added to our searchable collections and then page those books when requested for the reading room. I often get to work with many different people as my job goes through different parts of the museum.

I sat down one day and made notes about the exchange of information going on in the Institute.  Not only do I interact daily with my coworkers to complete tasks and learn new parts of my job, but I also watched how LBI workers interact with visitors and teach them about our mission.  As a reasonably small office, there are very few formal communication procedures between employees. Generally, if we must get in touch with someone that is not only a few desks away, we make use of email.  Usually, though, we can walk over and talk in person about a specific book or database question.

On a typical day, LBI receives about five to ten requests for books to be paged to the reading room that the Center for Jewish History shares among its partner organizations.  For patrons to receive the information they wish to research, they must call the material in Aeon, a workflow management software specifically for libraries. LBI’s website features a complete online collection of our holdings that patrons can browse.  Once they find a book they are interested in, they make a request, and I get an email from the system telling me which volume to pull from the stacks. Once I retrieve that, I bring it down to the reading room, and the librarians there give it to the researcher.  The process is straightforward, and the exchange of information is streamlined.

The Leo Baeck Institute is very privileged at the wealth of materials we have in our collections and available to researchers.  As we are focused on German-Jewish history, the collections librarians must scrutinize the donations we receive to make sure they follow this subject matter.  In the past, when we accepted a gift, the donor would give a whole stack of books, whether they had anything to do with us or not. The current librarians are much more critical of what we take in, but there is still a massive backlog of books waiting to be processed and cataloged.

Reflecting on our international theme, LBI has three branches spread out across the world.   The Jewish Museum Berlin has access to duplicate copies of our microfilm collection. Over 4,500 microfilms are housed there, making LBI’s collections accessible to researchers at the heart of our topic.  London and Jerusalem are also home to LBI centers, allowing our organization to maintain and deepen relations with scholars, Jewish Communities, and the wider public.

One of the things I find most interesting about LBI is the people I have met.  Our volunteers are a great source of wisdom and information. Two of whom are in their 90s, they are very sharp still and come in about once a week to work on translating documents from Hebrew and German, as well as telling their own stories from their home countries.  Every year the Institute takes on interns from Austria and Germany who come to New York to study. They translate documents from their original German and process other materials. I find it fascinating the way that their countries have dealt with the events of the Holocaust.  One intern who hails from Austria is working on a project on how her country likes to gloss over Austrian participation in World War II and pretend they were only following Hitler’s orders. She uses LBI materials to prove her view that Austria did, indeed, have a hand in the construction of the Holocaust.

This project reminds me of Sharon Macdonald’s article, “Is ‘Difficult Heritage’ Still ‘Difficult’?”  As a library whose materials deal with the perpetration of atrocities against a people, we must take extra care to adequately respect the subject matter while still being able to work around and with it every day.  Though we represent the Jewish people who have been subjugated throughout history, LBI has actually very few people who belong to that population. This poses a question of not only diversity practices, but what to do when white people represent a religious and ethnic minority.  In Jennifer Vinopal’s “The Quest For Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action,” she explores the needs for diversity in library workplaces. According to the International Federation of Library Association’s IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto, “libraries of all types should reflect, support and promote cultural and linguistic diversity at the international, national, and local levels, and thus work for cross-cultural dialogue and active citizenship.”  Despite the fact that our mission is very close to this statement, LBI would be better prepared to genuinely serve its visitors by employing librarians from the community it aims to help.

Overall, the Leo Baeck Institute is a library that provides valuable cultural and historical knowledge to those seeking to research German-Jewish topics.  Expanding on more than just WWII, LBI preserves the traditions and scholarship of Jewish communities.

A Review of Pratt SI’s Alumni Panel

On October 14, I attended an Alumni Panel hosted by Pratt’s School of Information. The panel consisted of three recent graduates from the School, each in different roles in the information community. They were:
Carlos Acevedo, the Digital Asset Manager at The Jewish Museum
Kate Meizner, a UX Designer & Data Analyst at Google
Anna Murphy, an Upper School Librarian at the Berkeley Carroll School, an independent school in Park Slope.

ASIS&T @ Pratt, the Association for Information Science and Technology, put on the panel in conjunction with Professor Irene Lopatovska’s INFO 601 classes. It was mostly students from her class who filled the room, but there were several other School of Information students in attendance as well. In general, the panel had a very casual feel as it was a small audience in the same room our class is held. The panelists went down the line answering questions about their time as graduate students and their transition into their respective fields. This panel was set up as a way for current students to see how our predecessors have managed to gain careers after graduation and give advice to current students who may be worried or not sure where to go after their impending graduations.

Mr. Acevedo, who has done Digital Asset Management for the Jewish Museum for three and a half years now, began by saying that the first two years of his position were taken up by introducing a DAM system and the last year has been spent managing that system. His team is small and he is the only one managing the DAM on the team. Mostly, that makes Mr. Acecedo’s work independent but he does have a lot of cross-departmental meetings and works closely with the Director of Digital, JiaJia Fei. Ironically, he noted, his project management style is very analog for a position that is so technology-based. To organize himself, he uses a large whiteboard that he splits into different sections corresponding to different tasks he is doing on long and short term bases. Because he meets with so many people from different departments, he makes sure to use formal Google calendar invites to set up meeting times, but uses Slack for more informal communication. When asked what the most challenging part of this job is, Mr. Acevedo noted that there are many projects around the museum he knows he can tackle based on his knowledge of best practices, but often these are out of his control due to departmental lines, budgets, and the will of the Board of Directors. The most rewarding part is when he can solve problems around him that have seemingly impossible solutions.

For Kate Meizner, her position as a UX researcher is very different. She is constantly collaborating with the twelve others on her team, which changes every year and a half. She describes her job as a bit of chaos; her duties range from running two research studies at a time to interviewing customers to surveys, analyzing data, and coordinating team strategy. In the mornings before everyone goes about their tasks, her team does a morning stand-up so everyone can let their coworkers know what they are working on that day, what needs to be accomplished, and who needs to meet to get that done. It can be a challenging workflow, as often non-UX people are invited to make UX decisions. Ms. Meizner also noted the lack of a central project management tool. She utilizes Google Sheets frequently, as well as GoToMeeting which is a remote desktop program, Qualtrics surveys, Tableau, Python, and R. Some current projects are deciding what her team strategy will be for the next two and a half years and analyzing data visualization studies, which last from three weeks to a month. For her, the most challenging parts of her job are new teams which makes finding your place in an organization that is constantly changing difficult, as well as figuring out how to get things done. Yet the most rewarding parts are understanding how research propagates in products, hearing how her work helps others improve their own workdays, and especially when she gets to apply knowledge learned at Pratt.

Anna Murphy’s job is on the Library Science side of the School of Information. As a high school librarian, she has no typical day. Her work ranges from teaching short workshops to students, researching projects for teachers, and conducting an eighth-grade technology class. She is constantly working with children, being centrally located in the library. There is almost no one in the school Ms. Murphy does not work with, so communication is especially important. Many times proposals for projects or workshops are very casual, maybe even just a mention in the elevator, so Google Sheets and Trillo, a task management system, are essential to staying on top of every interaction. For her, the most challenging part of her job is having to advocate for the students first. As an independent school, there is a lot of bureaucracy. She feels she must often work backward from what reading is. However, the most rewarding part is when the students engage with the books she buys for them and feel comfortable in the space of the library.

One of our readings that I was reminded of during this event was John Gehner’s article “Libraries, Low-Income People, and Social Exclusion.“ Especially when Ms. Murphy was talking about how her students come from extremely diverse backgrounds, I felt she was exemplifying what the article says is part of the duty of librarians. Many children who have troubled home lives can find refuge in their school libraries. “Action 3: Remove Barriers that Alienate Socially Excluded Groups” is practiced by Ms. Murphy when she talked about making a comfortable space for her students. She makes sure to not judge them on whatever topic they are interested in, as well as buying books that will pique their interest. She practices “Action 4: Get Out of the Library and Get to Know People” by teaching the technology class, doing classroom visits, and coaching a sports team to nurture a relationship with students outside of the library bounds.

I saw elements of the “Design Justice” article in what Ms. Meizner spoke about. She noted that many times non-UX designers will be on her projects and they fail to see potential problems that she would as someone who takes everyone into consideration, rather than just the mainstream population. She talked about making sure to pay attention to how her work is influencing others, similar to design justice’s mantra of “how the design of objects and systems influences the distribution of risks, harms, and benefits among various groups of people.”

Overall, I found this panel to be extremely helpful in my path through graduate school. It is always reassuring to hear the stories of others who have come before. By hearing how these three graduates earned their degrees, how they obtained their jobs, and how they use their knowledge gained at Pratt Institute in their work every day.


Costanza-Chock, Sasha. “Design Justice: towards an Intersectional Feminist Framework for Design Theory and Practice.” DRS2018: Catalyst, June 28, 2018. https://doi.org/10.21606/drs.2018.679.

Gehner, John. “Libraries, Low-Income People, and Social Exclusion.” Public Library Quarterly29, no. 1 (March 15, 2010): 39–47. https://doi.org/10.1080/01616840903562976.