The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary was awarded a $1 million grant from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation to update its high-density stack area in order to facilitate access to rare and unique volumes, meet current professional standards for security and climate control and maximize productive use of its space for housing collections. Over the next five years, approximately 35,000 undocumented books salvaged from the devastating fire of 1966, which are currently housed in the high-density stacks, will be processed, and the twenty-year-old facility located on The Library's third floor will be renovated.
In April 1966, The Library suffered a devastating fire in which 70,000 books perished. More than 150,000 others were damaged by smoke and water. In the weeks immediately following the fire, an emergency salvage effort, known as "Operation Booklift," worked to dry and box the surviving materials. In an outpouring of public support, donations of collections and individual volumes arrived in large numbers. Due to lack of a suitable space, these books, along with the fire-damaged collections, were sent to an off-site storage facility.
The Jewish Theological Seminary's new library building opened in 1983. The third floor high-density stack area, consisting of a double-sided, enclosed area with 108 ranges, has not undergone a significant renovation since that date. Approximately 136,000 books, among them irreplaceable institutional and communal records and valuable nineteenth-century books, were placed on the shelves awaiting processing, but there was no funding to undertake the labor-intensive work.
Since its dedication in December 2002, the Goldsmith Gallery at The Jewish Theological Seminary has become a focal point for introducing visitors, as well as the JTS community, to the rich collections housed in The Jewish Theological Seminary's world-renowned Library. The renovation of the third floor high-density stack area further unites the common interests of the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and JTS by strengthening The Library's ability to carry out its mission to conserve the cultural heritage of the Jewish people and to make its collections accessible to scholars, students, and the public.
Dorothy Tapper Goldman, in her second year as Chair of The Library Board of Overseers, opened the fall Board meeting with the following quote:
"They [the Jews] are like the pegs and the nails in a great building,
which though they are but little valued in themselves, are absolutely
necessary to keep the whole frame together."
—The Spectator, London, September 1712
Dorothy sees The Library Board of Overseers as a vital peg in JTS's architecture. Under her leadership, the Board is growing into an outstanding and supportive body, aiding in the fulfillment of The Library's mission to collect, preserve and make available the cultural heritage of the Jewish people. The most recent and welcome addition to the Board, Joseph Rubin, a consultant at Ernst & Young, has been appointed Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee and will be a valuable resource in lending his expertise to the Board.
Currently, the Board is involved in three significant projects. First, as JTS kicks off its JTS Celebrates America: Imagination, Achievement & Inquiry campaign, honoring the 350th anniversary of the arrival of Jews on American shores, The Library Board of Overseers announces a facsimile exhibition, Treasures of Americana from The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary. This project represents the culmination of a collaboration between The Library, The Library Board, and the Department of Institutional Advancement. This traveling display takes viewers on a historical visual journey from the day the first group of twenty-three Jews landed on the shores of New Amsterdam to the creation of an infrastructure of Jewish leadership and Zionism that continues to dominate and shape American Jewish life in the twenty-first century.
The exhibit, composed of digitally-scanned replicas of items from The Library's Americana collection, enables increased accessibility of library materials. Communities across the country who might otherwise never experience The Library's collections can now view selections of the Americana treasures.
In another effort to further expose the treasures of The Library, the Board instituted a "Second Guest of Honor" program in which a rare piece from The Library's collection will appear at an event outside JTS. A ketubbah, printed in Utica, New York in 1863, will be showcased as a "Second Guest of Honor" at the Louis Marshall Award Dinner on November 4, 2003 at the Pierre Hotel.
Expanding The Library's collection of rare materials is another essential component of mission of The Library and The Library Board of Overseers. To enable the purchase of new acquisitions, the Board is organizing a fundraiser at the Neue Galerie, founded by Ronald Lauder and located on "Museum Mile" in Manhattan, on Monday, April 19, 2004. Original copies of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, owned by Dorothy Tapper Goldman, will be exhibited together for the first time at this event.
The Board's goals to increase accessibility and visibility through the facsimile exhibit program, to enhance the special collection by way of fundraising events and to develop a solid strategic plan for The Library will shape the vision of both The Library and The Jewish Theological Seminary.
If you are interested in having the exhibit appear at a local event please contact Andrea Klein by calling (212) 678-8924.
One of the best-kept secrets at The Library is our video collection. It includes over 1,350 documentary and feature films from Israel and the United States in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, French and Spanish as well as tape recordings of JTS lectures and events.
In an effort to share the wealth of our collection with the greater JTS community, The Library has now made a large number of our videocassettes available for circulation. This includes feature films, educational films for children and our collection of documentaries from sources such as PBS, ABC, CBS and NBC.
An example of one of the unique collections in the video library is films depicting pre-1948 Israel. This collection includes gems such as: a newsreel from 1934 documenting the first voyage of a Polish ocean liner to Palestine; another from the 1930s called Hatikvah: The Hope, created to inspire German Jews under Nazi rule to emigrate to Palestine; The Life of Jews in Palestine, an early 1900 film shown during the Eleventh Zionist Congress in 1913, includes footage of Bilu members celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the first pioneers; another video, Bonim ve-lohamim, is based on newsreels from the 1930s and 1940s and includes footage of the founders of the State of Israel Moshe Sharett, Chaim Weizmann, Itzhak Ben-Zvi and David Ben-Gurion, as well as cultural figures such as poets Saul Tchernichowsky and Avraham Shlonsky.
The newly-established policy allowing the circulation of these videos is intended to provide access to yet another wonderful resource at The Library.
The concept of information literacy within libraries has changed drastically in the past few years. As the information landscape evolves, and the needs of our users change, we struggle to help users become library- and information- literate. This year at The Library we are taking a multifaceted approach to educating our users.
One of our new initiatives is the Personal Librarian program. At the beginning of the school year, new students received a personal letter of welcome from one of our four Public Services Librarians inviting them to stop by The Library. The goal is to encourage students to meet and develop a relationship with their librarians which will guide them through their time at JTS. We have already received positive feedback from a number of students and faculty on this endeavor.
This year we have also introduced a new set of library tutorials: "Strategies for Success: Mastering Research and Resources at The JTS Library." These are subject-specific tutorials, each lasting an hour, aimed at both new and returning students. We offered tutorials this semester on Talmud, Bible, education, music, history and literature. Each tutorial was accompanied by an extensive guide which reviewed the print and online resources discussed during the class. These guides will be available throughout the year at the reference desk.
It is our hope that programs such as these will help our users attain a new level of library and information literacy, skills which will be useful during their time at JTS, and also out in the work world.
The Library's collection of bookplates was greatly enhanced by the purchase of 410 bookplates at an auction at Sotheby's in 1996, and the purchase of the Leah Mishkin Collection of more than 2,000 ex libris in the spring of 1977.
The term "ex libris," Latin for "from the books [of]" became a common term for bookplates after the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century. Over the years they have become collectors' items, small works of art that can reveal personal and cultural information. Most of the early bookplates were armorial in design (displaying family coats of arms) and were used by the aristocracy. The oldest bookplates with a Jewish connection were those of Christian Hebraists. A bookplate from the Mishkin Collection, for example, features Johann Christian Wagenseil (1633-1705) with a quotation in Hebrew from Psalms 16:6.
Among the earliest ex libris belonging to Jews were those designed in 1746 for Israel Mendes by Benjamin Levi, a Jewish artist. These armorial bookplates show the Mendes coat of arms and the Latin quotation "Gratia Dei Sufficit Me" ("the Grace of the Lord is sufficient for me"). Mendes, who lived in London, came from a distinguished Portuguese Jewish family.
As more Jews acquired the practice of using bookplates, Hebrew inscriptions and symbols began to appear on them. The bookplates of Solomon Schechter (1847-1915), designed by Joseph B. Abrahams, include a menorah and two hands in the gesture of the priestly benediction centered within a Star of David.
Many bookplates were designed by world-famous artists, either as commissions or for for their own use. Among these artists are E.M. Lilien, Herman Struck, Joseph Budko and Solomon Levadi. E.M. Lilien, known as the "father of Jewish bookplates," was the first to create ex libris with distinctive Jewish motifs. His strong curvilinear forms and compositions were characteristic of Art Nouveau style. In the bookplate that he designed for Anselm Hartog, he depicts Eve being tempted by the serpent and adds a comic touch by substituting a book for the forbidden fruit.
An exhibition of bookplates from The Library's collection is planned to take place in the near future.
The Library, in celebration of the forthcoming commemoration of 350 years of Jewish presence in America, is proud to highlight a unique manuscript from its Americana collection. Of the nine extant copies of Ha-hibbur ha-gadol, Abraham Ben Samuel Zacuto's astronomical work, The Library owns five.
Ha-hibbur ha-gadol was written in Salamanca in 1473-78 under the patronage of the bishop of Salamanca, who admired Zacuto's extensive knowledge of astronomy and history. The manuscript was originally written in Hebrew. The Library also owns a seventeenth-century copy of this original manuscript, in Hebrew. In 1481, the manuscript was translated into Spanish by Juan de Salaya, a professor of astrology and logic at the University of Salamanca. Subsequently, Joseph Vicinho translated an abridged version of Ha-hibbur ha-gadol into Latin under the title Almanach Perpetuum. The Library is in possession of this book, which is the only Spanish incunable published in Portugal.
Zacuto's astronomical findings played an important role in the Spanish and Portuguese discoveries at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, including the discoveries of Columbus, who used Zacuto's tables on his voyages. Columbus learned from Zacuto's tables of an approaching lunar eclipse and threatened the natives of Jamaica that he would deprive them of the light of the moon as well as of the sun. His threat terrified the Indians to such an extent that they became obedient to Columbus and offered food and gifts to him and his crew.
Vasco Da Gama consulted Zacuto in Lisbon before he set sail on his voyage to India in 1496. Da Gama's ships were equipped with Zacuto's newly perfected astrolabe, tables and maritime charts, and he himself instructed the sailors in their usage.
Abraham Zacuto (1452-1515) was born to French Jewish exiles who had come to Castile in 1306. His astronomical research and writing continued until 1492 when the Jews were expelled from Spain. Zacuto then immigrated to Portugal where he was appointed Court Astronomer by King John II. In 1497, when King Manuel forced all Jews in the country to convert, Zacuto left Portugal and went to North Africa, finally settling in Tunis. There he completed the Sefer ha-Yuhasin, a book of genealogies, on which he had worked for many years. Little is known of the last years of Zacuto's life. In 1513 he was in Jerusalem where he compiled an almanac "in the holy tongue based on the Jewish calendar." He is presumed to have died in Damascus in 1525.
The Friends of The Library was presented the "Best of Show" award by the American Library Association, Public Relations and Marketing Section, at their annual conference in Toronto, Canada on June 22, 2003.
The award was given in recognition of Outstanding Efforts in the Area of Library Public Relations, as reflected in the most recently published library brochure by the Friends.
The ALA awards are given annually in recognition of the best individual pieces of public relations materials produced by libraries. In an ongoing effort to publicize The Library's unique treasures, the Friends and Universe Publishing, a division of Rizzoli International Publications, copublish an annual Jewish calendar featuring images from its collection. The 5763 (2002-03) calendar focused on works from the Mediterranean region and included manuscripts, ketubbot and scrolls. The newly published 5764 (2003-04) calendar includes illustrations from illuminated manuscripts and rare prints.
The calendar and other items published by The Library can be viewed and ordered online on the JTS library shop.
The collection includes over 375,000 volumes, 25,000 rare books, 11,000 manuscripts, 13,000 reels of microfilms (primarily of Hebrew manuscripts), 750 periodicals subscriptions, 1000 video recordings, 4,000 sound recordings, 3,000 musical scores and CD-ROMs. Strengths are in rabbinics (Talmud and cognate literature), Bible and its Jewish commentaries, liturgy, and medieval and modern Hebrew literature. In addition, there are 40,000 Cairo Genizah fragments, archives of modern Jewish history, prints, photographs and illuminated documents, including the largest collection of marriage contracts in the world.