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New Book: Harvard Judaica in the 21st Century

Publication marks Judaica Division’s 50th anniversary.


August 5, 2014—The Judaica Division’s latest publication—Harvard Judaica in the 21st Century by Charles Berlin—was recently published to celebrate the recent 50th anniversary of the Division, which was established in 1962 with the appointment of Charles Berlin as Lee M. Friedman Bibliographer in Judaica and Head of the Division.

Alan Garber, Harvard’s provost, noted in his foreword, “The Harvard Judaica Collection has grown into one of the most extensive, and eclectic, collections of cultural and intellectual records of the Jewish world that can be found anywhere.…To partake of even a small part of its riches is to begin to understand how vigorously Charles Berlin, his colleagues and their predecessors have pursued the Collection’s mission of ‘the documentation of the Jewish people throughout history.’”

As one would expect of an anniversary volume, it chronicles the Division’s history and achievements. It includes an account of the growth of the Judaica Collection from Harvard’s earliest days, through the first half of the 20th century when several major collections of Judaica were acquired, to the recent half-century, the period in which the Judaica Division undertook the systematic development of Harvard’s Judaica collection into a world-class resource.

Enhancing the historical account are a series of appendices that record key aspects of the Judaica Division’s work: the more than 400 Judaica book funds and other Judaica endowments secured by the Judaica Division that support the Judaica Collection; the hundreds of events—exhibitions, lectures, conferences, symposia and concerts—arranged by the Division; the Division’s many publications; and a “Photo Gallery: Scenes from a Half-Century of the Judaica Division,” with photographs from lectures, conferences and exhibitions, featuring authors, artists, scholars and librarians who participated in these events.

However, the primary focus of the book is squarely on building the Judaica Collection in the 21st century. Drawing on the experience of the Judaica Division over the past decade and a half, Berlin describes how the Division successfully manages to cope with constant change and to turn change to good advantage. The book’s introduction and the chapters on collection-building (Chapters 3 and 5) are an articulation of the Division’s innovative approach to collection-building in the 21st century. This approach is characterized by synergistic integration of collection development with processing and cataloging to achieve cost-effective workflows, utilization of vendors as effective partners offering an enhanced array of services and innovative adapting of technology to new challenges. This, in turn, the book demonstrates, has made it possible to do more with less—to achieve “critical mass,” to expand collecting scope in terms of formats and languages and to provide better access. Chapter 3, “Building the Judaica Collection in the 21st Century,” provides several examples to illustrate “critical mass” achieved by topic—Rabbinical Literature, Education, and Israeli and Jewish Theater—and by format—Judaica Ephemera, Audiovisual Judaica. They demonstrate the Division’s holistic approach to collecting materials and creating opportunities for research. Chapter 5, “Building the Judaica Digital Library,” describes the Division’s pioneering efforts in digital collection building that have resulted in a Judaica online collection with over 5 million images: photographs dealing with Israeli history and culture, and with Jewish history; Jewish art; posters and ephemera; maps; archival materials; and books and pamphlets—the largest such digital collection in its field.

Other chapters discuss additional elements key to the Judaica Division’s successful collection-building:

  • “Making the Judaica Collection Accessible” (Chapter 6) is an account of the Division’s innovative approach to making accessible a constantly increasing intake of materials in a wide range of formats and languages, and provides a detailed review of the Division’s “processing principles.” The chapter includes a review of various Judaica outreach programs as an integral part of enhancing access to the Judaica Collection.
  • “Assuring the Judaica Collection for Future Generations” (Chapter 7) describes the Division’s successful efforts to secure the needed financial resources to build the Judaica Collection.
  • “The Role of the Judaica Division Staff” (Chapter 8) describes how efficiencies in workflows have changed the nature of librarianship in the Judaica Division, introduced non-traditional staffing models, and made it possible to leverage skills and expertise to have a multiplying effect exceeding norms. The chapter also includes a section, “Recollections of Judaica Library Student Assistants.” These reflections by former students who now include professors, physicians, lawyers and executives provide fascinating insight into the significant role of student assistants over the past 50 years in the Judaica Division and the impact that their experience in the Division has had on them.

A pioneering feature of the book is Chapter 4: “Statistical Analysis of the Judaica Collection.” The 26 statistical tables, prepared by the Judaica Division’s Elizabeth Vernon, present for the first time a detailed statistical analysis of the Judaica Collection. Perusal of the tables yields some eye-catching facts:

  • Judaica titles in all languages and formats represent 4.94% of the Harvard Library collection.
  • Hebrew is the 9th largest collection by language in the Harvard Library’s book holdings.
  • Hebrew is the 7th largest serials collection in the Harvard Library.
  • Hebrew and Yiddish sound recordings represent 24% of the Harvard Library’s sound recordings, with Hebrew (19.57%) being the second-largest language collection among the Library’s sound recordings after English.
  • Hebrew video recordings represent 13.72% of the Harvard Library’s video recordings; Hebrew is the second largest language collection of videos after English.
  • Judaica maps are the largest map collection (61.74%) in the Harvard Library.
  • The Judaica Collection encompasses materials in 91 languages from 140 countries.

“The Judaica Division is to be commended for its accomplishments,” Sarah Thomas, vice president for the Harvard Library and Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, wrote in her Greetings in the book. “You have created a rich resource to advance scholarship in and understanding of Jewish life and culture, available at Harvard for consultation and, through your pioneering efforts in digitization, to the world.”