Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Visit to Three Libraries in Israel

Report on the Visit to Libraries in Israel  August 6-8, 2012
When I was planning a trip to Israel for a family bar mitzvah, I want to do something that tourists wouldn’t do.  As a librarian I love to visit libraries.  On a visit to New York three years ago, I visited a school librarian who was having difficulty with her administration.  Amazingly  after my visit things changed for the better.  I was given a task by my fellow librarians to learn about how systems work in large research libraries and to gather information to support the purchase of a new library management system. The CCC district librarians were concerned about the relationships the libraries have with the vendors of library management systems and sources of continuing training.   All three libraries I visited use the Aleph system was originally written by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  Now it is part of the ExLibris family of products which include Voyager and Alma.    All the Israeli Universities and the National Library use Aleph, though they are not all on the same version.

 The Israel National Library 

The National Library [fn 1] and University libraries act as a group for the purchase of database services and they co-operate in other areas of common interest. During my visit I did not investigate all the areas of co-operation.  Each university is free to choose its own classification system is very autonomous in most administrative areas.  There are college libraries in Israel  that have their own system separate from the universities.

The entrance plaza to the building.  This looks exactly like it did when I was a student at the Hebrew University, except the sign “Hebrew University” was removed.

On August 6 I visited the National Library1 in the Givat Ram neighborhood of Jerusalem [fn 2].  The National Library ( used to be part of the Hebrew University.  In 2008 they started the process of separation.    The National Library Law of Jan 02, 2008 defined the new role of the library and regulates its status and objectives.   This law granted the National Library independent legal status as of January 1, 2011, and extended the National Library's responsibilities to include the documentation of Israel's cultural oeuvre.  By 2016 the Library will have a new building outside of the Hebrew University Campus, but in the same neighborhood.  A generous donor has agreed to pay for the building under the condition that the government maintains and pays for the staff and other continuing expenses.   (see: The National Library of Israel: Master Plan for Renewal 2010-2016:

The major collections of the National Library include Judaica, Islam and the Middle East, Israel, science, geography, and the Humanities.  As the nation’s library, the Book Law of 2000 stipulates they get deposit copies of all materials print and non-print published in Israel. The program is under the supervision of Legal Deposit Department. Legal deposit is required whether or not there is a formal copyright application3. For more information see their web site:  As with Library of Congress and other national libraries this is a way to preserve the nation’s literary output.  The collection has about 5 million items.  They are working hard to digitize their music, rare book, and manuscript collections.   As a national library they are showing leadership for the libraries of Israel.  They prepare digital exhibits for browsing on the web and exhibits on the premises.  Like the Library of Congress, the National Library promotes the use of original sources in the classroom, sponsor lectures and other cultural events, and has an active preservation program.  Some of the materials are stored off site for cost saving and security purposes.  The National Library creates several databases including RAMBI ( for Jewish studies articles) and Kiryat Sefer, (  the national bibliography of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.  These are free databases searchable on the Internet.

I met with the head of cataloging, Rini Goldsmith and Esther Guggenheim, the Bibliographic Systems Librarian.  We had a very nice discussion about their library and how they work with systems.  Esther has been working with Aleph for about 9 years and has an intimate knowledge of the how the systems work.  Rini is very knowledgeable about all aspects of cataloging and technical processing.  The Hebrew University/National Library was among the first Aleph libraries.

They are currently in the implementation phase of Ex Libris' discovery tool Primo, which will is also an integral component of Alma. They have been using Digitool for digital resources for the past few years but will replace it in the near future. All of these programs are on library servers and fully maintained by their staff.  They have SFX as link resolver; however it is hosted by ExLibris.

All the libraries in Israel have to deal with multiple scripts, Hebrew, Arabic, Latin and Cyrillic.  Subject searching is still mostly in English using Library of Congress Subject Headings.  However, Bar Ilan has a Hebrew Language version of Library of Congress Subject headings that they use for Hebrew books and may eventually use it for parallel headings for materials other languages.    Since Alma does not yet support Hebrew and Arabic, Israeli libraries have not yet started to test it.  They are in contact with ExLibris concerning the development of Hebrew support.

I toured the building which is an interesting combination of new up-to-date rooms, areas under renovation, and rooms that haven’t changed in 40 years.

Part of the reference collection in the Jewish Studies Reading Room.
Large books in the cartographic collection

The reading room for the history of science collection.

Rare Book room closed shelves

One concern of our committee was training and ongoing support.  The National Library has their own IT department.  They were able to hire a couple of former ExLibris technical people for their staff.  They can use some of this intimate knowledge of the system.   That means they can get the system to do pretty much what they want.  ExLibris is responsive to the needs of its customers and if a feature is helpful to many customers, they will create it.  If the feature has only a local need, the library may need to pay for development.   Since Aleph has more than 700 customers the voice of Israeli libraries is smaller the time they were the only customers.   ExLibris offers several kinds of support including initial training, newsletters, users groups, conferences, etc.  While our committee is concerned about initial training and training for new users,  Rini and Esther pointed out that because of the significant amount of options and choices a library makes, each library will have to train their staff in local practices and procedures.

Bar Ilan University  August 7

On the morning of August 7 I took a bus from Jerusalem to the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan to visit the Wurzweiler Central Library, of Bar Ilan University.  ( Bar Ilan is a comprehensive university with a main campus in in Ramat Gan and regional colleges in Jerusalem,  Safad, Ashkelon, Acre, and Bnei Brak.  They have more than 32,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 2700 faculty members, and 24 libraries.. I met with Chaim Seymour, the head of cataloging.  Bar Ilan University departmental libraries and research centers have all their collections cataloged in the central library.  The law library is cataloged and operates independently of the central library.   Security for the University is very strict.  At the gate I had to show my passport.  My Illinois State ID and Malcolm X College ID were not sufficient for Bar Ilan, but ok for The Hebrew University campus. Briefcases, purses and other bags are also subject to search.   I had to show ID again to enter the library.

Since Bar Ilan is a major research university their purpose is different than the National Library.  They have about 1 million items in their collections in every discipline taught by the University.  Bar Ilan is deemed a religious oriented university and so they have a special interest in Jewish studies [fn 4] materials and how they are used.   Bar Ilan uses a variation of Dewey Decimal Classification Dewey called Scholem (which was named after the first Head Librarian of The Hebrew University/National Library,  (Gresham Scholem).    This system revised the 296 numbers to accommodate the Jewish studies materials [fn 5].  In contrast the National Library once used  Scholem  classification and now uses Library of Congress classification.

Half the visit was smoozing about library procedures and sharing some common interests.  Bar Ilan as a university shares some of the same fiscal limitations that we have.  They can’t afford to buy all the books they want.  Their costs are much higher because they are outside of the United States.  Science books are particularily costly.   One problem they share is computer access.  Their department got new computers.  The labeling program was on an old computer.  A month later they are still waiting for the IT department to transfer the program to a new computer.  I was also taken on a tour of the building and met with the head of the library, Rochelle Kedar.  She, like other administrators, is concerned with staffing, resources, and other juggling acts to keep the library running.

Back in Jerusalem I talked with a retired Bar Ilan professor.  He said the library is not open enough hours.  Commuter students who want to study late, avoid heavy traffic, and go home after doing their home work were out of luck  The professor said that after the  tremendous investment in the collecting and cataloging of materials, the staffing to keep the central and departmental libraries open should be minimal.   Since he told me that after my visit I did not ask the people at Bar Ilan about this.  The web site: has their hours.  Notice most libraries close before 7 pm.  I asked another current profession and he said no one ever complained to him about the limited hours.

After eating lunch I headed to the campus of Tel Aviv University to visit the Museum of the Jewish People  (  I didn’t meet with any of their staff, but I want to share this picture.  It is Torah scroll unrolled.  I don’t know why they did this, but this is not the best way to preserve a parchment scroll. You can see the wrinkles.

After the Museum I headed to the train station to travel to Haifa. 
University of Haifa Library August 8

In 2006 the University of Haifa Library (
was awarded a grant by the Ima Foundation  to renovate the existing library and to build a new three-story wing.  The building was completed in 2011. The new wing now houses offices and study rooms.  This enabled the previous office space to be repurposed for information common areas and to move around the stack areas.  The library took on the name of the donors, Younes and Soraya Nazarian [fn 6].  The library has more than 3 million items, the largest holdings of any academic library in Israel and serves a diverse population of Jews, Christians, and Arabs.  The University of Haifa is much more secular and diverse than other universities in Israel. 

The way they use space is beautiful.  The library looks very open and inviting.  Staff office areas include meeting rooms with computers and digital projectors, kitchen/break rooms, and study rooms for faculty and students.  They use Library of Congress Classification except for Hebrew periodicals.  They add an “X” before the letters of the class for Hebrew periodicals so that all the Hebrew periodicals are separated from other languages.

I met with Yosef Branse, Database and Programming Coordinator and two others in the cataloging department. 

Information commons area.
Stack area

General comments

One of the significant challenges they face is getting new librarians.   The library school of The Hebrew University closed.  Bar Ilan University has a department of Information Studies that grants, BA, MA and PhD degrees [fn 7].  There are programs for school librarians at David Yellin College of Education and Bet Berl (  If someone from Israel wants other kinds of library education they would either have to enroll in an online program or travel abroad. 

The libraries are tuned into all the concerns that we have here such as space, fiscal limitations, and support.  Their computer infrastructure is very robust.  They have Wi-Fi throughout the campuses and offer on-campus and off-campus access to databases.    Security is very strict on all campuses.  If you remember on July 21, 2002, nine people (four from the United States) were killed and 85 injured in an attack on the cafeteria of Hebrew University .   Hopefully we never have any problems like that.  We do have to be concerned about other kinds of security. 

The people I met with were very friendly and willing to share their knowledge and expertise.  It helped to visit during the summer when the pressure of students and faculty was low.  I met these people through the listserv HaSafran.  While this is the first time I met them in person, I have met them “online” and felt I was meeting with friends.  This is the kind of exchange of ideas that cannot take the place of a convention or conference.   I hope that I am able to return the favor if we have international guests.  It was very worthwhile to visit these libraries and I hope we continue to share our knowledge and expertise.  

This is the library in the Museum of Underground Fighters.  During the British Mandatory period this was the Central Jerusalem Prison.  This was the prisoner’s library.   The sign says that if you want to open the door, return to the museum office. I was not able to visit this library.

This is a view from 10 miles to the north of Haifa.  The arrow points to the 30 story tower on the University of Haifa Campus. The distance by highway is about 23 miles.


1 The current building dates from 1960.  The library was established by Eliezer Ben Yehudah in 1892. 

2  Many other cultural and government institutions are in this neighborhood including: The Knesset, Israeli government offices, Israeli Supreme Court , Israel Museum,  Bible Lands Museum,   and Bloomfield Science Museum,  .

3 The Israeli copyright law of 2007 (  is almost the same as the American copyright law because of international treaties. 

4 They claim to have the most Jewish studies faculty of any academic institution. 

5 For more information about the Sholem 296 extensions visit:

6 They are Jews from Iran who moved to Los Angeles in 1976. 

See for more information.  The program teach several kinds of information professionals including librarians and knowledge managers.

All pictures were taken by the author.

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