Monday, August 5, 2013

When Library Catalogs, Discovery Tools and Google Fail

As librarians we think the catalog, databases and discovery tools should lead to the articles or other library materials that we seek especially for a known item search. I found a case when the cataloger or indexer did everything right, yet the article was still difficult to find.

When I was preparing to review  the book, Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity [1] I found  on page 138 a section titled “The Ahad Ha’am Affair” that was even more fascinating than other parts of the Birnbaum story. Birnbaum was an almost forgotten figure in the history of Zionism. The book’s author, Jess Olson, tells the story of how he first heard of Birnbaum when taking a course in Yiddish linguistics in Oxford. I knew of Ahad Ha'am  and his thought, but never knew about his ideological dispute with Theodor Herzl.   None of my studies in Zionism or Jewish history seem to have mentioned Birnbaum.[2]

In brief  – Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg’s pen name) and Theodor Herzl were rivals in the struggle for the soul of the Zionist movement. Ahad Ha’am believed in spiritual and cultural Zionism that is a state that would be a source for growth, development and eternity of Jewish culture. Herzl was a political Zionist that is he believed a Jewish state would solve the “Jewish question.” Looking back on the history of the movement and what eventually happened, they both turned out to be right. Israel today is a product of both streams of thought.

In 1902 Herzl’s utopian novel, Altneuland (Old-New Land) was published and stirred controversy between Ahad Ha’am and Herzl.  Even to supporters of Herzl the novel was problematic for its optimism and western (read Germanic) slant on the Palestinian society. I wanted to find the article that Ahad Ha’am wrote about Altneuland.   Professor Olson did not give an exact citation.  He said it was published in late 1902 in Hebrew in Ha-Shiloah where Ahad Ha’am was the editor and in German translation in April 1903 in Ost und West.  In a footnote Olson says the text can be found on the page: I wanted to find the original in HaShiloah.
Now that I know the answer, the time consuming steps of the search seem like a waste of time. Searching for the exact citation and article proved difficult. I will try to explain the step and why they did or didn’t work. Searching for a known item search should be a straightforward library search. I knew the author’s name and the approximate date. First I tried searching the library databases. None of the databases cover the publication or the years 1902-1904. I wanted to try Book Review Digest, but it started publication after 1902. I found an index of book reviews in scholarly literature that covered the period, but there was no entry. When I found the article I knew the reason these indexes would never work. The publication was not considered scholarly and the article would not be recognized as a book review by an indexer.

Since library databases would help I thought I could find another book that told the story and that author would have the exact citation. I had to learn a little more about Herzl and Ahad Ha’am to be able to continue the search. In Gershon Winer’s The Founding Fathers of Israel, [3] he profiles both Herzl and Ahad Ha’am. Winer does not deal with the ideological struggle between the Zionist streams of thought.

I went back a few years to Alex Bein’s 1940 biography of Herzl.[4] Chapter 12 is titled, “Altneuland” and describes in detail the saga. However, Bein had no footnotes. Bein describes how Herzl decided on the title. Herzl describes in his diary the thought process occurred to him on August 30, 1899. It was connected to the concept of an old and new land and the Altneuschul [5] of Prague. The chapter talks about the cultural questions that Ahad Ha’am raises, but got me no closer to a citation.

Thirty-five years later Amos Elon writes another biography of Herzl.[6] His retelling of the saga is in chapter 15 starting on page 347. Elon mentions on page 350 Ahad Ha’am’s criticism and his attack in HaShiloah, which Ahad Ha’am edited. Elon has no footnotes or citations. Shlomo Avineri in The Making of Modern Zionism, [7] talked about the utopian concepts in Altneuland such as social structure of co-operations and mutual benefit. All young men and women are required to give two years of national service, not for military purposes because there will be peace with the non-Jews. Avineri makes no comment about the controversy surrounding the novel and have no footnotes.

Since library books and searches were not helping I turned to Google Scholar. I searched for articles with “herzl” and “ahad ha’am” in them. Eventually I found an article by Yossi Goldstein in the journal, Jewish History. [8] This is a whole article about the Ahad Ha’am Herzl dispute and the second footnote had the citation that I needed, “Ahad Ha’am, “Yalkut Katan”, Ha-shiloach 10 (1902) [Hebrew], pp. 566–578.” Footnote three had Max Nordau response to Ahad Ha’am Max Nordau, ““Achad Ha’am über Altneuland”, Die Welt, 13.3.1903” With this citation I returned to
library searching for a copy that I could read.

The University of Illinois Chicago is a co-operating member of the Hathi Trust. After many searching I found an electronic copy of the December 1902 article that contained Ahad Ha’am criticism. I immediately saw why a search of authors and titles was fruitless. Ahad Ha’am was the editor of the publication and he wrote a monthly editorial without a byline. The title was always, “Yalkut Katan” meaning “A small collection.” The December column did not even start out with the criticism of Herzl. An indexer could easily misinterpret the article and record the incorrect bibliographic information. I was also led to the German translation of the article which appears in the April 1903 issue of Ost und West starting on column 227.

The UIC collection did not have the 1903 volume of Ost und West in paper or electronic format. They had other volumes, but this one was not in the collection scanned by Hathi Trust. I searched WorldCat and found that an electronic copy existed. Searching “Ost und West” got too many hits and none were correct. After many searches I found the full title of the publication was: Neue jüdische Monatshefte : Zeitschrift für Politik, Wirtschaft und Literatur in Ost und West . I used iShare (a group of Illinois libraries with a shared catalog) and found an electronic copy in the Morris Library of Southern Illinois University. It was in a system called Compact Memory, which has many German Jewish publications available in electronic format. The searching is only in German. I was able to find both Die Welt for the Nordau article and the issue of Ost und West with the Ahad Ha’am article.

With the German article in hand and the Hebrew original I could better understand what Ahad Ha’am wrote. Some of his Hebrew words were borrowed from German and not in the Hebrew dictionaries. For example he used the word, “Tscharter” in Hebrew. It means “charter.”

The article also appears page 412 in Kol Kitve (Collected Works) Ahad Ha'am.

Last Thursday I attended a webinar on library discovery tools. This search is an example of how discovery tools could help. Had I been able to enter what I thought were keywords and the discovery tool could work across all language, perhaps I could have found the article faster? But this is still a case when one has to understand the subject of a search before getting the answer. In the course of the search I had to learn more about the personalities involved and their ideology. I learned about how periodicals and how they were the mass media of the time. Arguments were expressed in publications. Today these exchanges would take place using electronic media and speed of exchange would be hours, not months. I also learned the road to finding answers contains many paths and requires many kinds of search tools.

This was all an interesting exercise and knowing all this I returned to Olson's footnote and then I understood it.  Had I understood his note in the beginning I would not have  needed all the searching.


[1]  Olson, Jess.  Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity : Architect of Zionism, Yiddishism, and Orthodoxy. Stanford, California : Stanford University Press, 2013. Dr. Olsen is a Yeshiva University history professor. 

[2] In 1975 I read the Origins of Zionism by David Vital.  Birnbaum is predominately mentioned.

[3]  Winer, Gershom.  The Founding Fathers of Israel. New York, Block Publishing Company, 1971.  Dr. Winer was one of my teachers in 1970-71.  Much of what I knew about the history of early Zionists was learning in his class. After reading about Nathan Birnbaum, I find Winer gives Herzl more credit for changing the course of Jewish history than he is due.  None of his source notes helped my search.

[4] Full reference: Bein, Alex. Theodore Herzl : a biography.  Translated from the German by Maurice Samuel.  Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1940 (c1941).  JPS spells “Theodore” with an “e’ while other sources spell it as “Theodor.”
[5] Despite the controversy or because of it two reminders from the book are still with us.  When Nahum Sokolow translated the book into Hebrew he used the title Tel Aviv. “Tel” as in an ancient archeological mound and “Aviv” meaning spring as a sign of the new.  When the first Jewish city was founded in 1909 it was called Tel Aviv.  The second reminder is the quote, “Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen (Herzl wrote in German).  “if you will it, it is no dream” or in Hebrew “’im terzu ain zo agadah.  אִם תִּרְצוּ, אֵין זוֹ אַגָדַה

[6]  Elon, Amos. Herzl. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975.

[7]  Avineri, Shlomo.  The making of modern Zionism : the intellectual origins of the Jewish state.  New York, Basic Books, 1981.

[8] Goldstein, Yossi, “Eastern Jews vs. Western Jews: the Ahad Ha’am–Herzl dispute
and its cultural and social implications” in Jewish History (2010) 24: 355–377.

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