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.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Trip to Beit El

View from the observation area of Beit El looking toward Jerusalem.
I should have read my Tanah (Bible) before my visit to modern Beit El because this journey begins with the story of Jacob’s dream.  On August 15, 2012 I visited the Beit El[1] Winery in the town of Beit El, Israel.  

The modern town is about 10 miles from Jerusalem and has a large military base just outside of town. Many soldiers were on the bus with me and I conversed with the one who sat next to me. The bus journey took about 2 hours because of the wait for connections and a circuitous route.

When Ya’akov went from Beer-sheva toward Haran he rested for the night and that was where he had his dream of angels going up and down a ladder.  When he awoke he called the place, Beit-El (Genesis 28:11-21).  Beit-El is mentioned 67 times in the Tanach.[2] My tour began at a place called, “Jacob’s Dream.”   The area was occupied before the time of Jacob.  Today there is evidence of threshing floors, homes, a commercial olive press, and commercial winery.  Based on the size of the vessels in ruins, farmers from a large area brought their produce for processing.

The olive oil factory.  The ceiling has a black stain which could be soot or mold. 

This area was a crossroads for travelers from Nablus on their way to Jerusalem.  The modern town of Beit El started in 1977[3] and in September 1997 was granted local council status.  In 2009 they had 5300 residents. Beit El is just east of the Arab town Al-Bireh (population 39,000)

In 1838 Edward Robinson a Bible scholar from Union Theological Seminary identified the village of Beitin as the Biblical Beit El.[4]  Robinson had no doubt that Beitin and Beit El are the same place. He said that distance from Beitin to Al-Bereh was about 45 minutes and to Jerusalem about 3 hours on horseback.[5]   Robin claimed the site was 12 Roman miles (11.04 U.S. miles) from Jerusalem. Until Robinson reported this site, the tradition of the connection to the ancient Beit El and the current site was lost to residents and scholars.

In 1927 William F.Albright made his first archeological dig at Beth El and reported his findings in “A Trial Excavation in the Mound of Bethel” in  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 29 (Feb., 1928), pp. 9-11.  Albright wanted to prove with archeological evidence that the Israelite town of Beit El was
indeed the site of the Arab town of Beitin.  Albright dates the first occupation of Beit El before 1800 B.C.E. (ibid.. p. 10)

In the summer of 1934 Albright returned to Beit El for a more comprehensive dig on the site.  He reports on this dig in “The First Month of Excavation at Bethel” in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 55 (Sep., 1934), pp. 23-25 and “The Kyle Memorial Excavation at Bethel quick view” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 56 (Dec., 1934), pp. 1-15.

It is clear from Abright’s pictures and descriptions that I did not see the site he excavated but I was very close.  Albright (ibid p. 11) states that Bethel and the city Ai fell into Israelite hands in the late 13th century B.C.E. about the same time as Jericho.  This is very close to the dating from internal Biblical evidence and the excavations of Jericho reported by John Garstang[6] in 1941.  My guide showed me the native trees and said that the same trees existed in Biblical times.  I was viewing a site with a direct Biblical connection.

These are grape vines owned by the modern Beit El winery.  They are remainders that the grape industry is very old in this area.

Fermentation tanks.

The finished product of this journey is this bottle of wine from the Beth El Winery[7].  I thank my guide, the owner of Beit El Winery, Hillel Manne, for his hospitality and for showing me an aspect of Israel that intimately connects present day  to the Torah.

[7] Visit their home page for more information:  This is a small winery that produces about 12,000 bottles per year.  They frequently sell out very quickly.  Bottles are sold in the New York/New Jersey area, but I don’t think they are sold in the Chicago area.

[6]  “The Story of Jericho: Further Light on the Biblical Narrative” in The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures , Vol. 58, No. 4 (Oct., 1941), pp. 371

[3]  Since the town didn’t exist when the Encyclopedia Judaica (1971) was published, the article just deals with the archeology of the place.  This is a prime reason to keep old reference books.

[4] .Robinson’s trip was the basis for his book, Biblical Researches in Palestine and Adjacent Countries (London : Crocker and Brewster, 1841) for which he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1842. Robinson's Arch in the Old City of Jerusalem is named after him.

[5] Biblical Researches in Palestine and Adjacent Countries vol. 1 page 449.   (electronic copy:

[1] I use the English spelling that is on the town’s signs.  Bethel and Beth El are used by other authors.  All pictures were taken by the author.

[2] Only Jerusalem is mentioned more times.  However, Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Torah.