Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Visiting Libraries in Israel 2019

Visiting Libraries in Israel 2019

Six years ago, August 2012, I visited three research libraries in Israel.  On my trip this year (Dec. 31, 2018 – January 13, 2019) I wanted to visit libraries again.  I am not one who wanted to do the usual in Israel or hear from a tour guide for two weeks.  I visited the National Library, University of Haifa, Schechter Institute and CDI Systems.  I visited the National Library and the University of Haifa on the last visit.  I also visited museums as a professional development activity because I make exhibits in my library and I want to see how they present materials.
In December, many weeks before my trip I posted a message to the Hasfran discussion group.  I got several replies.

The National Library of Israel  הספרייה הלאמית  

On Dec. 31 I went to The National Library and met with Ahava Cohen and several of her colleagues.  Ahava is the head of the Hebrew cataloging department and they also do Arabic. The National Library was established in 1892 to collect works dealing with the intellectual heritage of the Jewish people.  In 1925 when the Hebrew University was founded, and the campus was located on Mount Scopus, the library severed both the University and as the national library. After 1948 when access to Mount Scopus was not allowed the Library had many homes until the opening of the Givat Ram campus in 1960. In July 2008 the university and national library separated into two libraries.  The Jewish National and University Library became the National Library of Israel.  The National Library’s master plan is building a new 45,000 square meter building near the Knesset and is scheduled for completion in 2020.  The $200 million project is being paid for by the Israeli government and private donations.

As a national library their mission is to collect, catalog, organize and preserve every kind of print, digital, or non-print media related to the land and state of Israel and most materials concerning Jews from the rest of the world.  The copyright law of Israel requires deposit of two copies of every work.  One copy is kept in the main library stacks and the other is sent for preservation to a remote storage area.in the north. Collecting digital media is a particular challenge.  Automatic collection is done for web pages with “il” as part of their address.  Israeli companies that use “com” as a domain are harder to keep track of.  Sometimes they need a little help. 

The Library also collects e-books. Partly they depend on publishers and authors to send copies to the Library. I have a friend who works for an Israeli think tank, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (http://jcpa.org/). They prepare books, smaller publications, and videos in Hebrew and English that are only published in electronic formats.  Most of the e-documents were not in the National Library catalog.  I helped get them together.

My meeting was very productive.  I learned about some of the challenges of a National Library that don’t exist in an academic library.  The National Library is responsible for name, subject and title authority at a level to set the example for other libraries.  This is similar to the role of the Library of Congress.  Because they set the example and they frequently do the original cataloging for Israeli materials, it takes them longer than other libraries to catalog an item.  While they try to collect everything, ephemera is hard to collect.  Materials such as museum catalogs, theater programs, school publications, and guidebooks attractions are hard to collect.  Since they are not usually submitted for copyright registration the Library depends on organizations to send them materials.  They are so good with their processing that their backlog fits in one book case.  They have fewer items waiting for cataloging than my personal collection.

As a national library they are a member of a group of European national libraries. They have regular audio conferences to discuss mutual issues.  They wanted the Egyptian National Library to take care of Arabic name authorities.  The Israel Library bluffed.  They said if you don’t do it, we will.  The Egyptians agreed to do the Arabic authority work and share the files with the other libraries.

Under the rules of AACR2 and RDA authors need a unique identity.  If an author has the same name as a second author, the cataloger differentiates them. One of the ways is to use dates of birth and death (if deceased.)  If this information is not known from public sources or copyright application, the library staff tries to contact the author.  Sometimes if the dates are not known, an occupation is used.  Ahava told me that sometimes cousins have the same name and occupation. Then the Library has to use the father’s name (ben plony) as part of the name authority. I never heard of this way of differentializing author names in American cataloging.
I also talked to the cataloger for children’s literature about my project concerning children’s literature during the first half of the 20th century.  In the catalog we found a bibliography of German Jewish children’s literature[1] that we ordered from the stacks. I retrieved the book from the Judaica studies reading room.  The furniture and reading desks look the same today as 1970 when I was a student.  I was not able to read any of the actual German books because of time constraints and they didn’t fit my criteria of examining America Jewish children’s literature, but it was helpful to know books do exist. However, it seems there were more German Jewish children’s books published than those in English.

The National Library has a coordinated exhibit, Maimonides - There was None Like Moses, on Rambam with the Israel Museum.  The Library has printed books written by Rambam and the printing press in this picture.  The online version is here: http://rambam.nli.org.il/en. [2] The Israel Museum has artifacts such as a manuscript on his Mishnah Torah with Rambam’s autograph attesting to accuracy of the copy. This is the kind of coordination that I have been just able to do in my college library this school year. The Library and Museum can feature items that are part of their expertise and the publicity can hit different audiences. Each audience hears about the other institution.  In my college library I work with other departments.

In summary it was interesting and informative visit to learn and share information with the librarians at The National Library. They have a mission that overlaps academic research libraries, but also has responsibilities to the library world and nation that academic libraries don’t have.   Hopefully, on a future trip I can see the new building and learn how the new building is affects their mission.

University of Haifa Library - אוניברסיטת חיפה

The University of Haifa was founded in 1963 to operate under the academic supervision of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and became an independent institution in 1972.  It is one of eight major Israeli public universities[3]. Located on Mount Carmel the outstanding feature is a thirty-story classroom and office tower.  The first picture below is a view looking north from six years ago. The second was taken on January 1, 2019.  It would take expert photo analysis to figure out the differences between the pictures (other than the shadow of the tower and the clouds.)


The University has a diverse student population including international students who study in English, secular and religious Jews, Christian and Muslim Arabs, and Druze. In additional to excellence in the sciences, humanities, social sciences, law, education, medicine, they have a maritime research program.  Part of their mission is to foster academic excellence in an atmosphere of tolerance and multiculturalism.[4]

I took the train from Jerusalem because I wanted ride the new high-speed train and I like trains better than buses because the ride is smoother and faster.  On the last visit I had to stand all the way home because the bus was crowded. None of the young soldiers would give up a seat for an “old man.”

I met with Yosef Bronse, Yardena Levenberg, and Sharon Glaubach who all work cataloging and technical services.  I met with Yosef on the previous visit six years ago however the others who I met with have retired. Most of our conversation centered on comparing how they process materials.  I told them about my visit to the National Library on the previous day.  One very impressive feature of their infrastructure is they have their own IT department.  The department solely works with the library, not like at my college where the IT people are in another office or building.  Six years ago, I was very impressed with the study rooms that students or faculty could book.  Now my library has them and it is a marvelous tool that encourages collaboration. I was very impressed with the main reading room which also has the reference and circulation desks. The stacks also have study desks and some comfortable chairs.

Here are two pictures of two different areas of the stacks.


While they said they don’t do much in the area of exhibits, I saw some posters in the corridor that was outside of the Library but one could look into the stacked area.  One of the people in the pictures, Professor Irun Cohen is the son of someone who was a member (who has passed away) of my shul in Chicago. Professor Cohen is professor emeritus, an immunologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Reference desk
The Library has a collection of Hebrew children’s books to support the education programs.  The collection is mostly contemporary works. The library is only open three hours per day on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.   Because of my interest in historical children’s books, we checked for woks written before 1948.  They had next to none since they purposely collect recent materials.  Even though they have more than 5000 books, it is not a collection of historical children’s literature.

On campus is the Hecht Museum of archeology (http://mushecht.haifa.ac.il Click here).The
exhibits include Temple Mount excavations, ancient peoples who lived in Eretz Israel before the Bible, ancient crafts to produce everyday objects, and in a separate section French and Jewish paintings are displayed. One exhibit in on the history of the alphabet.  This is of special interest to librarians. There a few paintings from famous artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, and Modigliani. This is a small museum in the administration building. Admission is free, and they open at 10 am daily and have variable closing times.[5] There were very few visitors when I was there.  I assume those affiliated with the university think the museum is so normal they don’t visit very often.

The visit to the campus and the meetings with the librarians was very useful.  Most of the conversations were not on a level that is easily summarized in an article. While I was impressed with the number of staff and expertise they have, they did report that budgets are tight.  The Library is open 8:00 am - 6:00 pm because of budget restrictions.

Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies   למדעי היהדות מכון שכטר

The Schechter Institute (http://www.schechter.edu/  )is a small school of about 600 students with their Jerusalem campus in the Nayot neighborhood near the Israel Museum. They are affiliated with the Conservative Movement and their mission is to connect Israelis with Jewish heritage while nurturing the values of tolerance, pluralism, learning, and dialog.

Their library has a staff of two, Shaya Fishman and  Esther Blatman,  who both met with me.  The collection has more than 30,000 volumes of mostly Judaica (that is Jewish history, Bible, rabbinics,  commentaries, and literature) and Hebraica spread out over several rooms.  The main stack area is also the reading room and staff office. Decades ago this room was the beit midrash and beit knesset for students studying in Israel from Jewish Theological Seminary. [6]Some of the rooms were once offices.  They have a large collection of periodical back issues that contains many treasures not easily found in other libraries.  The library rare book room, which is in a locked room that is also the bomb shelter, has treasures more than 200 years old. I could smell mold as soon as I entered the room.  The room needs a dehumidifier to protect the books from mold and deterioration.

Esther and Shaya had a list of questions for me concerning issues of cataloging and library operations. The library catalog’s web site is:
http://infocenters.co.il/schechter/ .  The library is not part of the Israel Union Catalog (ULI), which means if you will have to check their catalog directly to view the holdings.

They want to make sure their catalog follows national standards such as Library of Congress classification and current standards of descriptive cataloging. They also want to make the collection more relevant to the current faculty and student needs. (This  is a never ending task for academic and school libraries.) I shared some of what I learned at the National Library and much from my experience. After many years of experience some aspects of librarianship are just automatic with me. Some classification numbers I have memorized.  (Of course there are many that I have to look up.) I was able to help them with several kinds of solutions to make their catalog better.  I told them about some of my work with electronic exhibits and outreach.  Shaya, a recent hire is very attuned to social media and web sites.  He is a recent graduate of Bar Ilan University and he learned a lot about use of electronic resources for library operations, outreach, and communications. Education to be a librarian today is much different than when I was in school or even 11 years ago when I taught library school courses. As someone who grew up using computers, Shaya has a different perspective on them than I do.

CDI Systems

The last of my visits was to CDI Systems (https://www.cdisys.com) where I met with Itzhak Levit (CEO of the company)  They are a software company that designs and develops databases used by libraries worldwide, including an ecommerce system for book distribution.  You may say they furnish the brains so that librarians can gather and share bibliographic information and content.  I never really talked to a vendor who supplied the wisdom for me to do my work.  CDI Systems is located in Jerusalem’s high-tech industrial park, Beck Science Center Har Hotzvim.  The buildings do not look like Jerusalem buildings.  They could be located in suburban areas of any American city. Many companies are small and some are the among the world giants such as Cisco and Mobileye[7].

CDI Systems’  customers include book publishers in many disciplines, universities, law offices, and book vendors. They have offices in  Europe and China. Recently they launched www.peterbooks.com/en[8], a platform for the sale of print on demand, print and digital books. The Bar-Ilan Online Responsa project is also their product.  This project is the world’s largest collection of Torah literature and responsa. CDI products in the Jewish domain include The Bibliography of the Hebrew Book, Cotar, Institute of Talmudic Research, The Holocaust Responsa and more.  Judaica librarians know about these databases, but the company behind them is less known.  I learned about their business and model and products.  I gave them a few suggestions of where they may seek new customers.  Of concern to libraries is how publishers deal with digital rights. CDI Systems solution includes also their own Digital Rights Management proprietary technology, thus offering publishers a solution to protect the usage of their electronic publications (intellectual content) and limit it to authorized users only. Vendors (publishers and their agents) can sell digital copies without concern about unauthorized distribution. For example a library will purchase an e-book.  Digital Right Management will allow the library to lend electronic copies to authorized users.   My college library is not a potential customer because we have no Jewish studies, but a rabbinical or Jewish scholarly organization may be able to subscribe to the Judaica databases for their members.


I visited places that very connected to world beyond Israel.  While the National Library has national interests as a major mission, as a national library they have connections to libraries worldwide.  Bibliographic records created by the National Library are available via WorldCat to libraries around the world. Decisions made concerning Hebrew cataloging affect other libraries that catalog in Hebrew.  The University of Haifa is a model of diversity and their library reflects this in their collection building.  They are a tri-lingual (Hebrew, Arabic and English) operation where Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and foreigners learn. The Schechter Institute is much smaller in their academic reach.  However,  since they are named after one of my academic heroes, they have a special place in my universe.

CDI  Systems as a for profit company is totally on a different financial model than government agencies and academic institutions, but they are dependent on them for their living.  They seek excellence in ways that colleges and universities cannot.  They also can reach out to East Asia and Europe in ways that non-profit Israeli institutions cannot.  While the news media would have viewers and readers believe Israeli society is full of clashes, there are companies that just want to help society and  make money in the process, universities that want to teach the next generation of scholars and citizens, and a national library that wants to make sure human knowledge is gathered, saved and shared. All of these places that I visited want to spread knowledge.  With knowledge comes truth and with truth comes a better appreciation of the world around us.[9]

[1]  Jüdisches Kinderleben im Spiegel jüdischer Kinderbücher : eine Austellung der Universitätsbibliothek Oldenburg mit dem Kindheitsmuseum Marburg / herausgegeben von Helge-Ulrike Hyams [and others]. Oldenburg : Bibliotheks- und Informationsssystem der Universität Oldenburg, 1998.  This book is the "Catalog for the 17th Exhibition of the University Library as part of the Oldenburg Children and Youth Book Fair 1998 in the Stadtmuseum Oldenburg ..."

[2] A joint web page for the exhibit.

[3] Weizmann Institute of Science is one of the eight, but it is only a graduate institute, not a comprehensive university.  Ariel University, founded in 1982, is the youngest institution. Israel has 40 colleges that primarily award undergraduate degrees and 26 teacher training colleges  that primarily award bachelors  of education degrees.  Four American colleges  have campuses in Israel.

[4] This multiculturalism is evidenced even in the Israeli cinema. In the 2006 film, The Syrian bride =  ha-Kalah ha-Surit written by Eran Rilkis, the sister of the title character wanted to study social work at the University of Haifa.  She had to overcome family objections and limited Hebrew abilities to succeed.

[5] They close at 1 pm on Fridays but are open on Shabbat. Many museums even in Jerusalem are open on Shabbat.

[6] In school year 1970-71 I spent many hours studying Talmud there.  However, I have no memory or pictures of what the room looked like then.

[7] Mobileye is owned by Intel.

[8] The Peter Books site is in Spanish and English and is based in Spain.

[9] A draft of this document was offered to the organizations that I visited.  I made changes based on the comments received.  It was also reviewed by the dean of my college, who oversees the library. 

Last revised Feb 14, 2019.