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veritas Harvard University Library Notes, For Harvard Library Staff, Number 1324 March 2005

Charles Berlin's Judaica

Charles Berlin intended for years to write his new book, Harvard Judaica, but when faced with the day-to-day challenges of tending the growing collection, the book never could be a priority. "We were too busy building the collection, building the story," says Berlin, the Lee M. Friedman Bibliographer in Judaica and Head of the Judaica Division. What he and his Division were building is one of the greatest collections of Judaica in the world, and certainly the largest collection of Israeli materials outside of Israel. Aspiring to collect anything and everything that has to do with "Jewish life and culture in every place and period," the collection encompasses all formats—books, newspapers, periodicals, photos, posters, film, television, music and non-music audio, and more. Berlin's extensive network is such that he receives posters and other ephemera from demonstrations in Israel shortly after they take place, items collected in what he calls "real time" that otherwise might be lost.

So the book waited. Finally, urged by his colleagues—and a "very talented and dedicated staff"—Berlin has published an authoritative account of the Harvard Judaica collection's development, covering more than just description and history. "I tried to put in everything that would serve as a model to what we're doing and why," says Berlin, adding that the Division's philosophy and methods might conceivably be applied to any subject area.

Berlin very deliberately organized the book into five chapters that discuss both the Division's organization and methods, with the first chapter devoted to the aforementioned philosophy of collecting Judaica comprehensively in all formats. Chapters two and three move through the growth of the collection while touching on some of its more outstanding items. Berlin emphasizes the major collections acquired in the 1930s and 1950s, as well as the development of the collection since 1962, when Harvard's Hebrew Division (later the Judaica Division) was established. He then uses chapters four and five to consider two other important facets of the collection: access and funding. Access, of course, is key, and the Division has various cataloging and digitization strategies and an extensive outreach program that includes exhibitions, publications, lectures, and conferences. Funding also is detailed—more than 400 endowments sustain the collection—and the Division undertakes nothing without knowing from the start that it can afford to acquire, preserve, and make it accessible. "The history of a unit is always interesting," notes Littauer Hebraica Technical and Research Services Librarian Violet Gilboa, "but this book adds the value of the organization."

It's a value that's far-reaching. "The Judaica Division under Charles Berlin has built up the financial, organizational, and staffing capabilities to creatively fulfill its ambition of comprehensively documenting the Jewish and Israeli experiences," says HCL Associate Librarian for Collection Development Dan Hazen. "In so doing, the Division has in many senses paved the way for the College Library's growing engagement with non-print resources, with digital initiatives to enhance the accessibility of sometimes scarce artifacts, and with cooperative plans and programs. We all continue to benefit from and be challenged by the Division's vision, energy, and leadership."

Harvard Judaica's foreword—by Jay Harris, Harry Austryn Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University—attests to the significance of the Judaica collection to scholarship. Harris writes, "But documenting a culture demands much more than monographs and journals...Understanding this, and doing something about it, distinguish the Judaica Division from virtually all other scholarly collections of Judaica (and most other collections of any kind). Nowhere else in the world can one find as variegated a collection of materials relating to Jewish civilization as one can at Harvard."


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