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December 16, 1988 - Image 84

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-12-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I NEWS I

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84

Yiddish Book Recovery
Sparked By Student

(313) 353-3839

ANSWERING SERVICE

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16, 1988

Monday-Friday
9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

New York (JTA) — A Jewish
student, working with corn-
puters, is salvaging hundreds
of thousands of Yiddish books
long discarded and forgotten
in Jewish homes, making
them accessible to an eager
audience of Yiddish devotees.
The genesis of the salvage
effort was a hunch by a col-
lege student, Aaron Lansky,
who thought that homes of
American-born children of
European-born Jews might
still have books in Yiddish —
used and loved by the parents,
but discarded and forgotten
by their children.
As a student at McGill
University in Montreal, Lan-
sky discovered that the Yid-
dish texts he needed were in
scarce supply.
Following up suggestions
that there might be forgotten
Yiddish books in Montreal
Jewish homes, Lansky visited
those homes and found a sur-
prising number of Yiddish
books in basements and
attics.
He returned home to Am-
herst with a master's degree
in Yiddish literature and con-
tinued his book hunt. As
news of his unique search
spread, Lansky's home be-
came flooded with Yiddish
books, and he was forced to
seek funds for a home for his
growing collection.
Thus started the National
Yiddish Book Center, using
rented space in an Amherst
factory. That soon became in-
adequate, but the town of
Holyoke donated an unused
school building, where the
books have since been housed.
The center's office remains in
Amherst.
"Thanks to the work of our
volunteers and generosity of
our members, we have
assured that the physical
remnant of East European
culture — the embodiment of
almost a thousand years of
Jewish history — will not
perish with our generation,"
Lansky said.
There are many steps from
the acquisition of a long-
forgotten book to its filing
and placement in a major
university library.
The first phase is the ac-
quisition of the books, which
must be unpacked, sorted, oc-
casionally repaired and final-
ly shelved.
Each title is entered into a
computer database. "This is a
painstaking process, since the
Romanization of Yiddish

names must be exact," Lan-
sky said. The name of the pro-
cess is "accessioning?'
Lansky said an experienced
computer operator can acces-
sion about eight titles an
hour. The specific goal is to
assession "all 30,000 titles in
our collection over the next
two years."
Computers are essential in
attempting to catalogue so
many books, so the entire
10-person Yiddish center staff
is computer literate.
For computer software, Lan-
sky said, "we designate 42
separate fields for each title,"
such as author, title, editor,
translator, illustrator, place of
publication, publisher,
publication date and up to six
separate subject codes."
Lansky explained that the
software makes it possible for
the center staff "to search
and sort the database by any
single field or combination."
For example, "we could pro-
vide you in a matter of
minutes with a printout of all
available Yiddish books
printed in Vilna during World
War I, or all autobiographies
by major Yiddish writers, or
all Yiddish books dealing
with Zionism in the United
States between 1897 and
1917."
The Yiddish center has a
grass-roots membership of
13,000 worldwide with
almost 100 active volunteers
throughout the United States
and Canada, according to
Lansky.
He called the Yiddish
center "the world's only com-
prehensive supplier of used
and out-of-print Yiddish
books," which now total about
850,000 volumes.
Scholars, Lansky said,
estimate "that the whole of
modern Yiddish literature is
comprised of 40,000 in-
dividual titles. Of these, our
collection probably represents
30,000 titles. The remainder
of the 820,000 texts are
duplicate copies, "which we
make available to libraries
throughout the world."
issues
The
center
catalogues, each listing about
1,000 basic titles, as well as
regular updates of 300 to 400
newly-acquired titles.
Lansky said two staff
members, Neil Zagorin and
Peter Runyan, are still mak-
ing collecting trips to New
York every six to eight weeks.
They return with a truckload
of 6,000 and 8,000 volumes.
He indicated that though
the search may be ap-
proaching the point of
vanishing returns, right now

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