Association of Jewish Libraries of Southern California


YIDDISH COLLECTION AT THE LOS ANGELES PUBLIC LIBRARY


[copied with permission]

August 17, 2012
Here is the reply from Shu, Xiao-Qiu (Julie) <xshu@lapl.org> of the International Languages Department of Los Angeles Public Library to our inquiry whether this 2005 description of the Yiddish collection is still valid.  "Yes, there has been no substantial change in the Yiddish collection at Central Library since 2005."

August 17, 2005
I am distributing the attached article to library and Yiddish related organizations.
    Recently a local architect and Yiddish scholar, Mark L. Smith, evaluated the L.A. Central Library Yiddish collection and the article he wrote about the collection [for distribution] is copied below.
               -- Ken Feder, International Languages Dept. LAPL, kfeder@lapl.org

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The L.A. Central Library - Your "Neighborhood Yiddish Library"

By Mark Smith*

Yiddish books at the public library? Yes, despite decades of wear and tear, a fire and flood, moves and reconstruction, the Yiddish collection at the Central Library remains an important source of Yiddish books available to everyone in Los Angeles. All it takes is a call or visit to any public library in the city, or a request for books online at www.lapl.org.

The outstanding characteristic of the collection is that it provides a broad cross-section of twentieth century Yiddish books. The collection was built largely by donations, rather than acquisitions, and so it reflects the Yiddish reading tastes of Los Angeles Jews from the 1920s to the present. The well-worn condition of many of the books attests to the popularity of the collection. It has a large selection for both adults and children. One finds works by the founding authors of modern Yiddish fiction (Mendele Moykher Sforim, Sholem Aleichem, and Y. L. Peretz), as well as the full range of later novelists, dramatists, and poets.

There are religious books, including the famous Yiddish translation of the Bible by Yehoash and studies of well-known rabbis. All of the major historians and literary critics who worked in Yiddish are represented. Of particular note are the many Yizkor, or Memorial, books that were published to commemorate Jewish life in European towns before the Holocaust. There are also many examples of works in translation by authors such as Tolstoy or Jules Verne. A particular strength of the collection is the good representation of Los Angeles Yiddish writers.

The breadth of the library's collection is also demonstrate by the fact that its scope extends beyond works of well-known or local authors. Some of the holdings are comparatively rare. On occasion, titles may be found in the collection that have not yet been made available to the public through the National Yiddish Book Center.

Three examples of works most readily available through the Los Angeles Public Library system are the following:

     Argentiner YIVO-Shriftn, Buenos Aires, 1941-42. These are the first two collections of papers on Argentine Jewish history published by the Argentine branch of YIVO.

     Hurbm Glinyane (Gline), New York, 1946. This booklet is the first memorial book about this Ukrainian town, and contains letters from Holocaust survivors who give eyewitness accounts, many translated into English. It is not available in any university library in the Los Angeles area. The larger and better known work, Megiles Gline (N.Y., 1950) includes some, but not all, of these letters, and has no English translations.

     Yidishe sheferishkayt in lender fun Portugalishn loshn by Sidney I. Raizman, Safed, Israel, 1975. This work, on "Jewish creativity in lands of Portuguese Language: Portugal and Brazil," was published by the Israeli museum of publishing and is an example of fine quality Yiddish books of the most recent period, by an author who was an expert on Jewish life in Brazil.

The Central Library collection has great worth for the Yiddish-reading public, however small that readership may be today. Many readers of Yiddish are not aware that the Central Library has 2000-3000 Yiddish books in its International Languages Department, and that all of these can be accessed via the online catalogue, from either your home or local branch library. The collection is sufficiently broad that it can satisfy the needs of any general reader, and will have works important for academic research as well.

Many of those who learn Yiddish today do so in a university setting where Yiddish books are readily available to students and faculty. Excellent collections are found at UCLA, UJ, and HUC, among others. However, the Public Library has a particular advantage for those no longer at a specific university, and especially for the general public. Any book desired can be requested and will be delivered to the patron's local branch library. At a time when Yiddish books are no longer found in ready circulation, the Central Library can be anyone's Neighborhood Yiddish library.

The Central Library has the only large Yiddish collection in Los Angeles, outside a university setting, that is maintained by public support. The Public Library therefore enjoys the luxury of considering how, rather than whether, its collection should be brought into the twenty-first century. Every Yiddish reader in Los Angeles has an opportunity to influence the future of the collection. Request a Yiddish book by telephone or online. Use the collection, and send a message of thanks for Yiddish books and programs at the Central Library. For personal assistance, ask for Librarian Ken Feder in the International Languages Department at (213) 228-7125 [or kfeder@lapl.org.] And if you visit the Central Library in person, you can catch up on this week's Forverts while you're there.

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* Note from AJLSC Website Chair: Mark L. Smith was the guest speaker at our AJLSC meeting on January 12, 2004. His topic was: "Are Sholem Aleichem's Stories for Jewish Children Really Children's Stories?" Program notes and photos for January 12, 2004.