Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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L I BRAR I E S FOR THE J EWI SH
LAYMAN
B
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a s p e c t
of the American Jewish scene which has gone
almost unnoticed by professionals and laymen alike has
been the ever accelerating growth of Jewish libraries throughou t
the country during the past ten or fifteen years. While the
sudden prominence of the Jewish novelist and the Jewish literary
critic has been the source of considerable comment bo th by Jew
and non-Jew, the comparative rise in the number of Jewish
libraries has been almost ignored, even within the Jewish fold.
In fact, one of the most striking aspects of this growth is tha t
it is to a large extent a grass-roots movement, with the leadership
coming from below ra the r than as pa r t of any organizational
plan. Th is is particularly noticeable in the case of synagogue
libraries, which now constitute the largest single group among
the various library types. T he initiative in founding these
libraries usually derives not from the educational committee or
from the synagogue administration, bu t from the members
themselves—in most cases from the sisterhood.
Whereas a decade or fifteen years ago the synagogue library
was the exception ra ther than the rule, most of the new suburban
buildings include a room designated as a library, or plan to have
one when the synagogue expands. Nor are synagogues the only
institutions joining the library trend. Jewish day schools, H illel
Foundations, Jewish community centers—all are increasingly
library conscious.
Only a few studies of the subject have been made to date, bu t
those tha t are available confirm the pa ttern of accelerating
growth. A survey in 1947 by the Jewish Book Council of America
on a nation wide basis, covered only 49 libraries of which more
than one-fourth had been organized w ithin the preceding two
years. Similarly, a survey by the writer in 1954-55 of synagogue
libraries in the Philadelphia area included only fifteen libraries,
some of them inactive. Today the number in the area has more
than doubled and new ones are constantly being established.
Another noteworthy study is based on a membership question­
naire by the Jewish Library Association, covering the years 1963
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