Page 100 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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o o k a n n u a l
that it is the librarian’s obligation to do the would-be researcher’s
work for him, but I know from my own experience that in addi­
tion to answering the specific questions I had posed to them,
librarians have frequently chosen to suggest new directions for
me to take and sources I would otherwise have surely over­
I am fully aware that there are usually perfectly good reasons
for requiring that things be done “by the book,” and that what is
derisively referred to as “red tape” is also apt to be one of the
binding forces that keeps an institution from falling apart.
Nevertheless, there are times when rules should be stretched or
even broken. A case in point: I recall being told late one afternoon
by a department head in an overseas Judaica library that, much as
he regretted it, he could not take a bound 16th-century manu­
script off a shelf less than six feet away and let me see — or even
look himself and then tell me — if it contained an easily found
entry that was present in another manuscript of the same work
which was held by a different library. The entire process, I should
note, would have taken two minutes at most. His reason for
refusing to do what I had requested? Library rules had to be
obeyed to the letter. He was required to obtain the director’s
permission, he explained apologetically, before I or anyone else
could see even a single manuscript in his care, and the director
had made it clear that he was never to be disturbed with requests
of this nature that late in the day. If I cared to write for the
information I wanted after my return to the United States, or if I
could come back the following morning, I would most definitely
be accorded the privilege of learning whether his library’s exem­
plar of the work contained the entry I needed to know about. My
protests were of no avail; and I ended by taxiing across much of
the city to my hotel, telephoning the next morning to make sure
that the director had been approached on my behalf, and then
losing half a day going back and forth to the library.
Fortunately, my encounters with inflexible interpreters of
house rules of this kind have been rare. In literally hundreds of
other instances, librarians did everything they could to ease my
way. The real difficulties tended to occur in situations in which
librarians were not immediately involved. These stemmed, in