Page 99 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

Basic HTML Version

POLLAK / DEALING WITH JEWISH LIBRARIES
93
acknowledge the debt I owe to dozens of librarians working in
Jewish and non-Jewish institutions scattered throughout much of
the world. Without their help, I could never have gotten very far
with any of the research projects I have undertaken on Judaic
themes.
Nevertheless, when I look back on some of the problems I
encountered while collecting information, I am dismayed by the
amount of time and effort that was wasted in resolving them, both
on my part and on the part of the librarians with whom I worked.
It occurs to me that a substantial portion of this waste could have
been eliminated. Speaking solely from the point of view of the
non-professional researcher, I should consequently like to offer
certain suggestions to the policy makers and administrators of
our larger Jewish libraries. Before I do this, however, I should
point out that my personal experiences have probably made me
more understanding than most laymen of the size and scope of
the work burdens the dedicated librarian must live with. It be­
comes all the more pleasant to report, accordingly, that of the
several hundred queries I have addressed over the past dozen
years to Judaica librarians, some in person but most by mail, a
surprisingly small number were not handled entirely to my satis­
faction — a remarkable record, really. It follows that what I am
about to say must not be construed as carping criticism. It is to be
taken, rather, as an expression of my personal thoughts as to how
improvements can be effected.
It seems to me that when a request for help arrives, the librarian
must first decide how much of his time should be, or can realisti­
cally be, allocated to it. A letter from an individual with an estab­
lished reputation for scholarly attainment, or from one formally
affiliated with a reputable academic institution, is obviously going
to receive more attention than a letter from a correspondent of
whom nothing is known. Such an unknown, to be sure, would be
well advised to include with his request a concise summation of his
reasons for asking for help and an explanation of what he hopes
to do with it once he receives it. Amateur though he may be
judged to be with respect to the subject at hand, he may neverthe­
less possess other qualifications that will enable him to contribute
meaningfully to what has already been accomplished by the pro­
fessionals in the field. The responsible librarian will of course
bear this possibility in mind as he decides how far to go in proces­
sing such a person’s bid for assistance. (I am not implying here