Librarian's Lobby
May 2002
by Daniel D. Stuhlman

American Judaica Collections -- part 5: George Washington University Library

On April 20, 2002, the Washington Post published an article by Bill Broadway, "A Literary Passion's Legacy" (1) on the I. Edward Kiev collection of Judaica in the Melvin Gelman Library of George Washington University, a major university in Washington, DC less than a mile from the White House. The University servers about 1,175 faculty and 16,000 students. The Gelman Library has approximately two million items including more than 18,000 serials. The family of Rabbi Kiev (son, Dr. Ari and Phyllis Kiev and their children, Dr. Jonathan Kiev and Marshall Kiev) donated the collection about six years ago. This collection is noteworthy for several reasons. The first is the pride that the Gelman Library takes in the collection. They claim that outside of the Library of Congress no other DC area library has such a comprehensive Judaica collection. The Library devotes much time and effort to maintain this collection. Their web site(2) has several pages on the Judaica collection in general including one on the Kiev collection. Six years after the donation, it is still news worthy enough for the Washington Post. The second is this is gift that keeps on giving. The Kiev Circle of Friends (hevruta) was established within The Friends of The George Washington University Libraries to encourage contributions to purchase additional Judaica.

Rabbi I[saac]. Edward Kiev (born in New York City in 1905 - 1975) Kiev was the chief librarian of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City and also the rabbi of Congregation Habonim in Manhatten. The collection contains more than 18,000 books and manuscripts on religion, philosophy, the classics and the arts. Approximately half of the material is in Hebrew. Most of the items in the collection date from the 18th through the 20th centuries, however, numerous rare texts were published as early as the 15th century are included.

Previous the Kiev donation the Library had an extensive collection of books in Yiddish. The Library announced in September 2000 a donation from political commentator Dan Nimrod. This collection contained his 2,500-book collection of works on Judaism. The collection included books on Jewish history, the spiritual legacy of Judaism, Bible, Talmud, Zionism, the Hasidic movement, the Enlightenment, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and modern Israeli history. The collection has special book plates and is housed in the general stacks.

Another part of the Nimrod collection includes complete sets of Dawn Publications, of which Nimrod is editor and publisher. These works, which record and analyze Israel's political struggles for the past quarter of a century, will provide researchers with a wealth of resource material from one Jewish perspective, yet within the context of global and regional geo-political realities.

George Washington University has a Jewish studies program with 30 courses that offers an undergraduate major. The department has four full-time Jewish studies faculty and four interdisciplinary professors. Professor Marc E. Saperstein is the Director.

The pride that George Washington University shows is in sharp contrast to Queens and Brooklyn Colleges' libraries. Both of these colleges, part of the City College of New York, have large Jewish populations and large Jewish studies programs. Both have many well-known faculty members, but the libraries do not show as much pride in their collection. When contacted, Queens College, said they have a librarian assigned to purchase Judaica, but the budget is small. They don't know the size of the Judaica collection since it is integrated with the rest of the collection.

< I like to read about Judaica libraries in the general media. It shows the world the importance of Jewish books in a general university. However, the article did have some elements of bragging. George Washington University's library did not even make 1974 survey by Charles Berlin in the American Jewish Year Book (3). GWU is a young Judaica collection and shows all the signs of growing.


Libraries have always had difficulties with obtaining enough resources for staff and collection building.

Judaica collections in general universities are growing especially in universities with strong Jewish studies programs. The Ivy League universities, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia were the only schools with strong Judaica collections before 1943. The rise of Judaica collections paralleled the increase in Jewish studies programs in universities. With the increase in Jewish studies more scholars were produced and more books written. University libraries have wide-ranging policies to collecting Judaica. At one extreme is Harvard, which tries to collect everything. Harvard has a large Judaica/Hebraica staff to collect, catalog, and maintain the Judaica collection. In addition to books and commercially published materials they collect ephemera and materials not available to the commercial market. At other libraries no full time Judaica staff exists. Judaica bibliography and cataloging are just part of the duties of the librarians. Some libraries count and keep track of subjects such as Judaica while others have no idea of the subject break downs. The amount of pride and publicity for the Judaica collections vary. In some libraries such as Washington University in St. Louis the collection is seen as a community resource. The community supports the collection with donations to the libraries and endowment of professorships. Some libraries produce very little publicity for the Judaica collection (or any other aspect of their collection.); others are very publicity minded.

General universities collect Judaica as a subject area of human knowledge. Even if a school does not teach a subject, the library will collect subject as foil for their other subjects. This explains large Judaica collections in libraries with few Jewish studies. University libraries are both school libraries supporting their curricula and research libraries supporting the research and preservation needs of the scholars of today and the future. Libraries are always proud of their treasures such as rare books, incunabula, and manuscripts. These treasures are the attractions for visitors, scholars, and donors.

This is the last of the articles on Judaica collections for now. As I learn about more collections and obtain updates, I will write about more libraries. I am open to new ideas for future columns. Please don't hesitate to send me e-mail.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at: /~DDStuhlman/liblob.htm. He can be reached via e-mail at:

1. For the full article see: http//

2. The Library's home page is: The Kiev Collection page is:

3. Berlin, Charles. "Library resources for Jewish studies in the United States" in American Jewish Year Book, 1974-75, pages 3-53.

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