Librarian's Lobby
January 2003
by Daniel D. Stuhlman

Book Stores and New Students

In the past couple of weeks I have taken on two clients that are changing my perspective on the book and information business. The first client is Rosenblum's World of Judaica. The second is an instructor for a graduate school for librarians. Now I am seeing books and librarians from the other side.

Both book stores and libraries are in the business of putting books into the hands of readers. Book stores get paid directly for their products. Libraries are paid indirectly for their services by their sponsoring body (such as a school, city, or community). The tools used by book sellers and libraries are different. Libraries have card or computer-based catalogs of all the items they own. Book stores have store inventories, Books in Print, publisher catalogs, and access to library catalogs via the Internet. Libraries track each item while stores track stocking units such as book titles. Libraries circulate books; Stores want inventory turnover.

At times in the store I acted as a reference librarian. Customers asked questions about books and Judaism and wanted recommendations. Sometimes they needed explanations about Jewish customs and practices. Even observant and educated Jews need help when buying some items.

Customers ask for books by exact titles and ask for books with vague references. For an example one person wanted to buy a book that she called "Close my mouth." The title was not familiar. We checked several libraries to see if they had the book. We searched by subject and found a book, "Guard your tongue" by the Chofetz Chaim zt"l, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan. I called back the customer and that was the book that she wanted.

Another customer wanted a copy of the Zohar with the commentary of Damasek Eliezer. The Zohar is a classic work and the basic for Kabalah. It is a mystical commentary on the Torah, written in Aramaic, and attributed to the 2nd century Palestinian Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai. However, it is usually assumed that the 13th century Spanish Jewish, Moshe deLeon who claimed to discover the book was actually the author. The store did not have a copy of this commentary. We asked our suppliers. They were not familiar with this book and then searched library catalogs to see if the book even existed. We found this record in the Library of Congress. Author: Damesek Eli`ezer, by Lasar Safrin; published in Przemy´sl, (Austria, Poland, Russia)(1) 1902-28. It had five volumes and was 34 cm tall. With this information we searched for a reprint. We found a dealer who had it, however, only the volume on Bereishit (Genesis) was available. This is what our customer wanted. This was several hours of work to find this uncommon book.

Libraries want to have the books that their patrons need. Collecting Hebrew books (sifrei kodesh) presents an interesting set of problems and opportunities. Books have never in history been more available. I have no figures on Jewish or Hebrew books. however. R. R. Bowker Company keeps statistics on books published in the United States and they report more than 110,000 new books are published each year. The number has increased more than 10% each year. Hebrew books are reprinted and preserved on microforms and CD Roms. There is no Hebrew equivalent to Books in Print. There is absolutely no way to check a single source to find out if a book is even for sale. If the book is not in the store, we have to call our suppliers. Sometimes we have to call multiple suppliers to find a book. These books are not advertised. Our suppliers send us lists of books and keep us informed. They rarely promote the books. They rarely supply information about the books so that the store can inform their customers. These books are not reviewed. It would take an enormous amount of time and effort for a library or book collector to buy all the relevant books. They need to depend on the book sellers to keep them informed. It is hard for everyone to determine if the book is new or a reprint without the book in hand. Customers find out about books from references in other materials.

Just when you think there could be nothing that surprises me, one day a man that who was dressed in blue jeans seemed to just be hanging around and not really buying anything. After being in the store for more than thirty minutes and complaining that he had to sit down because of back pain several times, he buys something small. I wasn't paying too much attention because I was helping a customer who was also a friend. We had many people in the store and several people had to wait for help. When the man left, he put $60 on the counter and told one of my colleagues that the money was for my friend's purchases and donate the change to the JNF. He was sorry that he made her wait. My friend was just buying some things for her children. The man left the store without saying anything to me or my friend. She was surprised and couldn't believe it. I told her to buy something more since he was paying. (2)

My second client is teaching library school students the critical thinking skills needed to do on-line searches. I have been doing on-line searches for more than ten years, but I have never looked at this skill as a systematic discipline. There are several commercial services: Westlaw, Dialog, and Nexis/Lexis, that pre-date the Internet. These pricey services are used by lawyers and business people who need this high level of information service. These services offer access to data bases that are prepared in-house and supplied by other companies. For example Westlaw gives access to more than 18,000 data bases including the laws, court cases and legal procedures from every state, Canada and the United Kingdom. I talked to lawyers to learn how they use Westlaw. Some of them use the service three or more hours per day searching cases and laws for their clients. Lawyers turn to the librarian when they are stuck and need help forming a search or doing multiple searches. Librarians can do the search or help the lawyer clarify their thought processes.

Last month's article on Abracadabra generated a large amount of positive reader mail. People thanked me for the article and teaching them something about a 'magic' word. Please keep the comments coming. Let me know what topics you would like me to discuss in future columns. I will be leading a seminar on Judaica reference sources for the Judaica Library Network of Metropolitan Chicago on February 9 at 2 PM at Anshe Emet. The session is open to librarians and non-librarians. Contact me for further information.

1. During the period of publication the city was in Austria and independent Poland. In 1939-1944 the German-Soviet border ran through the middle of the town. In 1931 the town had more 17,000 Jews. 18 of 40 town council members were Jewish.

2. Note: The book business is very slow. On January 14, the book store said that they could no longer afford my wonderful services. Now I'm looking for new clients.

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. Visit the web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. For previous issues of Librarian's Lobby click the link below.
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 ©2003 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised August 9, 2016