Tag Archives: The_People_In_The_Books

Exposing the Hidden: Highlights from CUL’s rare printed Hebraica

Happy New Year!

December 2016 marked the end of a three year project to catalog Columbia’s rare Hebraica and Judaica collections.  While Columbia has been collecting Judaica since its inception (with a donation from Kings’ College founder Samuel Johnson that included his Hebrew-Latin Psalms), many of the books were left uncataloged due to lack of expertise and Hebrew knowledge among the Library staff over the centuries.

This was rectified with the creation of the Norman E. Alexander Library in 2010.  The NEA Library hired three successive students from 2013 to 2016: Kelila Kahane (BC ’14), Hannah Vaitsblit (BC ’16), and Avinoam Stillman (CC ’17).  The students were trained in copy cataloging (that is, the identification of pre-existing records that matched the books they analyzed) and copy specific cataloging.  The students examined the shelves that included Judaica, book by book, and checked CLIO to see if there were any electronic records for the books.  If not, they created a record for the books and added copy specific information (unusual bindings, owners’ marks, bookplates, etc.).  It was this project that identified a book in Columbia’s holdings formerly owned by Isaac Newton, and many other significant previous owners were identified as well.

The project included both Hebraica non-Hebrew Judaica, but the work done is best exemplified with the Hebrew imprints: We have over 2,200 books containing Hebrew printed from the invention of moveable type until 1800 at Columbia.  By the end of the project, over 1,000 records had been added or significantly updated to describe copy specific information, such as owners’ signatures, to the records.

Many gems were discovered over the course of the work, including the Newton book identified above, but also many other important previous owners, such as:

Some work remains, such as the creation of a detailed catalog record for Columbia’s 22 volumes of the Bomberg Talmud, but that should be completed by the end of the Spring semester.

Many, many thanks to the great work of Kelila, Hannah, and Avinoam – thanks to them, our “hidden” collection of Judaica imprint is no longer hidden, but is now completely open for scholarly use!

David Stern Lecture: The Lives of Jewish Books

As we near the close of physical version of The People in the Books (the online version will, of course remain online), we look forward to one more lecture dealing with Hebrew manuscripts.  On January 22, as part of the Grolier Club's Bibliography Week, Professor David Stern (University of Pennsylvania) will be speaking at Columbia on "The Lives of Jewish Books." 

The lecture will highlight two medieval manuscripts – one Ashkenazic and one Sephardic, and will describe the stories that they represent.  All are welcome to 523 Butler Library at 6 PM for the lecture.

Remember, the exhibit will close on January 25!  Hours for the exhibition are 9-4:45, Monday through Friday.

The People in the Books: Now open at Columbia and online

It is with great pleasure that I announce that Columbia’s exhibition of Hebrew and Judaic manuscripts, The People in the Books, is now open, through January 25, 2013.  The exhibit is free and open to the public during all RBML hours of operation. Entry is free, and handicapped accessible. Please bring valid government-issued photo ID for entry to Butler Library through the Library Information Office, just inside the front door. For entry on Monday evenings after 6:00, please have the Butler Door Guard call the RBML Reference Desk, (212) 854-5590.

For those who cannot make it to NYC, the exhibit is also available online here.  Note that the best way to view the exhibit is through both the online and the physical exhibitions.  A miniature Torah scroll in its own wooden case and a handwritten description of and cure for scurvy, for example, did not make it into the online exhibition, while the image shown here, of David playing the harp for King Saul, cannot be seen in the physical version, because the book in which it appears is open to a different page.

For more information about the exhibit or any of the manuscripts, please contact Michelle Chesner, Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies, at mc3395@columbia.edu or 212-854-8046.