National Library to be established in Jerusalem

Knesset passes long-awaited law creating 'a powerful cultural body' for the Jewish people.

books 88 (photo credit: )
books 88
(photo credit: )
The Knesset unanimously passed an historic law Monday evening creating Israel's first national library. The new law paves the way for a new building and a new attitude. Prof. Carl Posy, academic director of the Jewish National and University Library, is responsible for figuring out which directions the new library should take. The Jewish National and University Library on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Givat Ram campus has acted as the national library de facto since the university's inception in 1925 and even before. "This law will transform the library from a scholarly institution to a pro-active representative of Israel. Specifically, it will bring about three major changes. First, it will enable us to shift from a more passive stance to a much more active one. Second, we will place much greater emphasis on our users. And third, we will become an interactive partner with libraries and institutions across the globe," Posy told The Jerusalem Post by phone from the US. Posy is part of a high-level delegation from the library that is spending the next two weeks touring major libraries in the US to see what they might want to adopt here. The library's new building has been awaiting passage of this law for years. The money was pledged over a decade ago by Yad Hanadiv, the Rothschild Foundation in Israel, which provided the money to build the Knesset and the Supreme Court. However, they would only release the money once the law was passed, Posy explained. The foundation also demanded a master plan for the content and facilities of the new library before releasing the money, he said. Right now, there is no specific timetable or location for the new building, according to Posy. However, chairman of the library's board, David Bloomberg, said in a statement that he hoped the new building would be done within five years. Once the new building is built, the old building would continue to be used, Posy added. According to the law just passed, the national library must be housed in Jerusalem. Posy was enthusiastic about the positive effect the law will have on the library and its evolution. "We will take an active role in research and scholarship. We will initiate programs and take an active role in education both within and outside of Israel. We will also become a powerful cultural body," Posy said. "Our already very strong digital component will become even more user friendly. We'll have reading rooms, reference services, and we will try and make as many of the collections open to the public as possible," he said. "We will forge new alliances with libraries and institutions mainly in the digital arena. We will collaborate on cataloguing and digitizing. It will enable us to have digital access to material all over the world," Posy told the Post. The law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2008, creates an "unprecedented institution" according to Posy. "The law deals mostly with the corporate structure of the new library, because a delicate balance must be worked out" between the controlling partners, Posy told the Post. The library has three functions which must be balanced. It is the university library of a major research university. It is also the repository for tremendous scholarship about Israel, the Middle East and Islam. Finally, it is the national library for the Jewish people, Posy said. For the first three years, the library will be a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hebrew University. Afterwards, it will be split three ways. The state will own 50 percent; the university 25% and 25% will be reserved for other public entities. While the state will be the majority shareholder, the library will be independent. "The library will be insulated from political pressure and will operate with complete transparency," Posy declared. According to the law, one of the members of the national library council will have to be a literary personality from an immigrant community who is familiar with that group's culture. Another member must be from the Arab, Druse or Circassian communities. The Jewish National and University library has a rich history stretching back over 100 years. The de facto national library was created in 1892 as the "Abarbanel Study Library" with the stated purpose of becoming the central library of the Jewish nation by B'nai B'rith in Israel. In 1905, the Zionist Congress took it over and it was incorporated into the Hebrew University of Jerusalem when it was founded in 1925. Most of what the new law does is to put the library on the path to independence. The Jewish National and University Library houses over 90% of known Jewish manuscripts in its microfilm collection. It is also home to handwritten Maimonides manuscripts, Posy said. The library also has two copies of every work published in Israel since the 1950s when a law was passed enacting that requirement. Knesset Education Committee chairman Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad), who championed the law originally proposed by MK Arye Eldad two years ago, praised the law as "one of the most important laws to be proposed before the Knesset, which will ensure a worthy national library for the people of the book. Because the issue is very complex, the parties have refrained from dealing with it until now, and in the meantime, the national library deteriorated, and the most important assets of the Jewish people were in jeopardy." The Hebrew University also welcomed the adoption of the law. University President Prof. Menachem Magidor praised the Knesset's support for the law. "After 80 years of exclusive ownership of the national library, the university views positively the new partnership with the government which now takes a more significant role in running the library. The library belongs to all of the Jewish people and it is my fervent hope that this new partnership will contribute to the preservation and expansion of its collections," he said in a statement. Bloomberg stressed the technological capabilities to be attained. "Building a new home for the library outfitted with the most advanced technology will help advance the library and transform it into a library suited to the digital age," he said.