Nat’l Library accused of giving away rare books

Claims come after library hands out over 25,000 books to public in annual book giveaway; one scholar says he found an 1872 Darwin translation.

National Library 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
National Library 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The National Library on the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus is examining claims from book collectors that the institution accidentally gave away dozens of rare and expensive editions in the second annual book giveaway last month, during which the library distributed more than 25,000 books to the public, free of charge.
An anonymous humanities scholar who attended the giveaway nabbed copies of a first-edition German translation of Charles Darwin from 1872, Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Milkman translated into Bulgarian by the Bulgarian Communist Party, and a science book by former president of the World Zionist Organization, Dr. Otto Warburg, signed by public intellectual and polymath Yeshayahu Leibowitz, according to reports in the media.
National Library director Oren Weinberg told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that members of the board of directors were looking into the process of choosing which books were given away to the public, and they were expected to announce their findings next week.
The books distributed during the giveaway were part of a vast collection of 650,000 books donated to the library over the years by individuals and institutions that the library hasn’t had the resources to process until now.
This year, more than 80 percent of the books in the giveaway were in English, and were almost exclusively non-fiction.
Weinberg defended the selection process that the library used, which he called “a completely normal process used by libraries around the world.”
Books were given to the public if the library had more than three copies, or if the books did not belong to the library’s three core areas of research – Judaism, Israel and Islam.
The National Library has more than 5 million items in their collection, not including more than half a million items in storage that the library hasn’t had the resources to process.
Weinberg added that out of 25,000 books distributed to the public, they had received less than 40 responses about questionable books.
“The library is going through a lot of big renovations, lots of changes, and there is some opposition,” he said. “Some of the opposition is that we’re trying to appeal to a much wider community, it’s a very complicated process and there are some people who have trouble with changes,” he said.
“We’re working with 650,000 books that we have never dealt with, they were received as donations and nobody touched them since,” said Weinberg.
Yaniv Levy, head of technical services at the library who oversaw this year’s book drive, called the claims that the library haphazardly gave away rare books “frustrating,” as the giveaway was meant to encourage the public to connect with the library and take advantage of its treasures.
“We’re doing a good thing at the end of the day, we’re handling books they haven’t handled for years that weren’t accessible,” said Levy.