Source: The Yiddish Book Center
A newly redesigned website offers unprecedented access to a thousand years of Yiddish literature and culture, including books, literary works in translation, oral histories, films, and archival audio recordings of lectures by and interviews with major Jewish writers and cultural figures. Together, these materials are a boon not just to scholars and students, but to anyone interested in exploring modern Jewish creativity and experience.
The website is the work of the Yiddish Book Center, in Amherst, Massachusetts. “The redesigned site has something for everyone,” said Aaron Lansky, the Center’s founder and president. “It allows visitors to search all our collections at once—including materials in all genres, in both English and in Yiddish—and to instantly access or download any item, in its entirety, completely free of charge.”
The Yiddish Book Center was founded in 1980 when Lansky, then a graduate student, and a small group of fellow students set out to rescue unwanted and discarded Yiddish books. They went on to recover more than a million volumes.
Rather than simply warehouse recovered Yiddish books, the Center was determined from the outset to place old volumes in the hands of new readers. Lansky and his colleagues drew on duplicate holdings to make out-of-print titles available to students and scholars and to establish or strengthen Yiddish holdings at more than 700 libraries in twenty-six countries. As technology improved, the organization began digitizing Yiddish books and placing them online. They have since been downloaded an astonishing 1.6 million times—in many cases, by young people eager to explore the full range of modern Jewish culture.
The Yiddish Book Center's redesigned website takes this effort even further, making it easy to search the entirety of the Center’s vast collections. Search for the Yiddish writer Avrom Sutzkever, for instance, and you’ll find digitized volumes of his writings, an archival recording of a lecture he delivered in Montreal in 1959, vintage recordings of some of his best known poems read by Yiddish actors, links to translations of his work, and oral history interviews with scholars and family members, including his daughter and granddaughter. Similarly, a search for the writer Itzik Manger yields both digital and audio books, a recorded interview in which Manger discusses his theory of poetry, oral history interviews with people who knew him, and new English-language content about the writer composed and curated by Eitan Kensky, the Center’s director of collections initiatives. Kensky, who came to the Center last year, is mining its collections to find new ways to share its vast literary and cultural treasures with new audiences, with the goal of underscoring the connections between Yiddish literature and contemporary culture.
The Yiddish Book Center’s groundbreaking effort to make its collections freely accessible has been recognized as a model for other libraries. In 2014, in a White House ceremony, First Lady Michelle Obama awarded the organization the National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
The Yiddish Book Center’s new website was designed by Cogapp, a digital media agency in Brighton, England. The firm was selected for its creative vision and its extensive experience working with digital collections elsewhere, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.