Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sometimes it's the small things that have the greatest impact

The Wiener Library is the world's oldest Holocaust collection, and quite possibly the largest.  In the 1920s, Alfred Weiner began to collect newspaper clippings that had a focus on Nazi work. Later, he worked to gather first-hand accounts of Kristallnacht. After Hitler came to power, the collection moved to Amsterdam and later to the UK for protection, but unfortunately not all materials made it across the English Chanel. Even while in London, the collection has a history of moving. The collection was first brought to Manchester Square in 1939, and then was moved to Devonshire Street in 1956. The final move to Russell Square in 2011 added some benefits to library services--the new facility has better exhibition and teaching spaces, and is equipped with climate control.

This new location is not in an obvious location. It's not a standalone building, and looks rather like an entrance to someone's living quarters. To enter, one must ring for the door to be unlocked, where the visitor is welcomed into the exhibition space. Upstairs is a small reading room, where a reference assistant can help find the desired resources.

Weiner Library Reading Room
Due to its unique nature, the materials are organized based on subject in a classification scheme developed solely for the materials in the collection. Some of the subjects include "Church and the Third Reich," "Anti-Nazi Writings" and "Nazi Ideology." Each of the subjects is assigned a letter, which form the beginning of the shelf markings.

Today, the collection is still growing. The Holocaust has been covered quite extensively, and now the library is attempting to fill in some of the larger gaps on other genocides, historical material and other non-Jewish groups. Although the collection is primarily manuscript and book (with 2,0000 document collections and 70,000 books), the library has recently acquired digital and audio-visual material.

Digitization efforts are just beginning at the Weiner Library. A newly created Digital Curator position has been filled, and the collection of 17,000 photographs are priority for digitization. These efforts will establish a greater presence in the scholarly community, one in which the Weiner Library is already closely connected and relies heavily upon for information on existing resources waiting to be acquired by the library.

Of all the libraries I have visited in my life, I'd have to say the Weiner Library was the most narrowly focused on subject content, and it's fantastic to see so many resources on the topic under one roof. There is also something overwhelming about submersing oneself into the one of the darkest periods in human history, and I found my visit to be enriching. The small library staff seems to be more of a family, and they graciously welcomed us into their home to share their extensive knowledge.

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