This digital book project will join the National Library’s compilation of Yiddish newspapers, maintained in partnership with Tel Aviv University. It constitutes the largest such collection in the world with more than 100,000 pages scanned to date and is generously funded by the David and Fela Shapell Family Foundation. Additionally, The Bella and Harry Wexner Libraries of Sound and Song
at NLI, generously supported by the Legacy Heritage Fund
, houses among its vast collection of musical works a rich array of Yiddish musical treasures, preserving the great Yiddish musical tradition and making these rare works accessible in audio and text formats, digitally and through archival manuscripts, for generations of users.
Oren Weinberg, Director General of NLI remarked, "All of our partnerships and joint acquisitions enhance the breadth of the comprehensive digital Yiddish library the National Library of Israel has created. It also advances our overall strategy to join forces with leading institutions in the realm of Judaica and Israeliana in order to open digital access to our collections, and to allow maximum engagement with our library treasures to our entire global community of users."
The project was born as a response to the concern that the rich language and the Yiddish culture would die out. Scanning the digital library of Yiddish books is one way to preserve them for posterity, while making them more accessible, says Dr. Stollman. Additionally, digitization enables the use of advanced tools to work with the texts. "It also becomes easier to learn the language because more texts exist," he says.
Just this February, the initiative received a boost when the Public Administrator of Bronx County, New York awarded NLI and the YIVO Institute successor rights to the literary estate of the renowned Yiddish author Chaim Grade. Grade's assets will be permanently housed at YIVO in New York, which will share them NLI at its new home, due to open in 2017. YIVO and NLI have agreed to digitize the entire collection. Grade, born in Vilnius in 1910, lost his family in the Holocaust and emerged as a prolific Yiddish voice. He is best known for his novels The Agunah and The Yeshiva.
The Yiddish book digitization project began as the idea of Aaron Lansky, founder of the Yiddish Book Center of Amherst, Massachusetts. Lansky has made rescuing the world’s remaining Yiddish books from oblivion his life's mission. Lansky has already digitized the 12,000 books in his collection and NLI will digitize the 30,000+ Yiddish books in its own collection, the largest in the world. Thus, the collaboration will complete the digitization. Additionally, the partnership will harness the advanced technological capacity of NLI to preserve the collections of the respective institutions.
So, how many books does this endeavor involve? "We estimate that not more than 45,000 books in Yiddish were ever published. Therefore, it can be done. It isn't impossible," says Dr. Stollman.