Walk a mile in my shoes… or sit a day in my chair

By Radhika Jones

It might look like I sit at the desk all morning just checking in and out books.  In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  When I am doing my ‘desk duty’ I am usually juggling multiple tasks.  This could be anything from cataloguing books, working with databases or collating archival material – all of which require a high concentration level and I still need to be approachable and friendly to our readers.

This term has been incredibly busy for me as I have been one of a team of researchers working with Bodleian Libraries on a huge research project which came to fruition after the Readers Survey highlighted a difficulty in navigation and wayfinding.  Libraries have been using anthropological research methods to investigate why readers are struggling to find their way around.  Some methods have been quite exciting, for example, using eye tracking software to examine the visual behaviour of readers during their visit.  We have also used observation and ‘touchstone tours’, the tours providing insight into how the reader would plan their route around the library.  With the data gathered, we have created library specific infinity maps.  The maps highlight ‘pain points’ – problem areas needing further examination.

The project is ongoing but has already shown some interesting results which are being tested out this term.  In week six, we installed maps around the library and last week we worked on making our classification systems more accessible to readers.  The eye tracking data has been the most interesting so far, highlighting problem areas in the library where wayfinding is disrupted.

So if you notice something different about the library and see small questionnaires on the front desk – please do stop to fill them in!  By taking the time, you could be providing us with valuable data, which is being used to help you have a better experience.

The way a collection is built speaks volumes of the collector

Every donated collection, however small, tells a unique story. It is never just about the written content confined to the pages of the books within it. The way an assemblage of books is built speaks volumes of the collector. The choice of titles, the marginal notes taken, and the ephemera hidden in-between printed pages, all paint a unique picture of the owner’s associations. They offer a peek into the collector’s personal universe and provide a form of informational overlay librarians and archivists are extra sensitive at detecting and embracing.

We have recently received a small donation of books from a gentleman in London. At first glance, the collection does not appear exceptionally rare. It consists of books on a variety of topics, including roadmaking, Russian folk tales, and punting. One could say, not an obviously Judaica-Library-related book assortment.  However, upon further examination, one realises that the volumes within it are interlinked in more than one way, and actually rather special. In this brief blog post, we are choosing to mention (and show!) just a couple of the many fascinating angles.

Firstly, an assemblage of newspaper cuttings found in a book written by Herbert Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel (1870-1963), a British statesman and philosopher, and the first British high commissioner for Palestine. The ephemera give us an insight into the world of early 20th century British politics (small sample below).


Secondly, a selection of books of historical prose and poetry by Lady Katie Magnus (1844-1924). In 1870, Lady Magnus espoused Sir Philip Magnus, and thus married into the so-called ‘annex’ of the Anglo-Jewish ‘cousinhood’: Rothschilds, Montefiores, Goldsmids, and Mocattas. Her writings, mostly educational in nature, show off her extensive knowledge of history and literature. Incredibly erudite, she remains humble; in an introduction to one of her works outlining Jewish history from Babylonian times to the late 19th century, she states she knows her work is not perfect, even though she tried her best. This selection provides quite an insight into gender relations in 19th century England. Magnus certainly deserves to be read, studied, and written about.

Some of her works which we now hold at the library (several come with multiple revised reprints):

Outlines of Jewish History: from B.C. 586 to C.E. 1885 (London: Longmans, 1886)
Jewish Portraits (London: Fisher Unwin, 1888)
First makes of England: Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Alfred the Great (London: Murray, 1901)
Some minor moralities and minor heresies (London: Routledge, 1908)
Remnants (Chilworth, London: Unwin, 1895)
A book of verse (London: Routledge, 1905)
Little Miriam’s holyday stories for little Jewish readers. 9 volumes in 1 (London: Vallentine, 1868-1875)

Kressel Library and Archive: our Library’s Foundation Stone

Not many realise that the Leopold Muller Memorial Library was founded on a single, yet incredibly rich, acquisition of the 1970s/80s – The Getzel Kressel Library and Archive. The former consisted of thousands of books covering almost the entire spectrum of Hebrew Jewish Studies. The latter, was an archive of hundreds of thousands of letters, pamphlets, manuscripts, typescripts and press cuttings, spanning the years from 1935 to 1980. This brief blog post focuses on a subsection of Kressel’s Archive, our most recent (and ongoing) cataloguing and digitisation project, namely a previously unexplored selection of about 5,000 letters.

Image 1: The first generation of Kressel/Muller Librarians in the newly founded Library in Yarnton Manor, Oxford.

Getzel Kressel was born in Zabłotów, eastern Galicia in 1911, and settled in Palestine in 1930. He was a bibliographer and Hebrew writer. From 1945 to 1951, he was one of the editors of the Hebrew newspaper Davar and of the Am Oved publisher. He founded Genazim, the Bio-bibliographical Institute of the Association of Israel Writers, and was its director (1951–60), enriching its collection of manuscripts, letters and newspaper cuttings. His most important work is Leksikon ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ba-Dorot ha-Aḥaronim (Lexicon of Hebrew Literature in Recent Times, 1965-67).

The Archive as a whole is an expression of Getzel Kressel’s mission to collect and preserve materials relating to the Mandate Yishuv and the establishment of the State of Israel. The letters, specifically, provide a snapshot of Jewish literary, cultural, and political life at the time, with Kressel’s correspondents constituting a network of contacts all over the Jewish world. The letters date from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s and relate in the main to the humanities and social sciences, the world of literature, culture, journalism and publishing, indicating the extraordinary vitality and variety of cultural activity in Israel so soon after the establishment of the State.  They are written mainly in Hebrew, a few in Yiddish and English, the majority from people in Israel and the United States. Most of them are handwritten, often quite difficult and time-consuming to decipher. So far, 2147 of these letters have been catalogued. The remaining selection, discovered within the old library’s walls upon moving to Oxford, is awaiting specialist attention.

Image 2. After the British Army conquered Ottoman Palestine, British military administrators started to establish a Hebrew press that would be favourable to the Mandate. Here is a letter to a Hebrew journalist from Lieutenant Colonel Gordon, editor of the Palestine News, trying to recruit him to work for the Hebrew edition of the newspaper. The letter has a Hebrew version. The paper on which these letters is written is acidic.

Kressel’s correspondences include:

  • Letters from notable persons, such as David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett (Shertok), Israeli Prime Ministers; Ahad Ha`am (Asher Ginsburg), the Zionist philosopher and essayist;
  • Letters from Members of Knesset and other political figures;
  • Letters from the directors of memorial organisations commemorating Eastern European communities destroyed in the Holocaust;
  • Many letters from the most prominent Hebrew authors of the day: H. N. Bialik, Shaul Tchernichowsky, Aharon Meged, Yehuda Burla, Yitzhak Lamdan, Shin Shalom and others;
  • Letters from literary scholars such as Yosef Klausner, Dov Sadan, B. Y. Michaly, Ezra Spicehandler, Avraham Kariv, and others;
  • Letters from prominent Yiddish authors and editors such as A. Sutzkever, Shimshon Meltzer and others;
  • Some letters are from humble clerks and secretaries who went on in later decades to become more notable figures;
  • Letters from librarians and bibliographers; from rabbis; from sociologists and folklorists such as Dov Noy; from cultural institutions in the United States;
  • Letters revealing some gossip, which is useful for information about figures and disputes of the time;
  • A few letters from peripheral figures such as lawyers and doctors who had some professional dealings with Kressel;
  • There are even a few letters from correspondents on their way to fight in the war of Independence in 1948;
  • One of the packets of letters, not yet sorted or catalogued, is crucially dated 1967.

These letters are unique and not available in any other archives. Cataloguing of these involves creating as much metadata as possible in the time and with the funding allowed. They are catalogued by name of the correspondent in English and Hebrew, with Library of Congress transliterations in English of the names in order to allow easier searching, date of the letter, and some pertinent information about the writer and/or the contents. Searching for some of the less well-known correspondents in order to create this metadata is often difficult and time-consuming, based either on the signature, or on the contents of the letter.

Overall, the archive is a treasure trove of primary material, and we would most certainly like to encourage researchers to peruse its contents. In due course, a searchable database of letters will be available online, and a selection of digitised items published in an exhibition.

Image 3: Solomon Buber (1827-1906), Orthodox scholar from Lviv (Lemberg) who edited many of the classical Midrashim and other medieval Hebrew writings and was the grandfather of Martin Buber, writes in 1890 to Abraham Moses Luncz (1854-1918), who settled in Ottoman Jerusalem in the 1860s and from 1881 to 1903 edited the yearbook Jerusalem.

Launch of The Weisz Western Sephardi Collection

Thanks to the generosity of the Joir and Kato Weisz Foundation, which acquired the collection from the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation of London and donated it to the Centre, the Leopold Muller Memorial Library has been privileged to receive the Weisz Western Sephardi Collection.

The collection was assembled mainly by the late Dr Richard Barnett, the Honorary Archivist of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation. It comprises over 500 items, including books, manuscripts, sermons, rabbinic responsa and commentaries, as well as letters by Sephardi Jews, some of them rabbis or members of the Congregation or of the mother congregation in Amsterdam; there are also works by Christian Hebraists which witness to the continued exchange of opinions and knowledge between the members of Jewish communities and their host nations. There are many examples of printed ephemera, including notably prayers for special occasions and calendars, and also printed and other material for the internal use of the communities, such as community and philanthropic societies’ byelaws, ordinances and lists of members. Notable is the only known copy of the first edition of the Prayer Book for Sephardi usage printed in England, in 1721.

There is a rich trove of works in Spanish and Portuguese, including both translations from the Hebrew and original works, all aimed at making it possible for newly arrived Crypto-Jews, also known as marranos, to acquire a functioning knowledge of Judaism. The works encompass Bible, prayer books, apologetic treatises and practical manuals of kashrut and purity; in short, manuals for people who had all but forgotten everything about Judaism but who knew that their families had once been Jewish.

Most of the printed material comes from Amsterdam and some is from London. There are also works printed in Alexandria, Algiers, Altona-Hamburg, Barbados, Basel, Bordeaux, Corfu, Curaçao, Florence, Gibraltar, The Hague, Livorno, Madrid, Naples, Oporto, Paris, Nice, Utrecht, Verona and Venice – a true atlas of the Sephardi Diaspora.


The Centre is grateful to the Weisz Foundation for the donation, to Mr Edgar Samuel for initiating the transfer of the collection and to Dr Jeremy Schonfield for facilitating the process.


Tuesday 15th November 2016, 6pm
at the Clarendon Institute

Professor David Abulafia
The first Sephardim in the Atlantic Islands

Refreshments will follow

Clarendon Institute fire: Leopold Muller Memorial Library currently closed

Due to a fire yesterday in the Clarendon Institute on Walton Street, the Leopold Muller Memorial Library at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies is currently closed to readers. Staff members are working with emergency services to assess the building and ensure its safety, and will provide updates as soon as possible.

Readers should expect the Library to be closed until further notice.