by Michelle Chesner

Who are the librarians at your university, and what can they do for you? There are different types of librarians in a university library: catalogers, selectors/bibliographers, reference librarians, rare book librarians, and many others. Some, like me, do all of the above. I buy rare and contemporary books and other media for the Jewish Studies collection at Columbia University, catalog or supervise cataloging of rare Judaica and Hebraica, and provide reference help to students and faculty within my institution and beyond it. So what would a scholar of Jewish Studies need to know about the librarians?

  1. They have advanced degrees – often more than one. At many research institutions, librarians are required to have at least a Masters’ degree in their field of specialization in addition to a Masters’ in Library Science, and many have Ph.D.s. in their subject areas (from another perspective, librarianship is a good “alt-ac” option for scholars looking for positions outside of the traditional teaching environment).
  2. They buy books. This means that librarians have to know the current state of the field in order to maintain an up-to-date collection. They also welcome input from scholars about potential purchases.
  3. They buy databases (and know what’s in them). Librarians evaluate and purchase digital collections varying from a collection of digitized Old Yiddish literature, the Bar Ilan Responsa Database, primary sources for the study of American Jewish History, and many more.
  4. Many librarians are involved in Digital Humanities (DH) projects. DH projects often involve content found in libraries, and use concepts that are very familiar to librarians, such as metadata and knowledge organization, and so libraries often provide access to the tools (both digital and human) for significant digital humanities endeavors.
  5. Librarians are well-connected to their colleagues in other collections around the world. This is especially helpful for scholars traveling abroad for their research who need access to specific collections. Librarians are happy to reach out to their colleagues at other institutions to ensure that a researcher will have the necessary access to research materials.

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