Title: Not the Work of a Day
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00102017/00001
 Material Information
Title: Not the Work of a Day
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
Creator: Singerman, Robert
Publisher: George A. Smathers Libraries
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla
Publication Date: June 2006
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00102017
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Not the Work of a Day

by Robert Singerman

Arriving here from the Klau Library at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion,
Cincinnati, in May, 1979, with a solid background of polyglot cataloging experience with a
variety of sacred and profane languages and a rather well-honed grasp of book selection
techniques gained from my nine years of service beginning in 1970 at one of the world's greatest
Jewish libraries, I was handed the key to Room 18 of Library East (now the Systems Office) and
given my terse job assignment by my hiring supervisor, Max Willocks, "It is a rough stone-
polish it!"

So began my 27-year career building the Price Library of Judaica from a starting line of roughly
24,000 unprocessed volumes drawn from the Leonard C. Mishkin and Shlomo Marenof personal
libraries (both had been acquired, unpacked, and sorted prior to my arrival), to over 85,000 fully
cataloged volumes today. In the summer of 1979, the opportunity to purchase the entire
inventory of Bernard Morgenstern's used Lower East Side Jewish bookstore in New York City
presented itself, I responded unhesitatingly in a flash, and this dusty accumulation came to
Gainesville to yield the third of our core collections, still recalled with fondness as the 3-M
collections. Thus, in the summer of 1979, a veritable mountain of around 30,000, plus or minus,
uncataloged books, pamphlets, and periodicals, many of them exceedingly fragile and scarce,
beckoned my ascent. Likewise, very fundamental decisions and work plan strategies for
organizing, cataloging, collection development, preservation, and binding had to be launched and
this effort would be successful, I decided very early on, only through coalition building with
Acquisitions, Cataloging, and Binding, each of these technical service units being very
cooperative partners to this day. There was also the perplexing challenge of how to maintain the
service hours of a separately-housed circulating library singlehandedly with no budgeted support
staff at this early time.

I somehow survived, even thrived, some might say, with assistance coming from Yael
Herbsman, a faculty spouse and a trained Israeli librarian, pitching in, initially, as a temporary
hire, then students and elderly volunteer ladies recruited from the Gainesville Jewish community.
There were also budgets to be spent--and spend I did--it was difficult in the extreme to know
with any certainty what we really owned though initially, a semblance of bibliographical control
was imposed through the typing of temporary slips while the Hebrew and Yiddish materials lent
themselves to sorting and alphabetizing by title. My initial goal was to have the collection fully
cataloged in ten years but this projection, foolhardy as it was, did not take into consideration the
rather high percentage of our materials requiring original, in-house cataloging and/or the editing,
with upgrading, of shared, sometimes mediocre, cataloging records input by other libraries.

Moving beyond the crawling stage and infancy, the unorganized collection that greeted me in
1979 passed thru the troubled teenage years with two moves of the entire Price Library of
Judaica collection. The polished stone is now the well-stocked functioning library it is today,
nurtured and enriched by state funds (ah yes, the budgetary cycles of the fat and lean years!) and
the endowment providently created by Jack and Sam Price in honor of their parents, Isser and
Rae Price. A public dedication of the Price Library of Judaica followed in 1981, and to maintain

that momentum, I struggled to create and fill a library newsletter mailed out on a list of over
5,000 names, also of my creation (this newsletter, of which eight numbers were issued, would be
absorbed by Amudim, published by UF's Center for Jewish Studies since 1986). The faculty
encouraged the students, the students told their friends, visitors told other friends, and over time,
the library and its circulating collection came to be known as an exceedingly valuable resource
serving not only Gainesville but also readers nationally and internationally through interlibrary
loan. The contributions of my four successive Library Technical Assistants should be properly
acknowledged in this space: Yael Herbsman, Joy Funk, Carole Bird, and Emily Madden. Gazing
now over a somewhat mature library of considerable scope and research-quality depth--I would
consider it a legacy collection--this writer is prompted to reflect, much in the style of a wilted
Biblical chronicle, "It flourished, and it was good."

Successful business relationships would be formed over the years with booksellers, both
domestic and foreign, since these colleagues are logically the librarian's ideal partner in stocking
the library shelves, certainly in the filling of gaps by servicing desiderata lists, and by their
personal involvement such as developing special offers and raising the bibliographer's awareness
with collecting insights about the marketplace. Much of this activity has since migrated to the
online bookseller search engines like abebooks.com or, increasingly, e-mailed lists have
supplanted dealer catalogs ranging from downright pathetic stenciled sheets on cheap paper to
the nicely printed glossy ones with illustrations dispatched in the mail. When the mail brought in
the daily harvest of catalogs, the competitive race with other libraries and collectors was on to
place my order first! A working partnership might also be developed from time to time with a
favored antiquarian book dealer who was invited to search our online catalog before developing
a custom-made offer of titles not already owned. Although there was typically more work
devolving on the bibliographer, I always resisted establishing an Israeli approval plan, relying
instead on my own book selections, with invited help from our faculty in the area of Hebrew

Starting out with our splendid 3-M core collections, no additional major collections were sought
after 1979, though portions of scholarly libraries might come our way as gifts (the Theodor
Gaster library) or as selected purchases from retiring professors at institutions out-of-state
(Menahem Mansoor, Zvulun Ravid) or yet another walk-in bookstore closing in New York
(Feldheim's, down the street from Bernard Morgenstern's former store on East Broadway). From
the outset, I solicited free periodical and newsletter subscriptions whenever I could, also
published lecture series, working papers, and anniversary books from a wide variety of academic
centers, Jewish institutions and communal agencies, federations, synagogues, or directly from
authors of memoirs and books of local Jewish history interest. An enormous amount of "here
today, gone tomorrow" ephemeral pamphlets were gathered in all of these years. Rising book
prices coupled with my perceived explosion in Jewish publishing at home and abroad, on the
other hand, now demands an even greater selectivity with respect to purchases of new (and old)
books. It has become a severe challenge for us to remain current with our acquisitions and to
nurture our paid periodical subscriptions in the midst of repeated library-wide serial cancellation

Knowing that academic programs are not static and that new faculty will generally have
unanticipated demands and needs, this bibliographer was continually challenged by nagging

questions with long-term implications-Am I buying too much in Hebrew from Israel? Should I
buy less or more Yiddish? What about primary sources for the graduate program? If there is no
sustained program in Jewish music here, to what extent should Jewish music be purchased, either
by me or the Music Library? Dare I ignore emerging electronic resources and audio-visual
formats to complement the print collection? With a $1000 to spend, should it be deployed for
out-of-print books that aren't likely to be available (or affordable!) years from now, or do I buy
an equal amount of new releases, these the books touted and reviewed in the Jewish press today
and likely to be requested? For the same $1000, should I buy a single rarity for the treasure
room, or twenty books or videos at $50 each for the circulating collections? The analogy of
adjusting the hot and cold water faucet seems quite appropriate in this context. With my
retirement looming on the horizon in June, 2006, a new bibliographer coming on board armed
with his or her fresh set of operating assumptions, biases, values, intuitions, and knowledge of
Jewish Studies research trends and publishing patterns, as well as the local needs on campus, will
revisit all of these challenging questions, hopefully with better budgets in place.

In any event, the foundation for sustained growth is remarkably on very solid ground. Collection
highlights range from Jewish history in all countries on all continents, with German-Jewish
intellectual and community history and the Latin American Jewish communities a focused
strength. Additional areas nurtured over the years include demographic reports of Jewish
communities, memorial books, Polish Jewry, Sephardic Jewry and Jews in Muslim lands,
Jewish-Arab relations, Zionism and histories of Jewish movements and organizations, rabbinical
biography, the pre-1948 yishuv in Palestine, Hebrew literary criticism, Festschriften,
bibliography and, of course, the ubiquitous pamphlets, sometimes referred to as "gray literature,"
transecting all aspects of the Jewish experience. As for our sets and files of periodicals (slightly
over 500 titles are received on a current basis today), a great many of these are not owned
anywhere else in Florida or, for that matter, in the entire southeastern United States.

In closing, I endured and grew stronger, I managed in my characteristically undistracted,
systematic way to remain active as a widely-published Judaica bibliographer, and the library
legacy I leave behind for future generations of faculty and students remains intact and not
dispersed. My motto--a deceptively simple one--is this: "All work done today is cumulative."

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