JTS, which has been faced with financial troubles in the past years, has attempted various different ways in the last years to solve their financial woes. In 2009, a major change in the leadership positions occurred, and several months ago, several of the JTS Library's rare items not related to Judaism have been sold at auction in an attempt to raise funds.
The current plan for the next few years (at least through the end of 2018) leaves just 10,000 volumes in the library until construction is completed. Once the new library building is in use, the plan is to keep about 25 percent of the titles onsite in the new Library. The remaining 75 percent will be stored offsite, available only for next business day retrieval. The temporary home, will open November 1 and will be located on the 7th floor (both Kripke and Schiff buildings, formerly the student computer and language labs) for the duration of the project. Those people who do not currently have borrowing privileges, which include the numerous researchers who visit and use the library, will be charged a fee equivalent to their cost (between $3.25 and $8.75 per item) for retrieving materials from their remote storage. The Library reserves the right to limit quantities of all materials retrieved from remote storage based upon consultations with the researcher.
|courtyard of JTS Library soon to be demolished|
To be fair, JTS may have been left with little choice as to this decision, and for their rabbinical students, such a system at the library might suffice. I assume this was the very last resort that the administration was left with, but the thought of the largest collection of Hebrew Incunabula sitting in a warehouse in NJ, is disheartening at the very best. It is rather depressing to think, that as a people who excelled at coming together and succeeding in fundraising for our vital institutions, that the nation's most prestigious Jewish library should be forced to come to this. Throughout the World of Jewish Books, the future of the library has been received with much sadness and anger. In the words of Prof. Shnayer Leiman, "Very sad news about JTS! Let people know that there is nothing safer than having the books in their own house". Prof. Leiman recalled his days of youth when his ability to roam stacks of endless books allowed him to develop his interests. With the setup as is projected, students will never be introduced to the vast depths of Jewish Literature and the books will more than likely be stored into oblivion. In a conversation I had with one of the librarians at JTS, she tells me how it doesn't matter much, as "who today uses books anyways!".
It is very unfortunate that JTS no longer will be able to view its library as a home for all Jews of all backgrounds and denominations. The best we can do is hope that a change can still be made and the freedom of the printed word will be reimposed.