The Kirman English and Yiddish Library at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture is available for anyone in the community to access. (photo from Peretz Centre)
“Books are humanity in print” – Barbara Tuchman
The Kirman English and Yiddish Library at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture was set up in 1976 by Paula and Shaya Kirman, members of the Peretz Institute – as it was then known – and dedicated Yiddishists. The two main purposes in establishing the library were, first, to collect and preserve the books that were scattered in different places in the community, and, second, to make these books available to the whole community in a lending library.
Paula Kirman, who worked as a cataloguer at the University of British Columbia library, volunteered many hours to set up a card catalogue and shelve the Peretz library in an organized way. Eventually, she resigned from her volunteer position because of a perceived lack of support from the Peretz Institute’s board of directors.
In 1999, in preparation for the construction of the Peretz Centre’s present building (in the same location the institute had been since the 1960s), the library books and card catalogue had to be boxed and removed. With the completion of the new building in 2000-2001, the organization was renamed the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture and the words of I.L. Peretz, considered by many as the “father” of modern Jewish culture, were prominently displayed above the entrance foyer: “A people’s memory is history; without a history, a people can grow neither wiser nor better.”
Sporadic attempts to restore the library were made, but, when Al Stein returned to Vancouver and joined the centre’s board of directors in 2001, much of the library was still in boxes and Kirman’s card catalogue was in disarray. Stein volunteered to lead the effort to restore the library, if the board would support it in two ways: vote for funding for new shelving and support Stein’s effort to obtain a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Vancouver to hire a library technician and digitize the entire library, including the Yiddish books.
The grant proposal was successful. A newly graduated library technician, unfamiliar with Yiddish, was contracted and many hundreds of hours were spent properly transliterating each Yiddish book and journal title, digitizing the entire collection in accordance with the latest electronic library standards, relabeling each book, arranging for electronic hosting of the library catalogue, supervising the installation of new shelving and then, finally, shelving the books and journals in an organized fashion.
Thanks to large and small donations of both English and Yiddish books from individuals, from the Winnipeg Jewish Library and from the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, as well as a small number of purchases, the Kirman Library of the Peretz Centre now contains nearly 4,000 books and journals and is almost at capacity. The collection includes titles by kabbalists, rabbis, atheists, historians, politicians, musicians, artists, humourists, and those who wrote fiction, plays and poetry – in other words, the entire spectrum of Jewish creativity, encompassing all the arts.
Most of the collection is now in English and is a unique treasure trove of information and pleasure for the casual reader and the scholar. Two collections are of note. The late Dr. Gersh Winrob donated his English-language collection of Holocaust literature, memoirs, history and analyses, certainly one of the largest in the community. And the late poet Miriam Waddington donated part of her library, mostly English-language literature and essays, with a bit of Yiddish poetry.
The Peretz Centre is a proud member of the Yiddish Book Centre, now the largest Jewish cultural organization in the United States.
The Peretz’s library catalogue may be searched from any computer via the Peretz Centre website, peretz-centre.org: click the Kirman Library tab and then the Catalog link. The library ID is Kirman Library. No password is needed.
Books and periodicals can be borrowed for a $10/year fee. Four items may be borrowed at a time, for a period of four weeks, which may be renewed if no hold has been placed on the item. And the library may be used whenever the Peretz office is open, so call ahead before coming down, or for more information about library policy in general, such as its overdue or lost items policy, or to obtain a library card: 604-325-1812, ext. 1, or [email protected].
If you have any specific questions or comments about the library, or wish to make a donation to it, Stein can be reached at 604 731-1193 or [email protected].