Feb 09, 2020
A few weeks ago, the world of Yiddish studies was shaken when, in response to a budget deficit, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research let all four members of its library staff go.
Since that time, we at In geveb have been discussing among ourselves the various issues at play: the difficulties of fundraising for Yiddish, the precarity and vulnerability facing contingent workers, the essential work that librarians and library staff perform in stewarding the library collections and making them legible to scholars and to the public, and the way that news and public response spread in the digital era.
We have been doing a lot of what we imagine our readers have been doing as well: some of us have signed petitions, some of us have tried to teach our students about librarians and make their labor more visible in the classroom, some of us have argued with friends, some of us have donated, some of us have posted on social media. One thing we’ve all been doing is a lot of reading.
We’ve collected here a list of contributions from our colleagues about the recent events at YIVO. If you’ve read something that you think we should add to this list, please let us know.
We don’t necessarily agree with every opinion expressed in the following articles, nor do we expect you to, but we offer this list to keep our readers abreast of a significant event in the world of Yiddish Studies and to help further a conversation that is critical to the state of the field. In geveb’s own editors and directors find themselves in different positions in regard to these events and our relationships with YIVO. Two things we can agree on: our diversity of experiences and perspectives makes this publication stronger and more representative of our field, and YIVO’s collections, services, and staff are of critical importance to Yiddish studies.
Call for Submissions: This aggregation of articles is only the first step for us. We would like to continue the conversation about the events at YIVO, the response to these events, and their implications for Yiddish Studies and beyond. In particular, we are interested in hearing about how this event might help us think about the funding structures and institutional priorities of the Jewish/Jewish studies community, the relationship between libraries, archives, and the work that scholars produce, and the role that petitions and public statements can and should play in institutional decisions and politics. We are interested in pieces that place the recent events at YIVO in the context of discipline-wide trends, historical, economic, scholarly and otherwise, and that help us think through the broader forces that produced this moment and its possible ramifications. We invite you to send us your pitches and your pieces.
Reflections, Contextualizations, and Editorials
1. Forward Staff, “Of Herzl, Einstein, Chagall, and George Kennan: Memories of Working with YIVO’s Librarians,” January 23, 2020.
A compilation of recollections about YIVO librarians and librarianship.
2. Cecile Kuznitz, “The Future of the YIVO Library,” blog of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, January 29, 2020.
Kuznitz, author of YIVO and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2014), offers some historical context to the recent layoffs and explains the significance of the library.
3. Anna Shternshis, “There’s No YIVO Without its Librarians,” The Canadian Jewish News, February 6, 2020.
Anna Shternshis describes potential ramifications of the layoffs and expresses concern about YIVO’s budgetary and fundraising models.
News, Petitions, Letters, and Responses
1. Aiden Pink, “YIVO, World’s biggest Yiddish research center, lays off all its librarians.” Forward, January 20, 2020.
In this piece, Pink publically broke the news of the YIVO layoffs, which set off a flurry of responses in the world of Yiddish Studies and beyond.
2. Carsten Dippel, "Schafft sich die jiddische Bubliotek YIVO selbst ab?," Deutschlandfunk Kultur. March 6, 2020.
Dippel shares the news of the layoffs as well as reactions from Alan Bern, director and founder of Yiddish Summer Weimar, and Faith Jones, Yiddish researcher in Vancouver.
Over a thousand scholars, Yiddish students and enthusiasts signed this open letter to the YIVO board. Several institutions issued their own responses as well, including the Association for Jewish Libraries, the Music Library Association, the Ukranianian Association for Jewish Studies, and the Jewish Labour Bund of Melbourne.
4. The YIVO Board’s open letter to the signers of the petition
The YIVO Board responded to the above letter.
In this letter circulated on Facebook, Daniel Soyer responds to the YIVO Board’s response to the petition.