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Sunday, December 21, 2014

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Jewish Public Library celebrates 100 years

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The Jewish Public Library opened at 4499 avenue l’Esplanade, corner of Mont Royal, in 1953, one of the library’s many venues in its 100 years. [Federal photos]

MONTREAL — The cover photograph on the 2014 Jewish Public Library (JPL) calendar conveys a subliminal message. A nun wearing a habit is immersed in a book. A gentleman seated opposite her reads a Yiddish newspaper. Their comfort level illustrates how this cultural centre has served as an inclusive community landmark.

The Yiddishe-folks-Bibliotek officially opened its doors on May 1, 1914, at 669 St-Urbain St. Over the years, the library made several moves to accommodate the westward migration of Montreal’s Jewish community. Since 1975, JPL has been located at 1 Cummings Square, 5151 Cote-Sainte-Catherine Rd.

The JPL will present its 100th anniversary exhibit, Stories Told: 100 years of the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, at Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec from June 10 to July 27, showcasing JPL’s contributions to city life over the century. The exhibition will also be on display at Montreal City Hall and at the Montreal Jewish Community Campus. 

The exhibit marks the start of a major fundraising campaign, with original photos and artifacts highlighting the library’s role as a cultural hub. The slate of events is underway and is scheduled to continue all year. The library has digitalized more than 4,400 photographs and documents, making them available to online users worldwide through the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network.

The work being done at JPL benefits everyone, says Michael Crelinsten, executive director of the library since 2010. Citing studies conducted at York University, the University of Chicago and Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs at Princeton University, Crelinsten explains how exposure to fictional and nonfictional characters and scenarios through visits to libraries, museums and theatres increases an individual’s empathy for others.

“We can draw a direct parallel between the function of literature in generating support for the community,” he contends. “Therefore, [culture] is a strategic investment, not something that should be put aside just because it’s harder to measure the short-term effect.

“We need to come together as a community to move forward. As Jews, we have always been recognized as people of the book and associated with leadership and philanthropy. A 100th anniversary is the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support an iconic institution. JPL archives hold the history and patrimony of the Montreal Jewish community, which is one of the most unique in the world.”

JPL needs to purchase equipment, expand and update eBook and computer room facilities among other expenses. Financial support is essential to ensure the future of JPL as a world-class cultural centre, Crelinsten says. Approximately 21 per cent of Canadian households lack Internet access, and that includes 50 per cent of low-income households. Since 19 per cent of Montreal’s Jewish community live below the poverty line, JPL needs to support this segment of the community.

The Jewish Public Library features four main divisions and numerous subdivisions. The main library houses the Computer Space and Technology Centre, a specialized Judaica collection and a prized rare book collection. The library’s archives are treasured by scholars, government, and social and educational organizations throughout the country. The Norman Berman Children’s Library serves children and young families by building early literacy, conducting outreach programs and partnering with schools and day­cares.

A constituent agency of Federation CJA, JPL, a nonprofit organization, welcomes more than 100,000 visitors each year. During Jewish Book Month, initiated in 1944, JPL brings internationally renowned authors to speak to more than 1,600 students. Other events, such as the J. I. Segal awards, draw world famous authors.

For a list of upcoming events and programs, visit www.­jewishpubliclibrary.org. To support the 100th anniversary campaign, contact Susan Schiffman at 514-345-2627, extension 3159, or susan.schiffman@jplmontreal.org.

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