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Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto seeks home for its books

Stack of books
Stack of books

The future of an important Toronto-based Jewish library collection is up in the air as the Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto (JGST) seeks a new home for its specialized collection of roughly 500 books and 45 periodicals.

The non-circulating collection has been housed since 1989 in the sixth-floor Canadiana room of the North York Central Library on Yonge Street, a branch of the Toronto Public Library system, where it has been accessible to patrons on an in-house, reference basis only. Although the Canadiana room has for decades been dedicated to genealogical research, the library recently announced it is “repurposing” the room, with renovation slated to begin in April or May.


Although the Toronto Reference Library has offered to take some of the JGST collection, it wants only select, non-duplicated items, which would be integrated into its present holdings, and has no interest in preserving the integrity of the JGST library as a specifically Jewish collection.

“We’d prefer to have a home for our library that would keep the entire collection intact, a place where our members and the public would have access to the collection,” said Elaine Cheskes, the JGST’s acting librarian. She has contacted numerous community centres, synagogue libraries, universities and other public institutions seeking a new home for the collection, but so far has found no takers.

According to Cheskes, the society also considered putting the library into storage, as was done with the former Toronto Jewish Public Library when it closed its doors in the Lipa Green Centre building some years ago.

“It’s an expensive proposition, and we don’t have the money,” she said. “The Jewish Public Library has been in storage for eight years. We don’t want that to happen to us. It’s almost better to donate the collection and let the public have access to the books, rather than lock them up in a storage space.”

The JGST collection includes many volumes of local Jewish family history, Who’s Who guides to Canadian Jews, how-to guides to doing research, titles on Jewish surnames, numerous Yizkor books and Holocaust titles, and items related to Jewish communities across Canada, the United States, Europe, Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, South Africa and elsewhere in the Jewish Diaspora.


Both Cheskes and JGST outgoing president Les Kelman concur that until an organization or private or corporate benefactor emerges with a rescue plan, the society’s options are limited to the proposal from the Toronto Public Library, which would effectively mean the dissolution of the JGST library.

“We’d lose all control, all ownership, but at least the books would still be available to the public,” Kelman said. “All credit to them. They’re really trying to offer us an alternative, but it’s just not our first choice.”

Bill Gladstone is a Toronto-based professional genealogist whose family surname was formerly Glickstein, and Glicensztejn before that. His website is www.billgladstone.ca