Old Media, New Media: Librarians and Archivists Reflect

Zachary M. Baker

Stanford University

In my first professional library position I worked as a cataloger. Apart from typing up catalog cards, this entailed assigning the appropriate subject headings and classification numbers, and consulting a gamut of reference works for information on the books’ authors and contributors. The basic principles of cataloging remain the same today, even as methodologies and technical jargon have changed significantly. Yesterday’s catalogers have been transformed into today’s “metadata specialists.”

I still have a folder containing the handouts from the Judaica bibliography course that I audited at the Jewish Theological Seminary in the late 1970s. Each week we discussed the foundational reference works that underpinned the subdisciplines of Jewish Studies: bibliographies, dictionaries, encyclopedias, lexicons, concordances, etc. These were all print publications—nary a database or full-text resource among them. They were the backbone of the first syllabus for the Research Methods seminar that I led at Stanford over fifteen years ago. However, experience soon taught me that students—even advanced graduate students—regarded the likes of Shlomo Shunami’s Bibliography of Jewish Bibliographies as irrelevant to their research. To me, this is a loss, but one that is largely compensated for by the democratization of the research process in the online environment.

Indeed, many of the reference works that I once consulted as a cataloger are themselves now accessible online. As a researcher in the field of Yiddish Studies I am grateful for the profusion of indexes and journal databases, as well as for the availability of digitized books, journals, and newspapers, not to mention audio and video resources. Recently, a researcher in Texas sent me an email inquiry in which he commented, “My resources here in Houston are limited.” My response: “You are not as far away as you may think.”

Last year, the editors of the online journal In geveb invited me to compile a multipart research guide, Resources in Yiddish Studies. The guide’s medium is entirely electronic and its listings are hybrid in nature—grouping together by topic, in an integrated manner, print-only, digitized, and born-digital resources. In the process of compiling the research guide, I was able to immerse myself in the continually expanding universe of online resources, and to share this knowledge through a journal that is universally (and freely!) accessible.

Zachary M. Baker, recently retired, was the Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections in the Stanford University Libraries (1999–2017), and also had administrative oversight of collection development at Stanford University Libraries (2010–2017). Previously, he served as head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (1987–1999).