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Columbia Spectator Staff

Columbia has received $4 million to establish the Norman E. Alexander Library for Jewish Studies. The University, which already has more than 100,000 monograph volumes in its Jewish studies research collections and the second largest collection of Hebrew manuscripts in North America, allotted $2 million toward establishing a Jewish studies librarian position, $1 million toward general collections, and $1 million toward special collections, according to James Neal, University librarian and vice president for information services. The Jewish Studies Library will be part of the Area Studies Collections, which is the only library at Columbia without its own space or building, said Michelle Chesner, the new librarian for Jewish studies. Instead, the library will be scattered throughout campus, as its books and manuscripts apply variously to art, business, history, and other disciplines. This is one of many contributions made to Jewish life and culture by Norman Alexander, CC '34 and Law '36, who died in 2006. Alexander also established the Alexander Program Center for Jewish Life at Columbia/Barnard Hillel, served as vice president of the American Jewish Committee, helped to found the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, and supported the Jewish Publication Society, according to a University press release. Chesner said her goal is to improve Columbia's collection while also helping students, faculty, and researchers at the University. "There are still lacks in the Jewish studies collection, and now people can come to me if they need something," she said. "I want to help make the collection better." Since joining the library in May 2010, Chesner has coordinated a number of campus events to teach students research skills and raise awareness about the resources the library offers. Jeremy Dauber, director of the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, agreed that Chesner will be a significant asset to the University. "With a new Jewish studies librarian, students and faculty will have an invaluable source in the Columbia library system to help them with their research and their scholarship," Dauber said. A portion of the rare books endowment has gone toward cataloging manuscripts in CLIO, the library's online database. To date, cataloger Yoram Bitton has added 950 out of approximately 1,300 to 1,500 manuscripts to the database. Dauber has already seen the benefits of these efforts. "With the increasing diversity and volume of information becoming available on the Internet, in digital databases, and, of course, in traditional print publishing," he said, the Alexander gift will allow Columbia to use this information for "far-reaching scholarship in student papers, faculty books, and classroom opportunities." "In addition to working with faculty to teach and support student research, the collections are now more available to scholars here and around the world," Neal said, adding that the endowment will help Columbia buy important texts, including manuscripts and other personal archival works, from global publishers. "There is no end date [to the endowment]," Neal said. "We will continue to build for a larger and richer collection." Anna Kats, BC '11, said she was looking forward to the benefits of Alexander's gift. "I'm thoroughly excited that this resource is becoming increasingly available to the undergraduate community and the University as a whole," Kats said. "I don't doubt that my own interests in Jewish studies will profit tremendously from this endowment." news@columbiaspectator.com

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