"People of the Books" Blog

Member Spotlight with Žilvinas Beliauskas


Žilvinas Beliauskas heads the Vilnius Jewish Public Library


Visit the Vilnius Jewish Public Library Website here!


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Žilvinas graduated from Kaunas J. Jablonskis secondary school, a school that specialized English language and literature. Žilvinas then entered the Psychology Department at Vilnius University and graduated in 1982.


Žilvinas was working as a psychology lecturer when be grew an interest in the Vilnius Jewish Public Library project. The idea came from an American from San Diego, who already had his collection of books shipped to Lithuania and was looking for ways to realize his dream. For several years he had been trying to establish a library in Vilnius, but none of his attempts with the local Jewish community and state-operated museums were successful. Žilvinas found the idea attractive, though he was neither a librarian nor a Jew. Nevertheless Žilvinas started coordinating the project, contacting the government, Ministry of Culture, libraries, and other institutions. Žilvinas described the process as an adventure. He realized how important the project was for his generation, which grew up in complete ignorance of Jewish history. His goal would be to show Jewish heritage to the whole of Lithuanian society.


Being a psychologist, Žilvinas saw great value in presenting a heritage that was exterminated and lost due to the Holocaust. Žilvinas notes, “culturally, now we have an opportunity to get in touch with the bottomless heritage of wisdom, art, literature, science and other spheres of life within the Judaic dimension.”


There were many interesting and lucky coincidences during the process of the coordination and attempts to establish the library. Žilvinas even says that it would not have been possible without “guidance from the Heavens.” Žilvinas and his colleagues received permission from the Lithuanian government to build in a good location but in a run-down building. They would need funds for renovation and equipment. In the same year, prosecutors enforced a ban on financial interactions related to the Royal Palce (Palace of Rulers) reconstruction due to suspicion around the transparency of some construction contracts. In this way, the millions which had already been allocated to the Culture Ministry for this particularly expensive project became hanged in the air. The funds were available for other purposes and the Minister quickly had to find other important cultural projects as inventment opportunities. The shabby library premises were among his priorities and that is how a rather normal financing project for library remodeling was assigned among other museums, theaters, and estates. Zilvinas calls it "a work of angels by the hands of prosecutors for the sake of the Vilnius Jewish Public Library."

Zilvinas stands with graduates from the library's Yiddish Language instruction program

Today Žilvinas and his colleagues run not only the Vilnius Jewish Public Library but also its Charity and Support Foundation and its inspired organization Vilnius Jewish Theater. The latter is currently underway in the very interesting process of producing a musical play based on the motifs of the stories in Avrom Karpinovich’s The Vilne Tango.


Žilvinas’s library aspires to grow locally and to network internationally. Žilvinas has received support and book donations from Lynn Waghalter and Olga Potap. Books started coming, and Galina Teverovsky managed to set up a very useful book exchange program.


Žilvinas writes:

“I really appreciate all of that, and the library became possible due to the existence of the AJL and its values. We look forward to cooperating with AJL in future as long as possible. There was an exchange of ideas and–for me personally–a lot of knowledge and experience in the field since, as noticed above, library science is not my profession.”


Going forward, Žilvinas will continue to maintain a relationship with AJL and to keep his finger on the pulse of Judaica librarianship.  Žilvinas aims to the collection of the library, to maintain it as a vibrant cultural center, and to promote the library locally and internationally in order to make its potential influence. Žilvinas has also expressed an interest in having an international event for Judaica librarianship in Vilnius.

Spotlight with Michelle Chesner

AJL Spotlight is an on-going series that highlights the day-in-a-life of our members and libraries. We interviewed Michelle Chesner, Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies at Columbia University Libraries.


Name: Michelle Chesner
Name of Institution: Columbia University
Job Title: Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies,
Columbia University Libraries

Twitter: @hchesner

Jewish Studies Blog: https://blogs.cul.columbia.edu/jewishstudiesatcul/
Footprints: footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu

What might your typical day look like?

1) Updating my Libguides reference pages (includes research on Yiddish, Ladino, Jewish women, Talmud)
2) Fixing a problem in the Footprints Database for tracking Hebrew book provenance
3) Posting on the history of Columbia's collection, based on a recently published article
4) Setting up a meeting with a professor to discuss how I can assist during the semester
5) Working on a grant proposal
6) Phone call to patron to troubleshoot a database
7) Setting up a date to meet with a vendor visiting from Israel
8) Purchasing titles for the general and rare collections
9) During the semester, give instruction to classes conducting Jewish Studies research

What is your AJL position?

Research, Archives and Special Collections (RAS); Council Member at Large

How long have you been an AJL member?

I joined AJL in 2006 upon learning about the AJL Scholarship in library school. I didn't receive the scholarship, but I realized that this was the most important association for my field. I stayed involved because I learned the importance of mentorship and networking when I was starting out as a Judaica librarian, and wanted to share that with new librarians.

Have you been to conferences?
Yes, the informative sessions and the opportunity to meet face-to-face with colleagues has been important to my work.  A lot of collaboration can happen at the AJL conference. For example, after presenting on the Footprints project, I spoke to a few librarians who were interested in integrating provenance information from their collections into the database, and some are in process as we speak! Also, an informal discussion about collections led to the formation of a Northeast Judaica Collections Consortium. Another conference memory is sitting together in a room listening to a presentation about the digitization of Dreyfus- related materials. A group of three or four institutions realized they hold similar collections and could potentially work together on a joint project in the future.

What book do you recommend us to read?

I finished The Archive Thief by Lisa Leff, and I enjoyed every minute of it. See my review in AJL Reviews for why I loved it!

2016 Fanny Goldstein Merit Award Recipient

The Fanny Goldstein Merit Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) is delighted to announce that Heidi Rabinowitz Estrin is the winner of the 2016 Fanny Goldstein Merit Award Fanny Goldstein Merit Award.  

The Fanny Goldstein Merit Award, named for the librarian, social activist and founder of National Jewish Book Month, is bestowed in recognition of loyal and ongoing contributions to the Association and to the profession of Jewish librarianship. Born on May 15, 1895 (some sources say 1888), Fanny Goldstein devoted her life to books and community. She was the first female Judaica librarian and the first woman to direct a branch library in Massachusetts, where she was head of Boston's West End Branch for many years. A prominent figure in the Boston Jewish community, she is best known as the founder of Jewish Book Week, which began when Goldstein organized a display of Jewish books at the Boston Public Library in 1925.

Heidi Rabinowitz Estrin has served AJL and the profession of Judaica librarianship in numerous capacities and with great distinction for many years. Heidi was President of the Association of Jewish Libraries from 2012-2014 in a tenure distinguished by inclusivity, strength, and candor.  Heidi was the chairperson of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee and the Public Relations Committee. In addition, she serves on the AJL Strategic Planning Committee.

Heidi has taken the lead in increasing the visibility of AJL. Heidi oversaw the recording and editing of podcasts of AJL conference sessions and posted them online. She regularly posts photographs, notifications, and announcements about AJL on Facebook and other social media and monitors them to maintain an active engagement with the AJL and Jewish bibliophile communities. Recently, Heidi has regularly maintained the AJL website and has served as the go-to person for website changes at www.jewishlibraries.org

Heidi has been instrumental in promoting Jewish literature. She has interviewed numerous authors on her Book of Life: A Podcast about Jewish People and the Books We Read and carefully edited those interviews into lively listening for lovers of Jewish books everywhere. Having just celebrated its tenth year, these extraordinary podcasts are notable for their thoughtful engagement with Jewish texts and their authors. Heidi also spearheaded AJL Readsa call-in book club for discussion among members around a given book.

And in addition to all of her AJL activities, Heidi works as the Library Director and Media Specialist at Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, Florida. Heidi also has been the long-term president of the South Florida Chapter of the Association of Jewish Libraries, tirelessly doing all she can to keep this disparate group together and to bring AJL’s message and mission to the South Florida region. 

To all of these many tasks and initiatives, Heidi brings her characteristic warmth, wisdom, and vision. The Committee offers its deepest thanks to Heidi Rabinowitz Estrin for all of her many contributions to AJL and the field of Judaica librarianship and wishes her continued success for many years to come.