"People of the Books" Blog

Member Spotlight with Žilvinas Beliauskas


Žilvinas Beliauskas heads the Vilnius Jewish Public Library


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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.

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