January 18, 2022

Academic Libraries: Historic Rivals Join Forces to Save 1,000 Years of Jewish History

From the Bodleian Libraries:

Cambridge University Library and the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries have today announced their first ever joint fundraising campaign to purchase the £1.2 million ‘Lewis-Gibson Genizah Collection’, currently owned by the United Reformed Church’s Westminster College.


The collection comprises more than 1,700 fragments of Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts, originating from the Cairo Genizah, dating from the 9th–19th century. They represent an invaluable record of a thousand years of the religious, social, economic and cultural life of the Mediterranean world.


Both libraries are already holders of substantial Genizah collections in their own right. Cambridge is home to the largest collection in the world with some 200,000 fragments out of the estimated 350,000 to be found in public collections worldwide. Meanwhile, the Bodleian holds 25,000 world-class Genizah folios, the size and quality of which rank it among the most important global collections.


The libraries’ fundraising campaign has received an early, significant and much-welcomed boost with the promise of a £500,000 lead gift from the Polonsky Foundation which in 2010 also gifted £1.5m to Cambridge’s Digital Library Project and £2m to the Bodleian Libraries’ initiative with the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana. Both libraries are now appealing for donors to come forward and secure the remaining £700,000 necessary to buy the collection outright.

Dr Polonsky, Trustee of the Foundation, said: ‘I strongly support collaboration and am delighted to give momentum to the joint venture of these two great Universities in acquiring such an important manuscript collection.’

Bodley’s Librarian Dr Sarah Thomas said: ‘This is a rare and special opportunity to jointly acquire the Lewis-Gibson Genizah Collection by Cambridge and Oxford, which combined hold almost 70 per cent of the fragments in public collections. Together, we will share the work of curating, conserving, digitising and presenting the manuscripts, making the best use of the strengths of each institution.’

Read the Complete Announcement

From the BBC:

Cambridge University librarian Anne Jarvis said: “We are seeking to build on our collections while recognising that there would be a greater benefit to scholarship if we joined together to save the Lewis-Gibson Collection from division and dispersal.”

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.