Digitizing the Rare Book Collection of the Leo Baeck Institute, New York City

The following chapter excerpt is from the second section of Digitization in the Real World; "A Diverse Digital Landscape: Digital Collections in Public Libraries, Museums, Cultural Heritage Institutions, and Knowledge-Based Organizations." Download the entire chapter for free (PDF)  or purchase online at Amazon.com.

Access the collections here.


Renate Evers (Leo Baeck Institute, New York)


The article focuses on typical problems encountered during the establishment of a digitization program for rare books at a small special library – from finding the best solutions for rare book cradles to organizational and technical challenges and pitfalls.

The Library of the Leo Baeck Institute: A Medium-sized collection

The Library of the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) in New York is internationally recognized as the most comprehensive repository for books documenting the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry. Over 80,000 volumes and 900 periodical titles provide important primary and secondary material. Most of the collection deals with central European Jewry during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It also includes material dating back as far as the 16th century and is as current as the Jewish population in Germany today. The focus of our collection is on the diverse culture of German-speaking Jewry, especially in the arts, sciences, literature, philosophy, and religion. The Institute was established in New York in 1955, one of the largest centers of the exiled German-Jewish community. In 2000 the Leo Baeck Institute became part of the Center for Jewish History, an umbrella organization for 5 Jewish research institutions.

The Rare Book Collection of the Leo Baeck Institute

The Rare Book Collection of the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) consists of ca. 2,000 volumes primarily in the field of German Judaica, dating from the earliest period of printing in the 15th century and continuing through the annihilation of European Jewry under the Third Reich. Rich in rarities ranging from early 16th century writings to Moses Mendelssohn and Heinrich Heine, first editions and dedication copies of works by more recent prominent writers, many of its volumes were salvaged from famous Jewish libraries that were confiscated and dispersed by the Nazis. In many cases these primary sources cannot be found anywhere else in the world. An important part of the rare book collection is a collection of illustrated and art books. Among them are many limited editions of twentieth century artists’ portfolios and several illustrated eighteenth century books on Jewish customs.  The Institute also has a significant collection of books dealing with “Science of Judaism” (Wissenschaft des Judentums). The emergence and establishment of modern Jewish scholarship in the 19th and 20th century in Germany and Europe became the cornerstone and predecessor of Jewish Studies. 

Download the entire chapter for free (PDF) or purchase online at Amazon.com.


856 - Electronic Location and Access. (2003). Retrieved May 9, 2010 from http://www.loc.gov/marc/bibliographic/bd856.html

Ex Libris the bridge to knowledge, Overview. (2010). Retrieved March 15, 2010, fromhttp://www.exlibrisgroup.com/category/DigiToolOverview

Metadata Encoding & Transmission Standard. (2010). Retrieved May 9, 2010 fromhttp://www.loc.gov/standards/mets/

National Archives. (2004). Technical guidelines for digitizing archival materials for electronic access:  Creation of production master Files - raster images. Retrieved May 9, 2010 from