23 April 2009

Celebrating Tel Aviv: A digitized collection

Several years ago, I interviewed Eliasaf Robinson at his warren-like bookshop (interior photo above) on Tel Aviv's Nahalat Benyamin and marveled at the holdings stacked to the ceiling, covering every available vertical and horizontal space.

Robinson's is a major destination for those looking for Yizkor books and other genealogically relevant materials. There are several stores, warehouses and special collections are housed elsewhere.

He is the fourth generation of a family of booksellers and most prominent antiquarian book dealer in Israel. He began this Tel Aviv collection as a teenager, in the 1960s.

During the interview for the Jerusalem Post story, I learned much about collections - that the best are kept in Jerusalem (even if owners live elsewhere) because of the lower humidity that prevents growth of mold and other damage to photographs and paper. During my visit, the phone rang off the hook as people called to ask if he had this or that item, and people came through the door with items they thought he might be interested in acquiring.

In 2005, Stanford University acquired Eliasaf Robinson's collection of books, pamphlets, magazines, printed ephemera, posters, postcards, photographs, maps, architectural plans, and original documents about the early history of "The First Hebrew City" Tel Aviv.

Over some 40 years, he amassed some 500 books and periodicals and 20 linear feet of archival materials. According to the website, it is among the most sought-after resources in the Stanford University Libraries.

Robinson was impressed by the university's ability to digitize its holdings and make them accessible over the Web. Over the past 18 months, about 50% has been scanned, according to the website. This includes more than 1,000 photographs and postcards, 300 printed volumes, 200 large format materials (posters, maps and sewer diagrams) and six linear feet of archival materials.

There are so many different formats in the collection that the process was challenging, ranging from posters to fragile single sheets and tightly-bound books. Many types of scanning devices were necessary and these are detailed at the link above. In the first digitization, the library's Judaica and Hebraica curator Zachary Baker focused on pre-1948 material.

Learn more about accessing the online images here. Browse online through the archival boxes and folders of the collection online at the site above. Click on a thumbnail image to see the full-size image. Search for hotographs and books by title, subject or description. Read books online and view images in close-up detail.
See the very detailed extensive finding aid page here. It indicates that genealogists will have a field day with this collection.

Items include business cards, real estate records, blueprints, advertisements, business correspondence, construction and housing, movie posters, cinema, culture, opera and orchestra, sports, holidays, museums, sheet music, maps, associations, committees, charities, education, legal documents, medical documents, political activity. Under photographs, categories include albums, loose pages, mounted prints, glass slides; buildings, commercial, people, events, postcards and school documents. The Tel Aviv municipality category includes documents, ephemera, civil guard, military, letters, licensing, street census and much more, as well as clippings.

Have fun! The image (above left) is part of a pre-1948 postcard view of Tel Aviv's beach, called HaYarkon. It looks much the same today! Robinson's website is only in Hebrew, but the photos are great!


  1. Anonymous6:48 AM

    >>Learn more about accessing the online images here.

    this hyperlink is incorrect


  2. This is great content. I love seeing this stuff digitized and available for free. Three comments:

    1. The Standford link is broken (I think there's an extra 'http' in there)
    2. I thought it was funny that they transliterated the titles instead of tried to translate them so people could understand what the titles are.
    3. In pre-Israel dates, even though the text says "Erez Israel" or E"I, they list it as Palestine. I find that a little strange.

  3. Terrific! How did you add that 'Listen Now' button to the post? Will it show up in every post now?

  4. Hyperlink is now fixed. Thank you to Tracing the Tribe's eagle-eyed readers!

  5. The Listen Now icon is part of the OdioGo package. It will show in every post - I hope :-)
    so far so good!

  6. Hi, KajaPoker.
    1. Link is now fixed. Thanks for the pointer.
    2. Library cataloging means that non-Latin languages are transliterated, but translations would be nice also - and necessary for many people!
    3. Re Erez Israel and Palestine. Officially, of course, under pre-State conditions, it was Palestine (under the Ottoman Empire and then British Mandate) to the world at large. Erez Israel is the term historically used by Jews to describe the Land of Israel. Library and archival catalogers have their own methods of cataloging, but that would be an excellent question to ask of Stanford University (in addition to the transliteration and translation question!).

    If you write to them and receive answers, do let us know!