Building the Collection
The American Antiquarian Society’s stated mission is to obtain one copy of every item printed in North America before 1876: in pursuit of this goal, the Society’s curators are always looking for new works to add to AAS’s already extensive holdings. In the summer of 2016, the Society made a special effort to prioritize improving AAS’s holdings of early American Judaica, especially for the years 1841 to 1876, in a systematic way. Close to 100 titles have been identified as of interest and many of those were brought to AAS in recent months, adding to the approximately 450 titles from that period identified as already in the library.
Curators use a number of strategies to locate and obtain new works for the collection, from relying on gifts from collectors to bidding on books at auction, reaching out to book dealers, and even searching out uncataloged works in AAS’s own stacks (colloquially referred to as “shopping in the closet”). Comprehensive searching inevitably yields far more potential purchases than AAS has the resources to obtain. Working within budget constraints, curators must make decisions about what combination of new books will most enrich the Society’s collection and aid the readers and scholars who come to research at AAS.
Focusing on recent additions to the Judaica collection provides a glimpse into some of the channels by which new works can come to AAS, as well as the multitude of decisions behind every new book added to the Society’s holdings. Recent Judaica acquisitions have attempted to bring more Jewish voices to AAS, in particular the many rabbis and scholars who had such a strong impact on American religious life in the mid-nineteenth century. These works, along with other books from the devotional and educational to the popular, fill some of the largest gaps in AAS’s mid-nineteenth century Judaica holdings and provide a more complete view of the American Jewish experience in these crucial years. What follows is just a sampling of these recent acquisitions.