Education, entertainment, encounter – the library of the Jewish Museum Frankfurt
Making old things new. How a specialist library for museum staff, especially for preparing new exhibitions, became a public library for all.
In summer 2015 the Jewish Museum Frankfurt was closed for comprehensive renovations and the books in the library were crated up and moved from their home between Frankfurt’s Willy Brandt Platz and the Mainpromenade. The museum and library reopened October 2020. The refurbishment has given the facility a new concept and an invitingly modern dress. Much preparatory work was required not only on the construction side but also in planning the library’s orientation and program and extending its holdings for new target groups.
A quick look back
Together with the Jewish Museum, the library was opened by its then director, Georg Heuberger, in November 1988. Today its collection comprises some 25,000 publications on Jewish history, religion and culture, including works on religious and cultural history since antiquity, economic history, and anti-Semitism and Zionism, as well as specialist literature on the State of Israel. A unique feature among Frankfurt’s libraries is the wide spectrum of regional literature on German-speaking Jewish communities, and the collection of museum and art exhibition catalogues.
The library’s core collection grew from bequests by historians Rudolf Heilbrunn and Bernhard Brilling, and Rabbi Kurt Wilhelm. Later the Frankfurt historian and writer Arno Lustiger left us part of his personal library.
The new museum library bears the name of founding director Georg Heuberger (Photo: Norbert Miguletz, © JMF)
Light, warmth and well-being – our new building
The digital revolution has brought innovations in entertainment, culture and education that have opened new vistas for the role of the library in modern society. In the Jewish Museum we have thought about these questions: how a library can become a social focus where people meet, and read, and enjoy a many-faceted events program. A vision of this kind demands all-round restructuring, beginning with architectural planning and design.
With its unusual shape, its ash-wood paneled walls, its large window looking out on the city, and its window to the light well of the inner courtyard – opening onto the entrance foyer and Deli café – our new reading room embodies such a vision. Designed by Staab Architects, the building harbors many such new perspectives.
The reading room features a relaxed lounge area with armchairs and sofas and, keeping up with the digital times, we offer not only books but also tablets for research and games, as well as a large interactive smartboard for workshops and evening film sessions. But books remain our first love, and we have placed our collections of history, religion, art, and Jewish culture in stacks next to and directly accessible from the reading room. Separate quiet workplaces for researchers are available on the floor above. Here our most valuable books and items from the archives can be accessed for study purposes.
View from a reading room window onto the light well and museum café (Photo: Norbert Miguletz, © JMF)
Picture books, young people’s literature and comics – our new collection
The renovations also saw growth in the library’s holdings. For our youngest users we now have picture books in push-around boxes. Children’s and young people’s literature and comics are kept on the reading room shelves. The collection has expanded over the past two years and is focused thematically on the museum, with special emphasis on Jewish history and culture and topical issues like diversity and tolerance – a unique feature in Frankfurt’s museum landscape. We also offer literature on Jewish personalities and by Jewish authors. A special feature is our collection on the Frank family and the Diary of Anne Frank.
As well as children’s literature, our mascot “Levy the Museum Ghost” awaits our youngest users (Photo: Norbert Miguletz, © JMF)
Family histories, bookworms and lady elephants – our program planning
Today more than ever, when a positive attitude to Judaism and early lived-experience of diversity are essential antidotes to hatred and prejudice, education and encounter stand high on our list of priorities. For pre-school children (aged 2 upward) a colorful glove-puppet elephant “Lilo Lausch” promotes cultural and linguistic diversity with a box brimming with stimulating picture books and toys. One Sunday a month we offer story-reading for pre- and primary school children.
Against the background of our exhibition on the Frank family, school classes can attend a workshop on the history of the family as seen through their correspondence. A further workshop is based on the amusing story Opa und der Hunde-Schlamassel (Grandad and the Dog Fiasco) in which a young Jewish girl tries everything to get a dog. The library lends age-graded books to school students on two broad topics: “living Jewry” – the many facets of contemporary Jewish life – and “the history of National Socialism and the Shoah.”
Adults are catered for in the monthly open reading circle, which discusses a book of Jewish interest from our children’s and young people’s literature collections. Interest focuses on the book’s pedagogic value and usability in the classroom in terms of presentation of Jewish characters, credibility, and historical accuracy, as well as readability. Regular readings of interesting new publications are also planned.
The reading room is open to all – children, young people, and adults. Come and tell us how you like it! We’re happy to listen to your suggestions for yet more enjoyable reading and meeting.
Dr. Franziska Krah is head of the museum library, archives and Frank Family Center.
© Title image: JMF