A Century of Literature and Learning at the Jewish Public Library

The first clause of the founding principles of the JPL 100 years ago stated that “The People’s Library is a People’s Institution, founded by the People for the People.” From beginning, JPL didn’t want to be just shelves of books, but became a centre of culture, particularly Yiddish culture, with world renowned authors’ visits, courses, lectures, and social activity.

The Jewish Public Library (Yidishe-folks-Bibliotek) officially opened its doors on May 1, 1914 in a small flat at 669 St-Urbain Street. Today, the JPL continues to play its critical role as cultural bridge, between the Montreal Jewish community’s past, present, and future.

The Jewish Public Library (Yidishe-folks-Bibliotek) officially opened its doors on May 1, 1914 in a small flat at 669 St-Urbain Street. Today, the JPL continues to play its critical role as cultural bridge, between the Montreal Jewish community’s past, present, and future.

Celebrating its centennial anniversary, the Jewish Public Library (JPL) is one of Montreal’s finest cultural institutions and has a long and rich history. Some of Montreal’s greatest writers and poets such as Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen and Saul Bellow were affiliated with the JPL and the Library still holds an extensive archives and rare book collection dating back to the 15th century.  The Library also acts as a cultural hub, hosting some of the world’s foremost writers and thinkers for the past 100 years. In addition, there is a full service children’s Library – The Norman Berman Children’s Library – and the main Library holds North America’s largest circulating Judaica collection.

From its earliest days the JPL has continued this tradition of bringing the most notable of Jewish literary and intellectual figures to Montreal audiences. Mordecai Richler came to the Library in 1979 to deliver the Jewish Book Month Keynote Address.

From its earliest days the JPL has continued this tradition of bringing the most notable of Jewish literary and intellectual figures to Montreal audiences. Mordecai Richler came to the Library in 1979 to deliver the Jewish Book Month Keynote Address.

During the 1940s and 50s the Library became a hub of creativity for Montreal’s growing Yiddish literary scene. An informal network of poets and authors, including Ida Maze and Melech Ravitch, fostered an active cultural life that quickly enveloped the Library. Over the years some of these writers have supported the Library in very direct ways. In particular, A.M. Klein and Irving Layton, whose words enriched the Library’s publications.

Montreal’s Jewish Book Month, initiated in 1944 as a week-long event, and has long been the highlight of the Library’s cultural programming. It celebrates Jewish literature and culture. This eagerly awaited festival of lectures, book launches and screenings is now organized by the Library and continues to grow in size and scope. The 2013 Jewish Book Month hosted programmes in five languages, attracting over 3,600 participants.

Special events and projects going on this centennial year include an archival exhibit at the BAnQ.

Special events and projects going on this centennial year include an archival exhibit at the BAnQ.

The 100th Anniversary Exhibit “Stories Told: 100 Years of the Jewish Public Library in Montreal” will be on display at Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec from June 10 to July 27. This centennial exhibit celebrates the JPL’s proud past and promising future, offers an in-depth history of the Library, and showcases the JPL’s contributions to Montreal city life over the past century. Original photos and artifacts from the JPL’s holdings help highlight the Library’s long-standing role as a cultural hub at the centre of Montreal’s Jewish community. Following the presentation at the BAnQ, the exhibit will be on display at the Cummings House from August 15 to September 23, 2014.

To learn more about upcoming centennial events, special speakers and celebrations, LIKE the JPL  Facebook page.

CTV News visits the Jewish Public Library.

CTV News visits the Jewish Public Library.

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