Library Associations in Israel

International Paper Session-ALA Annual 2004 Conference


Israel is a country characterized by social, political and geographic extremes. Since its establishment as a state in 1948, Israel has absorbed hundreds of thousands of immigrants from various countries and cultures around the globe and has tried to develop this multi-cultural and dynamic population into an educated and productive citizenry. These efforts have been conducted amidst internal political turmoil and often violent conflict between Israel and her Middle Eastern neighbors. The topography of Israel also reflects a certain primeval tension, changing abruptly from arid desert to coastal plains, from subtropical valleys to rolling mountains, as one travels an hour in any direction of this tiny land.

It is against this backdrop that the librarians and information professionals of Israel have struggled to acquire identity and recognition, and continue to work to develop and improve libraries and information services by various means. The Israeli library scene is perhaps best characterized as lacking any central national library association. Several library organizations were founded and are still active, but none has acquired the policy-making and leadership role on a par with national associations of other countries, such as the American Library Association.

This paper aims to present the major Israeli library associations and to discuss their objectives and contributions to the development of librarians role and library services in Israel.

Association of Israeli Librarians

The need for Israeli librarians to organize was expressed in pre-state years as early as 1942. Shlomo Shunami wrote an article in Hebrew, which was subsequently translated into English and published in Library Journal in 1945, urging librarians to organize in order to gain status and recognition as skilled and specialized professionals (Nebenzal, 2002). The Association of Israeli Librarians (ASI) was founded in 1952 by several librarians of the Jewish National Library as a trade union under the auspices of the Clerks Union of the General Labor Federation. At the founding conference in Jerusalem, attended by 150 librarians, enactment of a library law was announced as a major objective of the fledging organization.

ASIs stated objectives were: professional protection for librarians, organization of courses and establishment of a school of library studies, demanding public libraries, mobile libraries and school libraries, maintaining contact with librarians and librarians in other countries, publication of handbooks in librarianship and bibliography (R.F. et al., 1977).

The leaders of ASI did not hesitate to lobby at any given opportunity to raise awareness of the need for library legislation in order to fund and promote the establishment of public libraries. As a result, in 1953, the first draft of the Israeli Public Libraries Law was composed. In spite of many years of effort on the part of ASI to encourage enactment of the library legislation, it was not until 1969 that the law was passed (Nebenzal, 2002).

During the sixties, ASI greatly influenced the development of the library profession in Israel. One important step was the establishment of a cataloging project which provided a professional foundation for the organization of new libraries and their collections. Another step was in the area of library education. ASI organized a program of studies to train librarians and provide them with the basic skills for managing and organizing libraries. In later years, when ASI and the School of Library Studies of the Hebrew University founded the Israel Center for Libraries, these two important projects were transferred to the center.

Since ASI was also a trade union, the organization worked to improve the status of public librarians, their professional rank and the strengthening of the profession. However, twenty-five years after the founding convention, the following lament appeared in 1977 in Yad la-Kore, the organizations quarterly journal, in an article summarizing 25 years since ASIs founding: We still have not attained the professional rank due us. ASI was instrumental in obtaining an improved labor agreement and ranking for librarians in 1983 to replace the outdated one dating from 1979 (Report, 1984).

ASIs contribution is evident in several areas (Nebenzal, 2002):
-Influenced public policy by promoting the enactment of library legislation.
-Prepared the professional foundation necessary for implementation of this public policy by training librarians, strengthening their economic status and by participating in the establishment of the Center for Libraries.
-Advised and supported the Ministry of Education in formulation of public policy as a result of the library legislation.

Israeli Center for Libraries
The Israeli Center for Libraries was established through the cooperation of the Department for Libraries in the Ministry of Education and Culture and Israel Librarians and Information Specialists Association and The School of Library, Archive and Information Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (Israeli Center for Libraries, 2004). It is based on a Scandinavian model of a national roof organization that looks after the joint interests of all the libraries. The Center functions in a competitive environment and its expert staff offers continuous professional updating and an answer for all needs. Development of cutting-edge work tools in an age of perpetually changing work environments is one of the Center's basic aims.

Its guiding principles are set by a board of directors staffed by academicians prominent in their fields, directors of libraries, publishers and public figures. Policies are coordinated with national development projects.
The Center is a non-profit organization and has the financial support of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport.
The aim of the Israeli Center for Libraries is to advance and foster libraries, librarianship, information science and the culture of books and reading in Israel. The Center is an independent body specializing in supplying professional service to libraries, librarians, those dealing with information and the publishing industry. In addition, it initiates literary activity to advance Israeli authors and their works, at the core of Israel's cultural life. For the past 35 years the Center has continuously provided services and products to more than 5,000 libraries and organizations and to over 6,000 librarians and Information Specialists on-line across the country.

The following are areas of activity of the Center:

□Bibliographical databases - Produce, update and maintain bibliographical databases, professional cataloguing and professional Classification of books published in Israel since 1948, and on-line support services.
□Guidance and in-service courses - Experts give specialized courses in all relevant fields.
□Conferences - Organize annual professional conferences - MultInformation for librarians and the library directors' conference.
□Professional publications - Publish periodicals and professional literature on information and librarianship.
□Library depot - Supply furniture and additional equipment for libraries - off-the-floor or made to order.
□ Ascola - Round table forum for librarians and information specialists that serves as an interactive lever for the exchange of information and ideas and for support.
□Literary projects - Encourage and direct support of writing and the production of manuscripts, periodicals and translations, along with the purchase and distribution of the books to libraries.
Among the projects: translation of great literary works, popular literature, children's books in Arabic, Jewish religious books, books for the Druze and Circassian populations, books on dance and music, etc.
□Publishers - The Center is the sole representative of the international organizations that assign: ISBN for books, ISSN for publications and ISMN for musical works.

Israeli Society of Libraries and Information Centers (SEMEL-ASMI)

Founded in 1966, SEMEL-ASMI, the Israeli Society of Libraries and Information Centers, is an independent, non-profit society of librarians and information professionals (SEMEL-ASMI, 2004). The society was originally called the Israel Society of Special Libraries and Information Centers, but when membership began to wane in the 1990s, the name and focus were changed to encourage broader participation of librarians from all types of libraries. Today, members come from academic, public, government, medical, religious, special libraries, information centers and institutions focusing on information technology and include librarians, library employees, library students, information specialists and people interested in the world of information science.

The societys aims are: to support and advance the profession, to create opportunities for cooperation and exchange of ideas, to create and sponsor activities, which enhance further knowledge and skills. To achieve these aims the society conducts the following activities: organizes courses, tutorials, tours and meetings for information specialists, maintains an up-to-date internet site, with news, forums, discussion groups, articles, announcements, publishes a journal "Information and Librarianship", since 1993, which is Israel's leading academic journal in the field.
The educational and training efforts of the society have been particularly successful in the form of study tours, courses and an annual conference. In recent years, SEMEL-ASMI organized an entire session as part of the annual week-long INFO Conference sponsored by the Teldan Company.

In contrast to its forerunner, ASI, SEMEL-ASMI has shied away from political involvement or promotion of public policy on librarian and library issues. In 1991 Steinberg and Bloch (1991) wrote: The [steering] committee decided not to deal with problems of a trade union (i.e. salary issues) and left this subject in the care of ASI, i.e. the Union of Clerks and Union of Professionals in the Social Sciences and Humanities. The result is that none of the library organizations have been concerned with librarians ranks in recent years and most academic librarians conditions of employment are subject to the terms of an outdated labor agreement dating from 1994.

MALMAD - Israel Center for Digital Information Services

MALMAD was set up in 1998 by the Israel Association of University Heads. Its purpose is to serve as a joint framework (consortium) for the acquisition, licensing and operation of information services to all the Israeli universities. The basic premise behind MALMAD is that modern information services can be provided more efficiently and at a lower cost per user by inter-university cooperation and pooling of resources (MALMAD, 2004).

MALMAD functions as a unit of the Inter-University Computation Center with policy being set by a steering committee. It currently provides access to fulltext services and bibliographic databases, which are available to any workstation with a university internet identification number and with a standard WWW browser.

While MALMAD is not exactly a library association in the strict sense of the term, it is a noteworthy body because it is one of the first library consortia organized in Israel. This organization has facilitated the development of valuable access tools, such as the Union List of Electronic Journals, The Israel Union List of Serials and the Israel Union Catalog.
MALMAD represents the current reality faced by Israeli librarians and many others around the world: more information is available electronically and fewer libraries are able to independently provide access to all electronic resources due to their cost.


I have attempted to present a brief description of the library associations that developed in Israel and fostered the growth of the library profession. These associations helped raise the level of professionalism of librarians in Israel and contributed to the academization of the education and training of librarians. They have helped Israeli librarians become a part of the global library scene while promoting improved library service for the people of Israel. The challenge for Israels library professionals and for the entire country remains promoting cooperation for the benefit of our society.


Israeli Center for Libraries (2004). (Viewed on January 8, 2004).

MALMAD (2004). (Viewed on January 8, 2004).

Nebenzal, Ora (2002). The Influence of Non-Parliamentary Organizations on Formation of Public Policy Towards Public Libraries in Israel in the Years 1950-1975. Yad la-Kore, January, pp. 3-14. (In Hebrew)

R. F., et al. (1977). The Association of Israeli Librarians is 25 Years Old. Yad la-Kore, v. 18, pp. 241-242. (In Hebrew)

Report of the Librarians, Archivists and Information Specialists in Israel - ASI (1984). Yad la-Kore, v. 21, pp. א- י"ב. (In Hebrew)

SEMEL-ASMI (2004). (Viewed on January 8, 2004).

Steinberg, A. and Uri Bloch (1991). Members Opinion - On the Changing of the Guard, Reflections of ASMI Committee Members Upon Completion of their Term. Bulletin of the Israeli Association of Special Libraries and Information Centers, v.19/1, pp. 30-31.

Contact information:

Cecilia Harel
University of Haifa Library
Haifa, Israel

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