10 Questions: Adaire Klein: Starting with Two Boxes of Books in a Basement, Adaire Klein Developed a Library and Archives That Support a World-Class Museum, a Book Award and Related Video Conferences, and Local Scholars-Not to Mention the Public and Other Librarians

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Although the late Simon Wiesenthal gained fame as a "Nazi hunter," he typically did not track down war criminals himself. In helping bring to justice more than 1,100 Nazis--most notably Adolf Eichmann, who oversaw the extermination of millions of Jews--he used processes familiar to any librarian, such as gathering, organizing and analyzing information. Relying on evidence culled from government files, World War II veterans, and even disgruntled Nazis who held grudges against some of their former colleagues, Wiesenthal patiently pieced together incriminating evidence that would stand up in a court of law.

In 1977, the Simon Wiesenthal Center was established to commemorate those who died during the Holocaust and to promote international human rights and dignity. One of the center's main educational resources is the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Supporting the work of the museum are its library and archives, which are located across the street.

The director of the library and archives is Adaire Klein, a Brandeis University graduate and longtime member of SLA. Information Outlook interviewed Adaire earlier this year about her work and the challenges she faces.

Q: Tell us about the Simon Wiesenthal Center and your work in its library and archives.

We are a human rights organization. We are very proactive as well as reactive in our activities and programming. The center includes its major educational arm, which is the Museum of Tolerance. We also maintain the New York Tolerance Center and offices in other cities, such as Jerusalem, Paris, Toronto and Buenos Aires. We are building the Center for Human Dignity in Jerusalem and expanding the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

The Wiesenthal Center was founded in 1977 by Rabbi Marvin Hier. The library and archives opened in 1978, when I was offered a part-time job to develop what was then just the library. I did what I have never done in my life: I gave up another job in mid-stream to accept this one. I had a librarian position in a private elementary school, and under normal circumstances I would have waited until the school year ended. I'm not sure why I took the position, but I'm happy I made the change. I accepted the challenge to develop something from nothing.


Q: What was your first day like?

I began my first day with two boxes of 50 books, some of which dealt not only with the Holocaust but denial of the Holocaust. I was in the basement of the building where the museum is today.

From the beginning, we determined that the library would support the exhibitions of the museum and the public. It was not going to be a library that would service just the staff or the internal function of the museum. We were, from the start, open to the public, and I'm still committed to that policy to this day.

The collection grew over time--30 years later, we have about 60,000 volumes. We're not in our original space, but diagonally across the street. Our policies and our goals are very concerned with recording history and preserving and conserving documentation for future generations. Our services include reference, which is a significant part of our world.

Q: What's the relevance of the archives to the center?

Back in 1981, we realized that people were leaving archival material--documents, photos, testimonies, artifacts, and so on--at various offices, with whomever they were meeting. Finally, the library stepped in and took it all, creating the archives. The institution is grateful we did that, and the archives continue to grow.

As we all know, the world lives with a very short memory. Sometimes we have to be concerned about where the future lies and the question of who's going to sit in my chair and yours in the next generation. We have to make sure that the next generation is prepared to understand the past they did not experience. That's our role. …