In Memory of Millions: The Holocaust Museum Library

By Chepesiuk, Ron | American Libraries, May 1996 | Go to article overview

In Memory of Millions: The Holocaust Museum Library


Chepesiuk, Ron, American Libraries


Since its dedication Apr. 22, 1993, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has been a cultural magnet, attracting more than five million visitors from all over the world. People come to see the moving exhibits, which tell the story of the Holocaust that annihilated millions of jews as well as other victims of Nazi atrocities, including Poles, homosexuals, the physically handicapped, and political and religious dissidents.

The U.S. Congress authorized the museum in 1980 to be a "permanent living memorial to all victims who perished in the Holocaust." Constructed with private funds, the museum is built on land donated by the federal government. Inside, visitors can find not only exhibits but also two theaters, areas for "impromptu discussions," and an interactive computer learning center.

What most visitors don't realize, however, is that the building housing the museum is dedicated to research as well as commemoration and exhibits. On the fifth floor is located the United States Holocaust Museum Research Institute, which opened in December 1993. The institute has seven departments, including a library that is helping to fulfill its mandate to serve as an international center for research in Holocaust and genocide studies.

"We provide access to printed materials not only on the Holocaust, but also on the subject of genocide, wherever it has happened," stressed Mark Ziomek, director of the library. "We want to become the world's greatest resource on those subjects."

It may seem like an overly ambitious goal for a fledgling library barely two years old, but driven by a sense of mission, the library's dedicated staff is confident they can reach their objective.

It's a great honor to work here," Holly Vorhies, the library's cataloger, explained. "I feel privileged. Making information available on the Holocaust is a very important job, because, recently, there has been an onslaught of denial that the Holocaust ever existed."

The library had been without a permanent director for 18 months until Mark Ziomek took the helm in May 1995. A 1984 graduate of the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign library school, Ziomek spent a year as an intern at the Library of Congress before going to work full-time at LC as a cataloging policy specialist in what was then the Office of Subject Cataloging Policy and is now the Cataloging Policy and Support Office. By 1994, Ziomek had reached the point in his career where he wanted to move into a management position.

"This job really suits me because my undergraduate history thesis was on the British response to the jewish refugee crisis of the 1930s," Ziomek explained. "It's giving me the chance to broaden my experience in an area I am interested in:"

Publicizing the library's mission is the most challenging part of his job, said the library director. "I inherited a young library that has barely learned how to stand on its feet. Now it needs to be promoted as much as possible so more people can start using our collection."

Ziomek supervises a staff of seven full-time employees and two weekend reference assistants and oversees a budget of $450,000, of which $100,000 goes toward the acquisition of materials. The U.S. Congress appropriates the museum's annual budget of approximately $40 million.

"Fortunately, the museum has its own congressional liaison officer, so I don't have to go to Capitol Hill and make a pitch for money," Ziomek explained. "I have enough to do without being a lobbyist."

Only Ziomek, Vorhies, and one other staff member are professional librarians, but the library plans to advertise soon for two new positions, which will be filled with graduates from ALA-accredited programs. Museum employees are classified as federal employees; their salaries paid by U.S. taxpayers.

The library also has 10 volunteers who work an average of four hours a week, including two retired librarians who help with professional duties. …

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