Lubavitch library to be transformed

Stacks and shares: Zvi Rabin in the new premises with some of the library’s 15,000 volumes

Stacks and shares: Zvi Rabin in the new premises with some of the library’s 15,000 volumes

The place is overrun with books, scatterered in wobbly towers across tables and too numerous for the stacks that are meant to contain them. For years, a cramped room in Lubavitch HQ in Stamford Hill has been home to the country's largest Jewish lending library.

Threading my way through the narrowest of passages, I am assured by Faigie Rabin - who for many years has guided borrowers to their sought-after volume: "It's nothing like it was two months ago."

That is because the contents are gradually being transferred from their overcrowded conditions to a bigger and brighter new home which will officially open in the summer. The new library, decked out with light blue shelves and mauve armchairs, is located on the first floor of the recently built Lubavitch children centre.

Mrs Rabin's husband, Zvi, a qualified librarian who worked for Tower Hamlets Council, has been the honorary custodian of the books since the Lubavitch library opened 37 years ago. "We started off in a cupboard," he said. "Now we have some 15,000 volumes."

On average, 2,000 books are borrowed each month

Already, sets of Talmud have taken up residence in the new premises, along with children's literature such as The Forgotten Bracha. There is an extensive collection of Orthodox fiction from writers such as Libby Lazewnik and holdings range from books such as The Birds of the Torah to various writings of the Chief Rabbi.

"On average, we lend out 2,000 books a month," Mr Rabin explained. "To borrow is free. We accept donations and there are lots of people who are willing to put money in."

Once in a while, a donation running into four figures may help to buy new items. He pledged a rise in fines for overdue books, currently £1 a month.

The biggest fine was paid some years ago. "A gentleman came in. He was in a suit, he had a beard and peyote tucked behind his ears and was very well-spoken. 'I have a bag of books, they are rather overdue,' he said. I looked - they had been taken out 10 years before. To charge £1 a month for all of them seemed a bit too much, so I said that if he gave me £40, that would be reasonable. He said: 'Tell me, who pays for the books?' So I took out a leaflet that explained it and he gave me another £20."

Although the library is open over 30 hours a week, he believes "that is not good enough and they are not the right hours. But we hope to change that."

For a nominal fee, currently 30p, you can reserve a book, with popular titles attracting a waiting list of 50-60 people.

Library users run from Stamford Hill locals to university students and members of regional Jewish communities.

Mr Rabin was inspired to help start the library after reading an appeal from the last Lubavitcher Rebbe who wrote that it was a mitzvah to open lending libraries for the Jewish public.

Now he and his wife will be able to continue performing the mitzvah in surroundings both more congenial to visitors and to the books they borrow.

    Last updated: 11:34am, April 29 2010