Monika Biesaga

Jewish Studies, Jagiellonian University in Cracow

  • Research topic:
    The Jewish Public Libraries Movement in Galicia in the Interwar Period
    October 2015
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Monika Biesaga, postgraduate student at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow with a specialty in Jewish Studies. Monika is writing her disserataion on Jewish public libraries in Poland during the interwar period, by exploring three main aspects: the organization of libraries, their typology and their readers. The main focus of her study is conducted at library sites within the urban space and considers their relationship with other city institutions.

The purpose of the project: "Public Libraries in the Urban Space of Lviv During the Interwar Period" is to show the large quantity and variety of libraries that existed prior to the Second World War. Reading rooms, subscription and circulation libraries which are the cornerstones of education, culture and science and also serve as a treasury of cultural heritage, as a rule are imperceptible elements of urban space. Restoring even a few of them, on a map can open up a new perspective on the role books, which served all residents, regardless of their social status and nationality.

In the interwar period Lviv was one of the most important educational and cultural centers in Poland. There were scientific, cultural, educational, and public associations, as well as four establishments of higher education: the Jan Kazimierz University, The Polytechnic, the Veterinary Academy and the higher educational establishment of Foreign Trade. None of these institutions could function properly without an adequate scholarly foundation whose key component was the library. The collections of Lviv's scientific and university libraries, which included the highest ranked Ossoliński National Library, were larger in quantity than the collections associated with Cracow’s institutions. It is also worth remembering the mosaic of small reading rooms, subscription libraries and libraries for specific professional and religious organizations, members of associations, organizations, political parties and schools that also added flavor to the city.

Starting in the nineteenth century, the struggle against illiteracy among the lower strata of society would not have had aтн chance of success, if not for the network of libraries and reading rooms, where readers were able to find new books and explore areas that interested them. Given that twentieth century Lviv was multi-ethnic, and consisted of Ukrainian, Poles, Jews, Germans and Armenians, it becomes apparent that the reading rooms and libraries not only meet the intellectual and socialization needs of their readers, but also accumulated the cultural heritage of each ethnic group and created national cultural centers. By plotting all these institutions on a map, it becomes possible to talk about Lviv as a center of science and culture.

While receiving a stipend from the Center for Urban History, Monika Biesaga researched Jewish libraries in former Eastern Galicia with a special emphasis on Lviv. The result became a library database which contains information on the location, date of founding, and on the collections themselves. This research will serve as the basis for a broader database of Lviv's libraries, which will be displayed on a map as part of the "Lviv Interactive" project.