Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Linda LoSchiavo

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Linda LoSchiavo, Director of Fordham Libraries, about her work building Fordham’s Holocaust and Jewish Studies Collections.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the work that you do at Fordham?

I am the Director of Libraries at Fordham University, which means I administer Walsh Library at Rose Hill, Quinn Library at Lincoln Center, and the Library at the Fordham Westchester campus.  My University Library Director’s responsibility runs the gamut from providing strategic vision and leadership for an amazing staff and distinguished collections, to budget management, space planning, and crisis management. My two Master’s degrees (M.S., Pratt Institute and M.A., Fordham) didn’t adequately prepare me for the myriad skills required for this position, but even during the craziest of days, my job is a joy.

Linda LoSchiavo at the Fordham Library

When did you arrive at Fordham and what was Fordham like at the time?

My life at Fordham actually began when I was a freshman at Thomas More College, which was then Fordham’s women’s college. The war in Vietnam had escalated and Fordham did not escape the unrest that was roiling the campuses of colleges and universities. By the time I began my employment at the University in 1975, the campus turmoil had quieted down, Fordham, except for the dormitories, was fully coeducational (although men still heavily outnumbered women), and I began my position as a cataloger in the Keating Library Annex, located in the basement of Keating Hall, now the home of WFUV, Fordham’s radio station. The library resources at Rose Hill were not centrally located in Duane, which held the general Humanities book collection, and the Reference, Circulation, and Reserve departments. There were separate Biology, Chemistry, and Physics libraries scattered in various buildings on campus. The Technical Services departments (Acquisitions, Cataloging, Serials) as well as Government Documents, and collections of older monographs and back runs of periodicals were all in the Keating Library Annex. The library at Lincoln Center, located in the Lowenstein Building on West 60th Street, was a drab, leaky, crowded space.  There was no Westchester campus at that time.

A Class at Thomas More College
Duane Library, which served as Rose Hill’s main campus library and now serves as a classroom
Duane Library

Fordham’s Libraries – and libraries in general – have evolved significantly during your time at the university.  Can you share with us some of the biggest changes you’ve observed?

The greatest changes in the Fordham Library have been the technological advances that have shaped the way our libraries serve our users. When I began at Fordham, Catalogers were still typing catalog cards and staff were filing them in the large public catalog in Duane Library. In 1986 I assumed the position of Head of Retrospective Conversion and as such was responsible for the transfer of almost 1,000,000 bibliographic records from physical cards to electronic format. This conversion allowed us to have our full catalog available to our users on each campus in each library. We rapidly progressed from an automated library catalog to making electronic databases available through our online catalog.  Today we offer a myriad online services to our users: catalogs from across the world, hundreds of databases, collections of ebooks and ejournals, digital Interlibrary Loan systems, document delivery services, digital archives including photo and video files, an institutional repository, virtual Reference services, chat Reference, a library blog, various social media profiles, and more on the way. Our technological capabilities further exploded once we moved into Walsh Library in 1997 where we had an entire floor (the Lower level Electronic Information Center) devoted to digital and electronic services, something quite innovative at the time. The EIC includes various technologies for students as well as a fully operational video production studio. In the Fall of 2022 the LITE Center opened on the Lower Level. This Learning and Innovative Technology Center, designed for faculty and student use, contains various teaching and learning software, as well as podcasting rooms, and a Makerspace.  The Quinn Library at LC quickly outgrew its space and in 2016 we moved to 140 West 62nd Street, into the completely renovated former home of the Fordham Law Library. This afforded us greater space and greater variety in the services we could offer our users.

Staffing has also changed dramatically. Librarians continue to support faculty curriculum and teaching needs, and instruct students in research, but must also be technologically fluent, with solid IT skills and competencies. Reference services have expanded with the teaching of information literacy becoming an essential and critical component of a librarian’s job. 

Linda speaking at the dedication of the Henry S. Miller Judaica Research Room at Walsh Library in October 2022

The origins of Fordham’s Rosenblatt Holocaust Collection serve as a great example of the impact that an individual can have on a university’s intellectual life.  Can you tell us the story of how Fordham’s Holocaust collection originated and grew?

In 1982, Mr. Sidney Rosenblatt, a WWII vet and non-traditional age Fordham student, graduated with honors in History from FCLC. Sidney continued to audit history courses after he graduated and took a course with Professor Ed Bristow which covered the Holocaust in Europe. Assigned to do a paper, Sidney was disappointed by the University Library’s holdings in this area. He was an avid library user, so he decided to provide his alma mater with a comprehensive collection on the Holocaust. “Before I’m through I hope [Fordham University] will have the best collection of Holocaust materials of any college.” Sidney was a born bibliographer and he worked with me, my staff, and particular vendors in this field, to acquire those volumes and items of the most intrinsic value for a Holocaust collection. What began 30 years ago in 1992 with approximately 200 books, has now reached more than 11,000 volumes, in more than 9 languages and includes archival videos and Holocaust artifacts. Based on size alone, the Rosenblatt Holocaust Collection is among the top 25 Holocaust collections in the world. 

I remained close to both Sidney and his wife Minna, who owned Minna Rosenblatt Antiques on Madison Ave, adjacent to the (then) Whitney Museum. She was one of the world’s foremost experts in Tiffany glass and when she died much of the collection was auctioned at Christie’s. (See Fordham catalog: Important Tiffany and art glass from the Minna Rosenblatt Gallery SPEC COLL 2003 6)

Linda LoSchiavo with Sidney Rosenblatt and Edward Bristow

Is there a particular moment or book that stands out for you in Fordham’s current Jewish Studies collection?

The Fordham University Library has encouraged and nurtured Jewish Studies, even “before Jewish Studies” by its comprehensive collection building in all areas of the Humanities. However, I think the book that stands out for me in our current Jewish Studies collection is the Barcelona Haggadah, an illuminated Passover compendium from 14th century Catalonia in facsimile. This exquisite volume, the gift of an extremely generous donor, was the first Jewish text to be added to our facsimile collection. Prior to this, Fordham’s facsimile collection was heavily Roman Catholic.

A page from the Barcelona Haggadah

Any thoughts about Jewish Studies @Fordham as we celebrate its fifth anniversary?

Having worked with Magda Teter for the past five years, I have no doubt that Fordham’s Jewish Studies program will grow to be one of the finest in the United States. Magda provides vision, leadership, and a seemingly unstoppable momentum.  She is a wonderful partner and a generous collaborator.

Thank you, Linda, for sharing these reflections with us!