About Collections

The Jewish Public Library (JPL) remains unique among Montreal’s – and the world’s – Jewish institutions. A full service lending and research library containing North America’s largest circulating Judaica collection, we are an internationally-recognized resource while also meeting the informational, educational and recreational needs of Jewish Montrealers of all ages and backgrounds.

Our Main Library holds over 150,000 items in our five official languages; our 30,000-item Children’s Library also offers many activities for children up to 14 years of age; and our Archives help preserve and honour Canada’s Jewish history for generations to come.  We are also a key provider of adult cultural and educational programming for our community.

A special collaboration with the National Yiddish Book Center (Amherst, MA)

In the 1980s and 90s, the JPL recorded some of Montreal’s last European-born native Yiddish reading the most popular Yiddish books, creating the world’s largest collection of unabridged Yiddish audio books. Until recently, 15 of these books have been available and sold through the National Yiddish Book Center. The JPL and the Center are now working together to digitize the remaining works and make them available online for free.

These recordings are the last chance many people will have to hear Yiddish literature in the voices of its original readers. Summer interns from the NYBC visited us to pick up the original copies of these recordings in order to re-master the works and distribute for them for free online. What makes the tapes so important is that they’re one of a kind and can never be produced again. Click here to listen.

Main Library

Our circulating collections serve the casual browser and focused scholar alike. While our general and popular interest items run the gamut from bestselling novels to first-run films on DVD, the majority of our holdings – Judaica – is comparable in scope to those of major academic institutions. In both instances, we have materials in English, French, Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian.

The Library also maintains special non-circulating collections. These include:

  • Rare Books: Incunabula (the earliest being Josephus’ Tractatus Judaice, 1481); early Hebrew grammar books; liturgical works; kabbalistic treatises; Talmuds, historical tracts, and travelogues.
  • Jewish Canadiana: Newspaper and magazine clippings, pamphlets, chapbooks, and unpublished manuscripts reflecting Canadian Jewry’s artistic, cultural and intellectual life; among them, personal items from Lea Roback, Sam Gesser and Library founder Reuven Brainin.
  • Ephemeral Collection: Copious, contemporary accounts of Jewish life in the Diaspora and Israel, from a variety of European newspapers in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and other languages.
  • Closed Stacks: Fragile, controversial, and older Judaica material (19th century) in many languages.
  • Yizkor (Memorial) Books: Among the largest collections extant worldwide, these Hebrew and Yiddish volumes document pre-Holocaust life in hundreds of Eastern European shtetls, complete with photographs, lists of names, memoirs and chronicles of local Jewish communal organizations’ activities. Photograph, sheet music and multimedia archive.
  • German Judaica Collection: books ranging from philosophy to theology, psychology, political science and literature.
    Periodicals: We hold collections of English, French, Hebrew and Yiddish academic journals.
  • Irving Layton Collection: The personal library of one of Canada’s most famous poets reflects his eclectic personality, with a diverse collection of annotated, signed copies of poetic works, philosophy, psychology, classics, literature and non-fiction.
  • Yiddish Periodicals: One of the largest collections available anywhere of Yiddish journals (print and microform) from Europe and Canada.