Jewish Public Library (Montreal)

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Jewish Public Library (Montreal)
Type Public Library in Montreal, Quebec
Established 1914
Items collected books, e-books, music, cds, periodicals, maps, genealogical archives, business directories, local history,
Size 150,000-item
Criteria for collection Judaica collection, general interest and popular fiction.
Website Jewish Public Library web site

The Jewish Public Library, located in Montreal, is a constituent agency of Federation CJA (Canadian Jewish Association). The library contains the largest circulating collection of Judaica in North America.[citation needed] Founded in 1914, the JPL has close to 4000 members, and receives 700 to 800 visitors weekly. It is independent of the Montreal Public Libraries Network and instead receives its funding from the city's Jewish community, membership fees, donations and endowments.


Founded in 1914, the library's early history is grounded in the Yiddish-speaking immigrants who fled Europe at the turn of the 20th century. The early homes of the JPL were in rented cold water flats on St. Urbain Street and, for 20 years, on the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Mount-Royal. In the early 1970s, the patterns of Jewish migration within the city had made it apparent that the library should move again, to be nearer to other Jewish agencies and organizations. The Segal Centre for the Performing Arts, YM-YWHA Jewish community centre, Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre museum and all Federation CJA offices are now within a campus on the corner of Cote Ste. Catherine Road and Westbury Avenue in Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges sector.


Léa Roback photo in the collection of the Jewish Public Library Archives, Montreal

Its collection of over 150,000-item is accessible online, including specialist collections in five languages. The Children’s Library offers programs and activities with more than 30,000 items for children up to 14 years of age. The JPL is a full service lending and research library. 75% of the collection is Judaica, 25% general interest and popular fiction.

The collection itself is oriented towards both academic and popular readerships, the Judaica collection being akin to most university library's Judaic collections. A significant membership of Montreal's orthodox Jews also use the library for religious and Jewish canonical works. The general collection attempts a diversity of popular and literary fiction, as well as an AV collection of first-run films on VHS and DVD, and audiobooks in Yiddish. Most recently, the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass. has converted many of these tapes onto compact disc in a joint project. The JPL's collections are primarily in English, French, Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian, with other languages comprising works in its special non-circulating collections. Special collections include:

  • Rare Books: Ranges from Incunanbula (earliest work in collection is Josephus' Tractatus Judaice, 1481) to early Hebrew grammar books, liturgical works, kabbalistic treatises, Talmuds, historical tracts, and travelogues.
  • Jewish Canadiana: A vertical file collection of clippings, pamphlets, chapbooks, unpublished manuscripts and other ephemera about all aspects of Jewish art, culture and intellectual activity in Canada by and about Jews including unpublished collections of Montreal Jewish authors, scholars, journalists, labour organizers, musicians, such individuals as those of Rochl Korn, Lea Roback, Sam Gesser, the Library's founder Reuven Brainin, many of the city's early Jewish benevolent organizations and Irving Layton's personal library
  • Ephemeral Collection: Similar to Jewish Canadiana but is an historical clippings file of Jewish life in the diaspora and Israel. Copious and old clippings from European newspapers in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and other languages.
  • Closed Stacks: This collection comprises fragile, controversial, and older Judaica material (19th century) in many languages, and parallels the library's general collection in scope and content.
  • Yizkor Books: The library holds one of the largest collections of Yiddish and Hebrew Yizkor (memorial) books in the world. These are the recorded histories of pre-Holocaust life in the eastern European shtetls, complete with photographs, lists of names, memoirs and the chronicled activities of the local Jewish communal organizations of each town.
  • Photographs, sheet music, and multimedia archive.
  • German Judaica Collection: In 1999, a large donation of German Judaica was presented to the Library. The scope of this collection ranges from philosophy to theology, psychology, political science, and literature.
  • Periodicals: The Library holds collections of journals in 4 languages: English, French, Hebrew, and Yiddish.
  • Irving Layton Collection: The library of the late Irving Layton, one of Canada's most famous poets. The collection is broad in scope, and includes annotated and signed copies of poetic works, philosophy, psychology, classics, literature, and an eclectic collection of non-fiction.
  • Yiddish Periodicals: One of the largest collection of Yiddish journals (print and microform) from Europe and from Canada.


The Library has an active programme of cultural events throughout the year. During Jewish Book Month (November) Andrei Codrescu, Cynthia Ozick, and Roger Kamenetz have all spoken at the library. It also stages dramatic readings in Hebrew, Yiddish musical evenings and Russian concerts and walking tours of Jewish Montreal are given throughout the year. First Fruits (spring) is an annual literary anthology of student writing from local high school students, and it awards the J.I. Segal prizes bi-annually to published writers of Jewish content in various languages.


  • Information and reference services
  • Access to full text databases
  • Community information
  • Internet access
  • Reader's advisory services
  • Programs for children, youth and adults
  • Delivery to homebound individuals
  • Interlibrary loan


  • Caruso, Naomi, et al. Folk's lore: A history of the Jewish Public Library, 1914-1989 (Montreal: Jewish Public Library, 1989).

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