Emil and Winnie Barrows' devotion to Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus was boundless. They spent countless hours together in scholarly pursuits, working on behalf of the American Jewish Archives, and cultivating their abiding friendship.
Dr. Marcus’ death in 1995 did not diminish Winifred Barrows’ lifelong devotion to the institution to which her dear friend had dedicated his life. (Emil died in 1994.) So in 2000, when plans were being made to expand and refurbish the AJA (which had been renamed The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives), Winnie immediately came forward with a major gift to ensure the success of the project. It was decided that her generous gift would be used to restore the AJA’s Reading Room to its original glory.
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THE READING ROOM: Upon the establishment of the AJA in 1947, the institution was given space in the former Bernheim Library on the Clifton campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where Dr. Marcus was a professor. In 1911, when the library was first constructed, it was the largest free-standing Jewish library in America. Over the years, the original wood ceiling and paneling fell into great disrepair, and the reading room itself had to be reconfigured several times to accommodate the ever-growing institution.
But in 2000, with the planned repository expansion and the construction of the new Edwin A. Malloy Education Building, there was an opportunity to create a space where scholars and researchers could come to study, read and utilize any of the over 15 million documents in the archival collections of The Marcus Center. By the end of the twentieth century, the AJA had grown to become the world’s largest repository of materials relating to the history of the North American Jewry.
The refurbishing of the reading room included the laborious process of carefully stripping, sanding and coating the wood ceiling—finally returning it to its original luster. The wood panels of the walls were replaced to mirror the rich, original design of the room. Because scholars and researchers would require constant use of the internet, wiring was placed throughout the flooring to accommodate cable and wireless access. A sophisticated camera-based security system was installed and a special area was created just for microfilm viewing. The result has exceeded all expectations. Scholars, students, researchers and others who arrive to explore the AJA’s vast treasures have hailed the space as the most commodious place they have ever studied.