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Diane Mizrachi Class

Diane Mizrachi Honored as 2023 LISAA Alumna of the Year

UCLA Librarian for Jewish and Israel Studies and Social Sciences involved in pioneering work on repatriating Nazi-looted books to their countries of origin.

Diane Mizrachi’s journey as a librarian and researcher has taken her across the globe and more recently, across world history. Named the 2023 Alumna of the Year (’11, Ph.D., Information Studies) by the UCLA Library and Information Studies Alumni Association (LISAA), she looks back on her career in the UCLA Library, where she currently serves as Librarian for Jewish and Israel Studies and Social Sciences, and as a researcher of library anxiety among college students, with questions that she developed while living and working in Israel, as a reference and instruction librarian at Beit Berl College and a MLIS student at Bar-Ilan University. 

Mizrachi’s research also led her to groundbreaking work in helping libraries and institutions repatriate books that were looted by the Nazi regime in World War II, an issue not yet widely addressed by academic libraries in North America. She is currently working with her colleagues to establish a model for returning books to their rightful owners or countries of origin whenever possible. 

A Southern California native, Mizrachi graduated with her undergraduate degree in history. While living in Israel in the 1980s and 1990s, she began a graduate certificate program in library science at Bar-Ilan University and completed her required internship in the library at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.  In 1994, Mizrachi began her librarian career at Beit Berl College, while the library was in the process of automating their system from the card catalog to the computerized ALEPH program. This gave her a chance to observe variances among students’ adaptabilities and attitudes toward this major change. 

While working full-time and with two children at home, Mizrachi returned to Bar-Ilan to complete her MLIS degree. Her thesis investigated library anxiety among Israeli college students, and was the first study of library anxiety in Israel and the first study investigating the relationship between library anxiety and computer attitudes.

Mizrachi and her family moved back to Los Angeles and she began working as a reference and instruction librarian at UCLA’s Powell Library in 2002. Her desire to continue her research of students’ library and information behaviors and to investigate phenomena that could be applied in the profession compelled her to enter the doctoral program in the UCLA Department of Information Studies in 2005. With the guidance of Professor Emerita Marcia Bates, Mizrachi conducted an ethnographic study of UCLA undergraduates’ academic information ecologies. One finding in particular surprised Mizrachi – 30 of the 41 students stated that given the choice, they would prefer to read academic texts in print rather than electronic format, despite being “digital natives.” Many of the students felt they learned and retained material better when experiencing the tactile properties of printed textbooks. Based on her preliminary dissertation work, Mizrachi was awarded the Doctoral Travel Award in 2009 by the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T).

When Mizrachi transferred to her current position at the Charles E. Young Research Library (YRL), she wondered if these attitudes were still true. In 2014, she created an online survey for UCLA undergraduates and 390 responses supported her earlier findings; approximately 70% reported preferring print format for their academic readings because again, the students felt they learned the material and retained it better. With Serap Kurbanoglu of Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey; Joumana Boustany of the University of Paris; and Alicia Salaz, a scholar from Qatar currently the University Librarian at the University of Oregon, Mizrachi launched the Academic Reading Format International Study, the largest study performed on this topic to date. Between 2015 and 2018, the team collected data from more than 21,000 students at 38 institutions in 33 countries. 

Mizrachi and Salaz also examined UCLA students’ format attitudes in 2021, in the midst of the COVID pandemic and its remote learning environment. Again, most respondents preferred print, although many were simply suffering from screen fatigue. In addition, Mizrachi and Salaz created the Reading Event Analysis Model (REAM), an instrument to help practitioners predict when a reader will prefer a text in print or prefer reading an electronic source. This model was published in the Journal of Documentation in 2021.

Mizrachi has published nearly 80 academic articles, papers, book chapters, and book reviews, and has been an editor of publications for the European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL) since its inception in 2013. Two of her articles on the repatriation of Nazi-looted books received the Literati Outstanding Paper Award from Emerald Press and were published respectively in the journals Judaica Librarianship and C&RL (College & Research Libraries).

Mizrachi has also presented her research at the ECIL, the annual conference of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), and as an invited speaker to librarians in Qatar among other venues. Her professional activities include serving as chair of the UCLA chapter of the Librarians Association of the University of California (LAUC-LA) from 2009 to 2010. She was president of LAUC in 2015-2016, and remains active on various committees within the organization.

This summer, Mizrachi began a pioneering study investigating whether actors prefer to learn their parts through printed or digital scripts in order to bring their roles to life. 

Diane Mizrachi, (’11, Ph.D., Information Studies) has been honored as the 2023 Alumna of the Year by the UCLA Library and Information Studies Alumni Association. Courtesy of UCLA Library/Elena Zhukova

What led you to pursuing a career in librarianship?

I always loved ballet and I thought I’d like to go professional, and my parents [said], “We don’t know about that.” So, when we found out that the University of Utah offered a BFA in ballet as well as a masters and a Ph.D., that was the great compromise. But after a couple of years, I burned out [and] switched my major to general history. I emphasized Middle Eastern history because I had developed an interest in Israel and the Middle East. I met my husband on a trip to Israel and after we were married, I finished my degree at Utah, and then we moved back to Israel. 

I always loved libraries and had in the back of my mind that I would really enjoy being a librarian. Somebody told me about the [library] program at Bar-Ilan University. At first, they only offered a graduate certificate, which was enough to  get employment as a professional librarian. When they were finally recognized by the Ministry of Education for the full master’s degree, I continued working full-time as a librarian and did the supplementary work [for] the master’s degree as well. That’s when I caught the  research bug, 

It’s really satisfying to do research that’s never been done before. You’re always working on – you know the cliché – on the shoulders of giants, or the shoulders of other scholars. But to take that work and move it forward in a new direction is for me, thrilling and extremely rewarding, and that’s what drives me. 

Tell us about your pioneering study of library anxiety. 

It can be compared to situational anxiety – getting into a situation that that makes a person anxious. It could be based in just not knowing what to do when they come into a library. Students think, “I’m a UCLA student, I should know how to use the library,” but they don’t know what to do or how to get started, and they’re embarrassed by their lack of knowledge or to even ask questions. They’ll go to Google, not realizing that the library could offer better resources [with] professional level assistance. 

Most students have had library anxiety at some point. Whenever I speak to a class, I mention library anxiety, the main symptoms, and some causes, and I always see people nodding. One time, I spoke about library anxiety to a class of undergraduates. Afterwards, a young woman came up to me and said, “I recognize my situation because going into a library makes me anxious, and now I know that this is not uncommon.”

This student was a silver medalist on the U.S. Olympic [gymnastics] team in 2008 and a NCAA champion for [UCLA’s] team. For her to get up in front of the world and do death-defying flippy things – that was okay, but to go into a library made her anxious. This was an important lesson for me, in how fear and anxiety are very much personal constructs – you can’t generalize about anybody or any situation. I always tell professors, don’t assume that your students know how to find good information. Have somebody – myself or one of my colleagues – come in and talk to the class.

In this post-COVID learning era, how have you seen the use of the library changing?

If you come into YRL [now], it’s packed with people. The students are using the building. I did a study of UCLA students with my research partner, [sending] out a survey in spring of 2021. I thought, now that their readings are all online, maybe they find the convenience of electronic [texts] outweighing print. We got results that approximately 70% of the student body preferred print for academic readings. About 230 students – especially undergraduates – showed they really did miss the tactile aspects of books. In 2024 or 2025, I hope to do a post-COVID follow-up study to mark whether there has been a shift in attitudes and behaviors. 

What we found in our study is that for short texts, the students were fine with online. When texts were longer [or] jargon-heavy, most preferred textbooks in print. In the library, we tend to buy the [digital texts] because textbooks are extremely expensive, and often it’s just a chapter or part of the book that the student needs. We have hypothesized that [with] material that the students have not been exposed to, they need to hold a physical book to absorb [learn the] new information best.

What got you interested in the history of Nazi-looted books and finding ways to return them to their rightful owners or places of origin? 

In 2021, I got an email from a curator at the Jewish Museum in Prague. Before the war, there was a community library in Prague that included secular as well as holy Jewish books. They still have a catalog of material up until 1939. The library is now under the auspices of the Jewish Museum, and they are trying to rebuild that pre-war collection. Ivan Kohout, the curator, has been going through online catalogs and auction catalogs and originally found three books in the UCLA library collection that had the ownership stamps of the Prague Community Library and the catalog number that matched the 1939 catalog, using an online database called HahtiTrust. He gently inquired if we would please return these to the institution. 

It turned out that University Librarian Virginia Steel had been approached by a community library in Munich a couple of years before this, with the same claim of a book we had in our collection. She didn’t find any guidelines for libraries on how to proceed, and so, in consultation with her, [UCLA] administration, and people in various library departments , we devised a procedure and repatriated the item. 

If repatriation and provenance issues are happening at UCLA, I’m sure they are happening in other academic libraries as well, but nobody’s talking about it. We’ve got to have dialogue and guidelines on what to do so others in similar situations can have something to follow.

People are aware of the massive book burnings that the Nazis would hold when they came to power in the 1930s. But the Nazis also came up with a parallel strategy to found institutions for the study of “the Jewish question.” They would bring in their scholars to study Jewish texts from the Nazi perspective, to prove scientifically the superiority of the Aryan race and to justify their campaign to demonize Judaism and annihilate the Jewish race. As the German army went across Europe, there were a few associations that were part of the S.S. [that would] go to private, public, and community libraries, and loot the books. Whatever wasn’t destroyed on-site was packed up and sent to various sorting centers across Europe, and prisoner librarians were forced to go through these crates and to sort them. If [the books] had commercial value, the regime could sell it to collectors, or if they were of value for one of these institutions, they would be sent to the to the library there.

Fortunately, these institutions were never actualized, but at the end of the war, you had literally millions of books in sorting centers all over Europe. They found crates in monasteries, in abandoned buildings and train stations, and in caverns. With all the other post-war chaos, you had this issue of what to do with these stolen articles. Artwork and other [stolen] properties have garnered headlines for decades, but books [are] not unique items like a piece of art, so it’s difficult to find to whom they belong.  

The U.S. Army and the Western allies set up centers [with] a policy of returning books to the owners. The largest center was called the Offenbach Archival Depot. If they couldn’t find the owners, whether it was an institution or an individual, they would officially send them back to the country of origin. This was very controversial and various Jewish groups were against this blanket policy. Let’s say that a book was part of a library from a synagogue in Poland that was destroyed, and all the people affiliated with that synagogue perished. And, maybe some people in that community where the synagogue existed were part of the the oppressors. Do you send [the books] back to a vacuum?

After a couple of years at Offenbach, The Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. organization took over the work of repatriation and distribution. Most of the books that were ownerless or not able to be returned were distributed to Jewish institutions, libraries, and organizations in Israel, the U.S., Canada and Australia. The idea was to get them out of Europe.  

A lot of book dealers, booksellers and private individuals were scouring through these remains for commercial interest or for their own collections. We believe UCLA purchased these books during the 1960s from book dealers in Israel and elsewhere. Now that we know they were looted from individuals and institutions, we believe we have the moral obligation to return them, when it is viable.  

What are the next steps?

Last May, the UCLA Library sponsored a four-part webinar on Nazi-looted books, as well as related issues. Before the webinar, as part of our campaign to publicize what’s going on, we [invited] the Czech Council General to UCLA and symbolically handed him the six volumes we had found that belong to the Jewish Museum in Prague, positioning UCLA as a leader in this. We can put some moral pressure on institutions [to realize], “We may have purchased these books in good faith, but that doesn’t rectify the original crime.” 

I recently met with a librarian in Jerusalem, and we hope to get started on a project that I’m very excited about, to recreate the library of an institution that was destroyed. We want to reconstruct that historical collection digitally. At UCLA, we have at least three or four books. We will scan them if they’re not already scanned and put them on HathiTrust or some other database. We’ll make a record with a link to the digital item and [with] all the other libraries and institutions that also have holdings from the same collection, we can create a unified catalog. Scholars would be able to find the books digitally from anywhere in the world or go to UCLA and use them. This is a fantastic model for when you can’t repatriate [an item] and no one still has a legal claim to it. 

I am also on a task force under the Association of Jewish Libraries which is examining the issue of Nazi-looted books in academic libraries. At our AJL conference in June, we realized that a handful of institutions are currently working on related projects, and we recognized the need to share and support each other. Some of our goals include creating an ownership stamp database, and a curriculum for provenance research training.

Congratulations on being selected as Alumna of the Year by the UCLA Library and Information. Studies Alumni Association! To whom would you like to give shout-outs? 

The award was a complete surprise. Sue Kim Chung is the president of (LISAA), we did our doctoral studies together. When she contacted me [about the award], it was so gratifying. Sometimes you do your work and think, who cares? Am I making any difference? To be recognized is very validating. So first of all, I want to say thank you to the Library and Information Studies Alumni Association for seeing this.

And then, of course, I thank my professors. My doctoral advisor was Professor Emerita Marcia Bates. Other members of my committee were Professor Jonathan Furner and the late Mary Niles Maack. I’d also like to give a shout-out to my professor from Israel, Snunith Shoham, who was my master’s advisor. It was under her that I did the study on library anxiety and that I caught the the research bug and [realized] that I enjoy doing this.

I’d like to thank my cohorts, the students, and especially my family. I gave my husband a special shout-out. He actually enjoys grocery shopping and cooking and he’s pretty good at clean-up. He’s always encouraged me with my work but doing that as well just makes it so much easier, one less thing to worry about. 

What inspired your new study on what format actors prefer in learning scripts? 

I have a friend, Gian Franco, who went through the the UCLA School of Film and Television. He used to hang out at Powell Library and he’s a professional actor, based primarily in Europe.

He was in L.A. and stopped by for a visit, and I was telling him about my work with the students. To make a point, I said, “When you get a script, how do you prefer to read your script, to learn it for your role – in print or online? And he said, “Oh, definitely, in print, I always print it out.” 

He was giving me the same kinds of reasons, the tactile reasons [as] the students… that made me think [about] the kind of reading that actors do. It’s not academic, but they do have to internalize the reading and internalize their role in order to bring that character alive. I created a very short survey to be distributed. My friend said he could distribute it among his networks, and he also gave me feedback on the survey. It’s a whole new way of looking at reading. It could also be applied to public speakers and storytellers in libraries.

We’ve received approval from the UCLA Internal Institutional Review Board distribute the survey in Hollywood, but we decided to postpone the distribution until the Hollywood strikes are concluded because we figure people are more a likely to answer a survey when they’re less concerned about their livelihood and losing their mortgages. I understand their reasons for striking, and I’m with them.