August 2, 2021

HBI Books Enjoy Robust Online Life

By Amy Powell

Elana Maryles Sztokman was stunned to learn that the book she co-wrote with Chaya Rosenfeld Gorsetman, Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Day Schools, had been downloaded more than 11,000 times from the Brandeis Institutional Repository (BIR).

The award winning book, published in 2013, had a press run of 850 and another 100 e-book sales, but none of these numbers compare to the book’s online life through the BIR. For Sztokman, who passionately cares that her research be seen by the widest swath of people, this came as great news.

“This book has a very important mission. It’s about how we transmit messages about putting people into gender boxes, which can often be so painful, and which can take years or decades to heal from. I am so grateful that people are reading this and I hope that it makes people think,” Sztokman said.

Brandeis University established the BIR in 2008 as a resource for the Brandeis community to showcase, organize, share, and preserve research and scholarship in an Open Access repository. In this format, more people find the research because it comes up in Google searches, helping it find a way to interested readers, sometimes in far away lands where it was never available in print.  For example, Educating in the Divine Image, has most of the downloads from the U.S. and U.K., but there are several from Japan, Canada, France, Russia, Germany and Israel.

Sylvia Fuks-Fried, editorial director of Brandeis University Press (BUP), said that BUP and University Press of New England decided to put titles on the BIR as a way of  “giving back to the community,” but also as a way of “extending the life of this investment and building on it.”

Books that might have sold between 400 to 600 copies have had thousands of downloads over the years. It’s a way to preserve access to books that are backlisted or out of print, extending the life of the research “by making it free and available around the world.”

Since 2008, three HBI series’ have gradually added titles that are both out of print and still available. To date, there are 94,702 downloads of 18 books in the three HBI series’. That includes 10 titles in the HBI Series on Jewish Women, four in the Brandeis Series on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law and four in the HBI Translation Series, a series not available in any other format. The titles in the Translation Series were published in their original languages in print form, but only on the BIR in English, making international research not otherwise accessible to English speakers both free and available.

Internal research shows that free downloads often drive sales.  “We know from our experience that people will find the book because of a Google search, but won’t be  happy to just download. They want to read in their armchair and they buy the book if it’s available,” Fuks-Fried said.

Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, HBI Director and co-editor of the Brandeis Series on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law (with Sylvia Neil) and the HBI Series on Jewish Women (with Sylvia Barack Fishman), said she has received inquiries from Singapore, Malaysia and other countries where the books are not in circulation.

“Over the years, I have been contacted by people who found out about the work of the HBI because the BIR makes this work available, enabling the international reach of both our research and our backlist.”

For example, Gender, Religion, & Family Law: Theorizing Conflicts between Women’s Rights and Cultural Traditions by Lisa Fishbayn Joffe and Sylvia Neil has been downloaded 5,459 times, mostly in the U.S. and U.K., but also Japan, Russia, the Philippines, India, Canada, France and Poland. Shibuya, a part of Tokyo, is one of the top viewing cities.

Two books on menstruation, Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law by Rahel R. Wasserfall and Forsaken: The Menstruant in Medieval Jewish Mysticism by Sharon Faye Koren, account for 22,323 downloads, far more than their press runs or print sales. The downloads are coming from countries all over the world — mostly from Europe, but some in Asia and Australia.

“It’s fascinating to see where they are downloaded,” said Fuks-Fried. “There are many places where libraries can’t afford to buy the books or didn’t buy the books.” She views the BIR as the “gift that keeps on giving,” providing access to Brandeis research all over the world to those who may have no ability to find it or use it.

Joffe agreed. “The BIR makes this available to people who may not have access to a university library. Now, people around the world can get access to HBI books and other Brandeis research. The BIR makes the books and their topics available to a worldwide audience.”

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI.

Editor’s note: Converting older books to a format that can be used on the BIR costs about $1000, according to Sylvia Fuks-Fried, editorial director of Brandeis University Press. If anyone is interesting in discussing this opportunity, contact Fuks-Fried at



  1. Debra Cash says:

    Do the authors make any money from the initial inclusion in the BIR system? If not, why not? Are they able to take this donation off their taxes? Is the assumption that their academic jobs are remuneration enough?

    Surely not all those who download books are unable to pay or do not have access to interlibrary loan systems. The idea that given free downloads someone will pay for a book afterwards to sit in a chair (ever hear of e-readers? ipads?) is disingenuous.

    I believe in public libraries, and I am grateful to HBI, which has generously funded some of my own creative work. Nevertheless, when authors are not paid for their work, only people of means will be able to afford to write.

    • aspowell says:

      Sylvia Fuks-Fried, editorial director of Brandeis University Press reports: All authors whose works are posted on the BIR grant BUP their permission to do so; we do NOT post the works of any author who declines. Many of the works on the BIR are still available for purchase and we’ve learned that once discovered on the BIR potential buyers are willing to pay for other available formats instead of just downloading for free; in rare instances (nowadays) when a book goes out of print we revert the rights to the author who is then free to sell the book to another publisher or self-publish and sell copies. We posted these works because sales had dwindled to less than a dozen or so over several years.

      We respect and protect the rights of authors to benefit from the sales of their books. The BIR is by its nature free to anyone and we cannot charge a fee for downloading. But we have discovered that most authors are delighted that the BIR gives their scholarship/creation new life and grants access to those who might never have learned about their work in the first place. It’s also our experience that many private individuals and independent scholars have no access to university libraries or interlibrary loan. BUP, of course, earned revenues from book sales, as did the authors. BUP also invested considerable resources, as did the HBI, that more often than not were not always recouped.

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