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Man on a mission – and he accomplished it




Professor Reuben Musiker, a prominent figure in academia and one of the leading lights of the Jewish community, passed away recently shortly before his 85th birthday.

The youngest child and son of Judel and Sarah Musiker, he qualified in 1954 with a medical BSc from the Witwatersrand Medical School. He studied for this degree in order to save what was left of an incompatible period as a dental student, following a severe hearing loss.

After graduating from Wits University, he studied for a higher diploma in librarianship at the University of Cape Town School of Librarianship, which he obtained with distinction – also in 1954. 

In 1955, Professor Musiker started work at the Johannesburg Public Library under the guidance of RF Kennedy, the then-City Librarian. He found the seven years spent there extremely stressful but, from a career point of view, richly rewarding. He gained invaluable experience in the periodicals, reference, Africana, cataloguing and lending services, rising to the post of organiser of branches. 

Musiker Reuben book coverDuring this period he began to publish books and articles, including the first edition of his Guide to South African Reference Books, which eventually ran to five editions.

RIGHT: a cover of one of Prof Musiker’s books which he co-authored with his wife, Naomi


Reuben Musiker had a passionate interest in light orchestral music of the era from 1950 to 1980. Many of the composers and conductors of this period were of Jewish origin. His collection of vinyl records commenced in the 1950s and was supplemented by a remarkable reference library covering every aspect of the subject.

This interest resulted in the production of two reference volumes, Conductors and Composers of Popular Orchestral Music published by Greenwood Press in 1998, and a semi -autobiographical volume entitled With a Song in My Heart: Aspects of 20th Century Popular Music, published in 2013.  

He also tutored students taking the correspondence courses of the South African Library Association. He was an inspiring and patient teacher throughout his career and in later years advised and assisted many post-graduate students in bibliographical style, citation of notes and references. He was responsible for the compilation of a Style Guide for Theses and Dissertations which was published by the University of the Witwatersrand in 1980.

In 1961, he replied to an advertisement for the post of deputy university librarian at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. He served in this capacity for 11 years. During this period he obtained an MA (with distinction) from the University of Pretoria for a dissertation on The Special Libraries of South Africa, which was published by Scarecrow Press, America in 1970. 

He also played a part in Jewish communal life, as secretary of the Grahamstown Synagogue committee. 

In 1973, he was invited to take up the post of university librarian at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he also served as professor of librarianship and bibliography.

After his retirement in December 1991, he was made emeritus professor. He was active in the field of bibliography for over 40 years with six books and over 150 articles to his credit.

In 1999, he was invited to become library consultant to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. He was responsible for the initial installation of a computerised cataloguing system for the library and archives. 

When the SA Jewish Board of Deputies became part of the Beyachad Centre, Prof Musiker had considerable input in the design and layout of the Board’s library and archives. He served on the editorial board of the SAJBD publication “Jewish Affairs” and contributed many reviews and articles.

In 1984, as university librarian, he accepted the Mendel Tabatznik Yiddish Collection as part of the Landau Library at Wits.

With a generous donation from the Sheila Samson Fund, the Landau Library grew in stature and importance and other Yiddish collections were added. In 1986 he was elected chairman of the South African Association of Jewish Studies and was responsible for organising the Association’s 10th Anniversary Conference at Wits in September 1987. 

Professor Musiker leaves his wife, Naomi, three children and six grandchildren.

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