"People of the Books" Blog

AJL Spotlight with Susan Kusel

AJL Spotlight is an on-going series that highlights the day-in-a-life of our members and libraries. This week we interviewed, Susan Kusel, member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee

Name: Susan Kusel
Your institutionTemple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church, Virginia
Job titleLibrarian


Who are your patrons?
I love how a day in a synagogue library features such variety. I always say that my patrons are 2 to 92 and every age in between. I have so much fun serving all those different age groups and interests.

What is your typical day?
1) Handle the boxes of donations that have been left around my desk and the books that have been “returned” to my desk, chair, and book cart instead of the return bin.
2) Take a look through the books that have come back and what’s been checked out. Find one that is on the reserved list. Set it aside for the patron and e-mail them.
3) Set up for volunteers. Organize books, catalog books, type borrower cards, set out barcode stickers and other supplies needed. Greet volunteers. Discuss problem books and current library issues.  Be on hand while volunteers are in the library for questions. 
4) Do storytime for nursery school classes. The classes arrive one right after each other. My record is nine storytimes in three hours.
5) Help religious school find books needed for an upcoming program.
6) Say hello to a regular patron who needs a good book to read. Remember that a book from one of their favorite authors got returned that morning- and tell them about it.
7) Answer a phone call from a temple member who recently lost her son. Help her find books that might assist her.
8) Organize books for upcoming temple book clubs.
9) Write this month’s column for the temple bulletin about exciting new books that have just arrived in the library.
10) Select new books for the library, using print and online resources and taking suggestions into account.
11) Process new books that have just arrived, and prepare budget report for accountant.

How long have you been a member of AJL?
Three years. Exactly the same amount of time I’ve been a synagogue librarian. The morning of the first day I started work at Temple Rodef Shalom, I had a meeting with my boss, the temple’s Executive Director. I asked her standard questions about budgets, passwords, etc. and then asked if the library was a member of AJL. When I found out it wasn’t, I asked if I could join. Ten minutes later, I sat in the library, spending my very first library money, towards an AJL membership.

What is your AJL position?
I’m a member of the Sydney Taylor Award Committee. It is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.

How did you get involved? 
At my first conference, I had a fantastic conference mentor, Rachel Kamin. She not only guided me through the conference, but also helped me figure out AJL. How I got on the Sydney Taylor committee is also connected to my first conference. A large group was going to dinner, and I had misunderstood the directions and gone to meet them in the hospitality suite instead of directly at the restaurant. In the hospitality suite, I met and had a lovely conversation with Diane Rauchwerger. A few years later, Diane became chair of the Sydney Taylor committee and encouraged me to apply for a vacancy. I was late for dinner, but happy I went to the wrong place that night.

How many conferences have you attended? Which sessions have been influential?
I’ve been to three (one for every year I’ve been a member of AJL), with plans to attend this year’s conference. I am active in several associations and attend several conferences, but AJL is always special and the most relevant to what I do on a daily basis. Synagogue librarianship is highly specialized. It’s so wonderful to have a place where everyone is discussing issues I face in my library, displaying books relevant to my patrons and helping me solve problems and come up with new ideas.

What's your favorite book?
Being on an award committee makes you feel so proud of your winners. I hope you seek out the three wonderful winners of this year’s Sydney Taylor Awards: Ketzel: the Cat Who Composed by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Amy June Bates; Adam and Thomas by Aharon Appelfeld, translated by Philippe Dumas and illustrated by Jeffrey M. Green and The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz.

It’s not a Jewish book, but since you’re giving me the opportunity to recommend a book, I can’t help but mention The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. I was lucky enough to be a member of the committee that awarded the Caldecott Medal to Beekle, and will always feel a special connection to it. If you haven’t discovered it yet, Beekle is waiting for you to meet him.

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