"People of the Books" Blog

Spotlight with Michelle Chesner

AJL Spotlight is an on-going series that highlights the day-in-a-life of our members and libraries. We interviewed Michelle Chesner, Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies at Columbia University Libraries.


Name: Michelle Chesner
Name of Institution: Columbia University
Job Title: Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies,
Columbia University Libraries

Twitter: @hchesner

Jewish Studies Blog: https://blogs.cul.columbia.edu/jewishstudiesatcul/
Footprints: footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu

What might your typical day look like?

1) Updating my Libguides reference pages (includes research on Yiddish, Ladino, Jewish women, Talmud)
2) Fixing a problem in the Footprints Database for tracking Hebrew book provenance
3) Posting on the history of Columbia's collection, based on a recently published article
4) Setting up a meeting with a professor to discuss how I can assist during the semester
5) Working on a grant proposal
6) Phone call to patron to troubleshoot a database
7) Setting up a date to meet with a vendor visiting from Israel
8) Purchasing titles for the general and rare collections
9) During the semester, give instruction to classes conducting Jewish Studies research

What is your AJL position?

Research, Archives and Special Collections (RAS); Council Member at Large

How long have you been an AJL member?

I joined AJL in 2006 upon learning about the AJL Scholarship in library school. I didn't receive the scholarship, but I realized that this was the most important association for my field. I stayed involved because I learned the importance of mentorship and networking when I was starting out as a Judaica librarian, and wanted to share that with new librarians.

Have you been to conferences?
Yes, the informative sessions and the opportunity to meet face-to-face with colleagues has been important to my work.  A lot of collaboration can happen at the AJL conference. For example, after presenting on the Footprints project, I spoke to a few librarians who were interested in integrating provenance information from their collections into the database, and some are in process as we speak! Also, an informal discussion about collections led to the formation of a Northeast Judaica Collections Consortium. Another conference memory is sitting together in a room listening to a presentation about the digitization of Dreyfus- related materials. A group of three or four institutions realized they hold similar collections and could potentially work together on a joint project in the future.

What book do you recommend us to read?

I finished The Archive Thief by Lisa Leff, and I enjoyed every minute of it. See my review in AJL Reviews for why I loved it!

Spotlight With Stacy Brown

AJL Spotlight is an on-going series that highlights the day-in-a-life of our members and libraries. This time we interviewed Stacy Brown, 21st Century Learning Coordinator and President of the Atlanta AJL chapter. The Atlanta AJL Chapter is next meeting on April 14, 2016.

Name: Stacy Brown
Name of institution: The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy, a K- 8th grade Reform Jewish day school
Job title: The 21st Century Learning Coordinator, Edward H. Fields Middle School Library and the Sylvia Bremen Lower School Library

What is your typical day?
1) A morning meeting with our media specialists and media assistant, followed by a meeting with the school’s communications and marketing department
2) Meeting one-on-one with a teacher regarding a technology-infused project to enhance their curriculum
3) Working on an upcoming school-wide project, such as connecting teachers with other educators around the globe for the Global Read Aloud
4) Providing reaccreditation input
5) Helping a teacher set up their class blog
6) Concluding with carpool duty and/or supervising our media center during after school hours when the library gets quite busy!

What special projects and programs do you lead as 21st Century Learning Coordinator?
I teach a fourth grade robotics and programming exploratory as well as a fifth grade exploratory that examines the role of technology in entrepreneurship. Once a month on Mondays, I host #MakerMonday in our lower school Idea Lab, at which time students can come during their recess to tinker with electronics, explore robotics, arts and crafts, programming and more. I also lead a professional development strand that allows participants to partake in technology challenges, earn points accordingly, and be awarded with a digital badge.

What is your involvement in AJL and other organizations?
I have been President of our Atlanta AJL chapter for 4 years. I host the kick off meeting each year and then other members host the other two to three meetings at their own school or synagogue libraries. I'm a member of the Hasafran listserv as well. I am a member of Atlanta Area Technology Educators and the Georgia Independent School Libraries group, both of which offer rewarding professional development opportunities three to four times a year. Each year, I present at a couple local and/or national conferences. Most recently, I presented at The Martin Institute in June in Memphis, TN. My presentation focused on the value of building a relationship between the homeroom teacher and the media specialist. I'm presenting twice at the Indiana Library Association Annual Conference. I will also be sharing ways in which technology can be integrated into book clubs. I am also on the Family Reading Festival committee for the MJCCA Book Festival, which takes place in November.

How long you have been an AJL member and how did you get involved?
I believe I have been an AJL member for the past 8 years. When I started at Davis nine years ago, the media assistant told me about the organization. We just achieved our advanced accreditation in both our lower and middle school libraries.

Social media/library website:

Can you recommend a book to us?
My most recent Jewish-themed reads were All the Light We Cannot See, The Paris Architect and The Golem and the Jinni. Although I really enjoyed them, the best book that I have read lately is not Jewish-themed but rather Southern Gothic. It is My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh.

Spotlight with Jackie Benefraim

AJL Spotlight is an on-going series that highlights the day-in-a-life of our members and libraries. This week we interviewed Jackie Benefraim, active member and academic librarian.


Name: Jackie Benefraim
Name of institution: Ostrow Library, American Jewish University
Job title: Special Collections Librarian, Lowy Winkler Family Rare Book Center
Library website: http://library.aju.edu/ 

What is your typical day?
1) Answer emails regarding upcoming exhibits in the library and AJL business
2) Work on cataloging backlog for both Hebrew books and items in the rare book room
3) Work on upcoming exhibits by pulling books, dealing with paperwork and seeking artwork to display alongside diverse bibles
4) Make minor repairs to circulating books and create phase boxes for rare books
5) Give tours of the Lowy Winkler Rare Book Center and the current exhibit to affliates and the public
6) Answer queries about digital archives.
7) Occasionally, staff circulation desk and assist patrons

How did you get involved with AJL?
I have been a member since I first went back to work as a librarian in November 2007. On my first day at work, my colleague Rabbi Pat Fenton, suggested I post a question on HaSafran and within an hour I had my answer. I thought, here are people who don’t know me, but are taking the time to help me. I need to be a part of this community. Once I started working on conferences, I felt a personal investment in the organization that has provided me with so much guidance.

What positions do you hold in AJL?
Strategic Planning Committee Oversight Chair
Advertising and Exhibits Manager for both Reviews and for national conferences.

Have you been to conferences? What were some memorable highlights?
I have been to 4 conferences. Besides the camaraderie of being together with everyone from AJL, I especially enjoyed last year’s tours of the Library of Congress and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I use what I have learned at conference sessions on the day-to-day at work. I would be hard pressed to single out one session, but I am grateful for the session in Pasadena “The Creative Exhibitor Inside You: Developing Exhibits in Research Libraries and Museums” that has been helpful in my current position.

Can you recommend a book to us?
Anton, Maggie.  Rashi’s Daughters : Book 1 Joheved. Glendale, Calif. : Banot Press, 2005. My Hebrew name is Yocheved!

Horn, Dara. A guide for the perplexed : a novel. New York : W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.

de Rosnay ,Tatiana. Sarah’s Key. New York : St. Martin's Press, 2007. This book was recommended to me by an acquaintance from the Netherlands who assumed by my surname that I was Jewish. This started a great friendship and we correspond mostly via postcards.

Foner, Henry and Heinz Lichtwitz. Postcards to a Little Boy : A Kindertransport Story.  Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, 2013. This last book is from my large personal library of books on postcards which I’ve collected for 52 years. Many of the cards depicted in this brief work memorialize the correspondence between a young boy and his father, similarly to the types of postcards I received as a child. I am grateful that my story had a happier ending.


AJL Spotlight is an on-going series that highlights the day-in-a-life of our members and libraries. This week we interviewed, Heidi Estrin, winner of the 2016 Fanny Goldstein Merit Award Scholarship.

Name: Heidi Estrin
Your institution: Feldman Children’s Library at Congregation B’nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida
Job title: Library Director and Media Specialist

How big is the collection you manage?
We have 9,000+ volume library serving the children of our Reform synagogue preschool and religious school, as well as their parents and teachers.

What is your typical day?
1) Storytimes for Baby Center and Preschool classes, including read-aloud, singing, and demonstrating an iPad app
2) Computer Lab classes for Preschool
3) Order books for the library from Ebay to find the best prices on new and gently used titles
4) Edit and post a new episode of The Book of Life, my podcast about Jewish books, music, film and web
5) Sort through used books donated to library
6) Attend professional development workshop for staff of the religious school
7) Write up plans for our Year of Literary Celebrations (different literary activities each month in the Preschool)
8) Reference and reader’s advisory for teachers and parents

How did you get involved with AJL?
I got involved in 1998. I had just been hired at Congregation B’nai Israel when longtime member Lee Wixman z”l waltzed into the library and said “South Florida AJL is hosting the next convention and you’re going to help. I’ll drive you to the chapter meeting.” He did, and I did, and I haven’t missed a conference since. Jumping in the deep end was good for me.

What AJL positions have you served?
Past President
Past Chair of Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
Past Chair of PR Committee
Past Chair of Mentoring Committee

What have been some memorable highlights at conferences?
I particularly enjoyed the special kidlit celebration we did in Cleveland (2008) for the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. Maybe we can do something like that again in 2018! There’s always something special about each conference destination too. In Cambridge (2006), I took a side-trip with Etta Gold to Western Mass to see the Yiddish Book Center and Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. In Chicago (2009), I got to visit the Planet Esme Book Room. The travel is fun, but the best part is seeing my once-a-year librarian friends. It’s sort of like going back to summer camp each year!

Can you recommend a book to us?
At AJL15, I got to interview Laura Gehl, author of Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel, so I will recommend that book. I like how it has a plot beyond “whirlwind tour of Israel” and I really love the sophisticated illustrations.

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.