"People of the Books" Blog

Statement on Equity and Access in Higher Education and Academic Libraries Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

AJL has joined several area studies associations in support of a common statement on Equity and Access in Higher Education and Academic Libraries Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. It aims to draw attention to issues of access and equity for research in fields that are adversely affected by "e-first" collection policies and budgetary cuts. The statement was written collaboratively by the Joint Area Studies Task Force members, and you can see the full list at the end of the statement.

AJL had previously issued (its own) statement that you can read here.

Equity and Access in Higher Education and Academic Libraries Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 global pandemic has exposed deeply rooted inequities and the precariousness of institutional structures across all socio-cultural and geographic spaces. Overwhelmed by the public health crisis, governments and non-governmental organizations have introduced numerous policies to stem the spread of COVID-19 with varying degrees of success at the local, national, and international levels. Similarly, academic institutions have responded to this crisis by developing policies that address the immediate needs of their respective constituencies and institutional partners. Although these policies vary in scope and intent, we are troubled by developments on a number of fronts. These include:

  • Marginalization of institutions with limited resources, underrepresented communities, and indigenous voices in the post COVID-19 institutional frameworks;
  • Promotion of “e-first” collection development strategies that are governed by licensing law that disrupt the flow of information and undermine indigenous publishing cultures around the world, especially in the Global South;
  • Over-reliance on large-scale, dominant publishers and distributors of academic content, thereby intensifying the marginalization of small and traditional publishers and of scholarly communities based in other parts of the world;
  • Over-reliance on large-scale commercial publishers whose profit-driven business models endanger the collection, preservation, and distribution of robust ephemeral materials such as those generated by emerging political and social justice movements, subaltern groups around the world, and by non-governmental organizations and other advocacy organizations that support them. As a result, these primary source materials will likely disappear, even though they will be indispensable to the research and teaching of these events in all disciplines; and
  • Disparities in online teaching and access to learning environments that disproportionately affect communities of color, people with disabilities, and students from rural and low-income areas.

We acknowledge that academic institutions and associations, as well as library consortia, are facing budgetary constraints in their efforts to maintain services and programs during the time of COVID-19. Furthermore, administrators are managing expectations from local constituents while acknowledging that more needs to be done to improve conditions nationally and globally.

Global collections have become a distinctive corpus that showcases the value and identity of academic and special libraries while supporting their missions on research and instruction. Recently, specific academic groups like the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL), the Africana librarians Council (ALC), the Committee on Libraries and Information Resources (CLIR) of the Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), the Committee on South Asian Libraries and Documentation (CONSALD), the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia of the Association for Asian Studies (CORMOSEA), the Middle East Librarians Association/ the Middle East Studies Association (MELA / MESA), the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM), have crafted and approved statements in response to these policies and their particular impact for each area. In addition, the Council on East Asian Libraries (CEAL) is drafting a similar statement on collection development and acquisition amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in collaboration with the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources (NCC), the Society of Chinese Studies Librarians (SCSL), and the Modern Greek Studies Association Library Committee (MGSA).

We support the efforts of these groups without any reservations and further recommend the following steps to help alleviate shared areas of concern:

  • Provide temporary membership fee waivers to historically Black and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities, lesser-resourced institutions, and indigenous organizations to participate and access resources available from large-scale digital depositories (e.g., HathiTrust Digital Library) and international consortia (e.g., Center for Research Libraries);
  • Reevaluate “e-resources first” strategies and other current collection development policies, including a recommendation to incorporate in-country publishing data to formulate long-term collection development policies, and to support library and archives-based special collections;
  • Increase access to online teaching and learning tools, and to resources for communities of color, people with disabilities, and students based in rural and low-income areas;
  • Selectively redirect funding from the purchasing and licensing of mainstream commercial academic content to the collaborative acquisition, preservation, digitization, discovery and open-access dissemination of endangered content and marginalized voices from the world’s social justice movements;
  • Increase partnerships with in-country publishers and memory institutions to increase and highlight marginalized voices and groups; and
  • Develop diverse staff with relevant linguistic and cultural competencies to promote equity in librarian hiring/retention and collections at all levels.

Written by Joint Area Studies Task Force members, July 31, 2020, on behalf of the following associations:

Africana Librarians Council (ALC) Jessica Martin (Michigan State University)
Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) Executive Board
Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) Amalia S. Levi (HeritEdge Connection)
Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) Rachel Leket-Mor (Arizona State University)
Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) Anna Arays (Yale University)
Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) Thomas Keenan (Princeton University)
Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) / Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM)/ Liladhar R. Pendse (University of California, Berkeley)
Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) Joe Lenkart (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia (CORMOSEA) Jeffrey Shane
Committee on South Asian Libraries and Documentation (CONSALD) Ellen Ambrosone (Princeton University)
Committee on South Asian Libraries and Documentation (CONSALD) Aruna P. Magier (New York University)
Council on East Asian Libraries (CEAL) Hana Kim (University of Toronto)
Librarians Association of the University of California (LAUC)
Librarians Association of University of California-Berkeley Division ( LAUC-B)
Middle East Librarians Association (MELA) Guy Burak (New York University)
Middle East Librarians Association (MELA) Laila Hussein Moustafa (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Mortenson Center for International Library Programs Clara M. Chu (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Music Library Association (MLA) Susannah Cleveland (University of North Texas)
Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM)
Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) Paloma Celis Carbajal (New York Public Library)
Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) Patricia Figueroa (Brown University)
Society of Chinese Studies Librarians (SCSL) Xi Chen (University of California, San Diego)

For the complete list of of signatures, click here.

AJL Statement on Collecting, Serving Our Users, and Supporting Vendors in the Time of COVID-19

AJL Statement on Collecting, Serving Our Users, and Supporting Vendors in the Time of COVID-19

This statement has been endorsed by the Executive Committee of the Association for Jewish Studies.

The Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) recognizes the interdependence of libraries, library users, vendors, and publishers that make up the scholarly ecosystem. Due to the COVID19 global pandemic, Jewish Studies librarians and archivists, alongside other area studies colleagues (such as SALALM, MELA etc.), are faced with unprecedented challenges to maintaining quality patron services and furthering their mission of supporting scholarship. As universities and research centers rely more and more on e-books in this environment of expanding distance programs and shelter-at-home directives, we assert that continuing to acquire physical books and other print and non-print materials is necessary to achieve and maintain robust research collections.

Relying solely on e-books presents many challenges:

  • Unavailability of material in electronic format: Jewish Studies scholarship relies on special collections and archival material that are often not published in electronic format or digitized. Furthermore, small publishers usually do not make their works available as ebooks and when they do, the books are not generally included in collection packages. Relying on e-books will prevent users from accessing material such as:
  • Various formats and genres: graphic novels, museum exhibit catalogues, art books, zines, sheet music, religious books, and broadsides
  • Self-published works: local histories, genealogy, and association publications
  • Congregational materials: newsletters, minutes
  • Special collections: ephemera, archival documents, and non-print materials
  • Privacy issues: Materials that belong to marginalized communities cannot be digitized and made accessible online to protect privacy and copyright.
  • Supporting the scholarly ecosystem: Most of the above collections come from small vendors in the U.S. and abroad, and small publishers who focus on emerging or specialized topics. AJL recognizes that these small vendors and publishers as well as their networks need to be supported, and their expertise retained.

AJL encourages our member libraries and archives, as well as all other scholarly institutions that hold Jewish Studies collections, to consider the long-term implications that budgetary constraints will have for future scholarship and the viability of the networks that sustain it. AJL stands with other area studies associations in our commitment to holistic and representative collection development policies and practices in research institutions.

The Board and Council of the Association of Jewish Libraries.

AJL 2020 Online Conference - Starting Soon!

2020conference logo


Everyone who has registered for the AJL 2020 Digital Conference should have received an email with instructions for accessing Socio, the conference app, as well as a set of guidelines for attendees. Be sure to get yourself set up on Socio by Friday, June 26 to avoid last minute access issues. As a reminder, to create your profile and personal agenda, participate on the discussion board, and to be able to connect with other attendees, follow the instructions to download the Socio app to your phone or tablet. Your name will appear in the Socio Attendee list only if you create this profile on a mobile device. To participate in the conference from your laptop or desktop computer, access Socio via the website. Unfortunately, the app and the website do not sync, but you will find the Schedule and Zoom links (in each individual session's description) in both the app and on the website.

Please join us for the Tech. Orientation on Sunday, June 28 at 11amEDT to learn how to use Socio and Zoom. 

Contact Marcie Eskin if you have questions about your registration.

Contact Lisa Silverman if you have questions about accessing Socio.

An updated schedule is available here. Full abstracts and presenter bios are available on Socio where you can also view, download and print the full program book. 



“Who Wants to Be a Jewish Reader? A Discussion on Reviewing Jewish Books”

Inspired by Adam Kirsch's recent book Who Wants to Be a Jewish Writer? (Yale University Press, 2019), this conversation between Adam Kirsch and his father, Jewish Journal Books Editor Jonathan Kirsch, will trace issues in the reviewing of Jewish books: past, present, future. They will be joined by moderator Erika Dreifus. Q&A will follow the discussion.

Keynote speakers Adam Kirsch, Jonathan Kirsch with Erica Dreifus



Leslea NewmanMaidels & Dreidels & Ladles, Oh My!

The Journey of a Jewish Children’s Book Writer

In this lively presentation Lesléa Newman, the 2020 Sydney Taylor Body of Work Award Winner, will discuss how her early childhood and books she read growing up inspired her to write children’s books with Jewish themes including Remember That, A Sweet Passover, and Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story








If you are not among the 275+ people who have already registered for the AJL 2020 Digital Conference, REGISTER NOW. You won’t want to miss it!

Remember to wash your hands, wear a mask, practice social distancing, and stay well!

Dina Herbert, AJL President, Kathy Bloomfield, AJL President-Elect, and the AJL 2020 Digital Conference Planning Team

2020 AJL Conference Update, June 15, 2020


2020 Conference logoMore than 200 people have registered for the AJL 2020 Digital Conference, Sunday, June 28 - Thursday, July 2, 2020. You do not want to miss out!

NOTE: All registered attendees will have access to recordings of all of the sessions after the conference, as well as all of the presenter’s handouts. So, even if you can’t participate “live,” you should still register.

An updated schedule is available here. Full abstracts and presenter bios will be included on Socio, the digital program book. Instructions for downloading and accessing the app will be e-mailed to conference registrants separately this week.


We have added an International Librarians’ Roundtable on Wednesday, July 1 at 8:00 am EDT, facilitated by the AJL International Liaison, Michael Young. We'd like to hear from those of you in the Eastern Hemisphere (whether you identify as RAS, SSCPL, or somewhere in between) about what you would like to see from AJL, and how we can better support your work. Please join us!


Plan to celebrate the end of the conference with a super fun, interactive Brain Bash Trivia event on Thursday, July 2 at 7:00 pm EDT. Host Jeremy Cahnmann has been quizzing audiences all over the country for more than a decade and is cooking up some special AJL and library related questions along with lots of other stuff you know or don’t even realize you know! There will be prizes! Bring your own beverage and/or munchies and encourage all of your AJL friends to join the fun.


The registration fee for members and library school students is $36 for the entire digital conference! We welcome non-members to register for $136 but we encourage you to join AJL to benefit from the member rate.


Visit our store on Zazzle, to purchase AJL t-shirt, pens, notebooks and more and show off your conference swag from your Zoom Room!

We hope to see you soon at the AJL 2020 Digital Conference!

Dina Herbert, AJL President, Kathy Bloomfield, AJL President-Elect, and the AJL 2020 Digital Conference Planning Team

AJL Statement on Violence

The Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) condemns the hatred, violence, and systemic racism infecting our nation that led to the horrifying death of George Floyd at the hands of police just a few days ago. As the leading authority on Judaic librarianship, we stand for learning and understanding; more importantly, we stand for justice (tzedek) and the protection of human life (pikuach nefesh). In solidarity with the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), we pledge to engage with our friends in the Black community, to work for the repair of the world (tikkun olam).

As a number of Black Jews explain on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website, the work of anti-racism is exhausting, and people of all races and backgrounds need to step up, speak out, and take action. The Ethics of Our Fathers (Mishna Avot 2:21) famously says, "You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it." AJL, together with everyone who craves a just world, will continue to work toward justice for all.