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Facebook Friday with Ann Abrams

On Friday, January 8, AJL librarian Ann Abrams joined us for a Q&A on running a synagogue library:


Question 1: Association of Jewish Libraries I don’t know if I can log on at noon for FB Friday, so I’m posting a question early. Ann, can you talk a bit about how a synagogue library can successfully compete for attention with all the other projects and activities going on within the synagogue? Thanks.


Association of Jewish Libraries Marie says, thanks for asking, Heidi! Ann will be here soon.

Ann Abrams When I was in library school, one comment a professor made, in particular, that stayed with me, was, to make ourselves be, as much as possible, indispensable to an institution. In those days, the example he gave was, if a professor asked for a copy of something, don’t just leave it in their box, but deliver it to thei…r office. I’ve tried to do that in different ways: by trying to anticipate requests by clergy, staff, faculty and congregants; building relationships with everyone I deal with; and trying to stay current on what’s going on in the library world, re: the programs I bring to the synagogue.

Ann Abrams Also, to more adquately respond to Heidi’s earlier question, I have an annual Jewish Book Month Program, which, very fortunately, was endowed 16 years ago. We bring in an author on a Friday evening or Sunday morning, have a nice oneg and book signing. It’s sponsored by the library committee, and I run it, so it keep…s us in the limelight, if you will. I try to be careful to not have our book group and other programs conflict with others, so folks don’t have to choose between one good thind and another.

Question 2: Amy Fellner Dominy Hi Ann. As an author, I’m wondering how you decide what books to carry in your library? I’m guessing your funds are limited…


Ann Abrams Most libraries have collection development policies, that guide us in making decisions about what to purchase. In my case, I try to purchase material that supports the school and adult learning programs of our synagogue, as well as materials for pleasure reading as well. in the last few years, my budget has shrunk quite a bit, like in most libraries, and so, unfortunately, I often am not able to get everything that would fit into those categories I just mentioned.

Daniel Stuhlman To answer Amy — All libraries purchase materials that will serve their readers. Schools try to select materials that support the curriculum. All libraries try to purchase quality materials.

Amy Fellner Dominy Thanks Daniel. I do wonder how synagogue librarians get information on upcoming books? Is it through the same catalogs as other libraries or are their special methods to find books with Jewish themes and content?

Daniel Stuhlman Acquisitions is an interesting challenge because no library has the money to purchase all they want. They are limited by budget, space and time. Gifts are a mixed blessing — the library gets materials that they did not fully selection to acquire. Ann, how do you deal with the challenges?

Ann Abrams At our library, we look at the NY Times Book Review, Library Journal, and of course, the AJL newsletter. We also look at whatever online or hard-copy Jewish journals have book reviews. I also look at blogs by folks who review Jewish books, including Boston Bibliophile, by our own AJL member Marie Cloutier.

Amy Fellner Dominy Wonderful information! Thanks. :-)

Ann Abrams Also, if there’s a publisher that I’ve purchased many materials from, I’ll look at their catalog. But, generally, I like to see at least one positive review (and not an Amazon review by a fan, but a review in a publication) before purchasing an item, unless I’ve read the book, or seen the film, myself.

Question 3: Sheryl Stahl Hi Ann! I was wondering if you run any book clubs? and if so, how they work out.


Sheryl Stahl I guess I should have added that our congregation has a monthly book club as well as a yearly “everyone read the same book” program – but they are run through the ed. committees and not the library.

Ann Abrams Re: Sheryl’s question, about book clubs. I do run a book club, along with our Women of Reform Judaism (formerly Sisterhood). It is monthly, and I learned quickly not to plan too many titles ahead of time, as the folks in my group often would come across something they really liked, and so, now at each meeting, I anno…unce the book for the following month (as opposed to what I tried in the beginning, of creating a year-long list of titles) We’ve read a lot of the same things other Jewish clubs have read (from what I see on the AJL website of bookgroup lists), and we try to pick something that has at least some Jewish content (although some folks don’t feel strongly about that), and is a good read. We get 7-10 folks a week, mostly women, 70 and up, and the discussions are always lively.

Question 4: Joyce Levine Hi Ann, Thanks for doing this exciting Q&A Facebook blog. I wonder if you could answer question recently posted on Hasafran by a JCC librarian. Do you circulate e-books at all? It was pointed out that in many institutions people are not as interested in borrowing books or even consulting the reference section as much sin…ce they do so much online nowadays.


Ann Abrams Hi, Joyce. We don’t have e-books, yet, but it’s something I’m looking into, and am following, with interest, discussions about them. If anyone else has experience with this, please chime in!

Joyce Levine Maybe someone could run at session about e-books at Convention. We would all love to learn more. If any of you out there are knowledgeable and would be willing to do this, please let me know.

Question 5: Joyce Levine I got burnt recently by accepting a rather large donation suggested by a Board member. Most of the books were unsuitable for our school library. I generally try to visit the home of the potential donor and just pick out what I want, which does not cause any “disposal” problems of unwanted materials.


Ann Abrams One of the most important documents every library should have, which was conveyed to me by a colleague a long time ago (I think at an AJL convention), is a gifts policy. Our gifts policy states that we have the right of refusal. It is stated more politely than that, but, that way, we can say, “Thank you for thinking …of us…if there’s something here we can add to our collection, we will, but, if not, we’re happy to try to find homes for the material if you’re agreeable to that.” As a result, we are able to get quite a few very good materials for our collection; and, I’m lucky to have assistants to help type up lists of the rest, so I can offer them to our clergy, staff, teachers, and other libraries.

Ann Abrams Re: book donations and Joyce’s comment, my observation is that most folks just can’t bear the thought of throwing books away, and are just happy to have someone take them. What Joyce says she does is very smart because, unfortunately, sometimes donations of old books can bring mildew, mold, bugs… other things we do…n’t want in our library. So, I agree, if it’s possible to go to the home, and take what you want – that’s a great way to avoid problems.

Ann Abrams Something I’m dealing with right now is what to do with really old books – not books that an appraiser would say are rare – but, books on Jewish topics that happen to have been written in the 1800?s and early 1900?s. I’m wondering what other folks with these types of books do with them, if, anything different than hav…ing them on the shelf? I just posted to hasafran on this, too.

Daniel Stuhlman Ann, concerning old books — it depends on your collection development policy. In my studies I need old books. I can’t expect my synagogue library to have them because they don’t have the room. Since most library users want the latest and greatest, it would be best if the collection could have a segregated stacks for older materials.

Sheryl Stahl we ended up weeding most of our old books too – we had a pretty successful book sale with them.

Ann Abrams In terms of the limits you mention, Daniel, I think I do the best I can, like everyone else. I try to prioritize, and, in the age of the Internet, I can, at least, say to folks, “We don’t have this item, but I can try to find it for you, elsewhere.”

Ann Abrams I agree a session about e-books sounds like a good idea! And thanks to Daniel and Sheryl for your comments and suggestions about what to do with old books.

Question 6: Lan Eng Ann, besides dealing with members, how do you work with the other constituent groups at your synagogue. Specifically, how do you work with your rabbis, religious school director and other staff members? Do you have regular meetings with them?


Ann Abrams Hi, Lan, thanks for your question. My position is part of the Education dept, so the Education director (same as Religious School Director) is my supervisor. The Educ dept has monthly meetings, and the other folks in this group are: the Director of Elementary Education, Family Educator, Youth Director, and the Assist…ant to the Educ. Director. We also have monthl all-staff meetings which I attend. But, I have interactions with everyone on the staff: the clergy often ask me for help finding materials, or creating resource lists for life cycle events; I send emails to all the staff re: things that I think might be of interest, for example, that they all have access to electronic resources.

Ann Abrams Many of the members of the staff use the library for their pleasure reading. The rabbis lead a weekly torah study group, and often use the library for preparation. The library is fortunately in the center of the building, so I can easily walk around to see folks, and be seen, to encourage casual conversation. I’ve be…en at the temple for over 20 years, and so I can sometimes anticipate what folks might want for annual programs, and will send it to them before they ask.

Question 7: Joyce Levine I know this is a pretty big topic and sorry to raise it at the last minute, but I was wondering if you run your own fundraising events and if so, what kinds? Or does your synagogue totally fund the library?


Ann Abrams My book, film, cd and other library material budget is completely from donations, in the form of “book shelves,” which are really book funds. I have an annual book fair, and make approx $600 a year from that. That’s all I have at the moment. I have an email list of library supporters and occasionally let them know …what’s going on so they can see where their money’s going. The temple has a development director and I sometimes chat with her about ways to raise revenue.

Joyce Levine Thank you. I hope to continue this conversation at a future time. Shabbat shalom!

Association of Jewish Libraries Ann, thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions in AJL’s inaugural Facebook Friday! And thanks to everyone who participated!
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