The Association of Jewish Libraries

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By Heidi Estrin, PR Chair, Association of Jewish Libraries

ALA’s newest affiliate is the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL), a professional organization for librarians who work with Judaic collections. AJL was formed in 1966 with the merging of the Jewish Librarians Association and the Jewish Library Association. Reflecting this two-party origin, the current organization has two divisions, one that serves academe (the Research Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections Division) and one that serves the general public (the Synagogue, School, and Center Division). The mission of AJL is to promote Jewish literacy through enhancement of libraries and library resources, and through leadership for the profession and practitioners of Judaica librarianship. AJL fosters access to information, learning, teaching and research relating to Jews, Judaism, the Jewish experience and Israel.

AJL’s thousand-plus members serve libraries across North America and around the globe, including Temple Beth Sholom in Anchorage, Alaska (nicknamed “The Frozen Chosen”) and the Jewish Center in Hong Kong. The diverse membership includes everything from tiny synagogue libraries run by volunteers to national libraries with hundreds of staff members. Between these extremes we find university Judaica collections, Holocaust museum libraries, and Jewish day school media centers.

Some libraries are obvious candidates for membership in AJL such as the RAMBAM Center Library at Temple Beth Am in Miami, Florida. Established in 1965, this synagogue library has grown from a handful of books in the corner of a classroom to a 17,000-item facility with separate (soundproofed) reading rooms for children and adults, a computer lab, a ceiling-mounted LCD projector, and free WiFi. The library serves students, staff, and parents of the day school and religious school, temple members, senior citizens, and the general public. Two programmatic jewels in the crown are the Mother-Daughter Book Clubs for kids and parents, and the Senior Lounge Days offering Yiddish movies and schmoozing time for older members.

The National Library of Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is a Judaic library at the other end of the scale. Preserving the history and culture of the land of Israel and the Jewish people, this library of over 5 million volumes includes print, multimedia, and digital collections. Notable is NLI’s digitization project in which rare and out-of-print monographs in the public domain are made freely available to the public via the Internet. So far, over 800 books have been digitized, including works on the Bible, Kabbala, Jewish history, and music.

Other libraries become members because segments of their mission align with AJL. For instance, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. has AJL members in its Hebraic Section, its African and Middle East Section, its Israel/Judaica Section, and even in the Cataloging Division. LOC librarians provide yearly Hebraica cataloging sessions at AJL conferences.

Differences between AJL’s member libraries melt away at the annual convention, where a mix of scholars, kidlit fans, authors, and Judaica librarians from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds mingle harmoniously. Professional development sessions on technology, storytelling, library history, and so on complete with hallway networking for the favorite activity. A highlight is the awards banquet, when authors and illustrators receive recognition for the best Jewish books for children and teens, the best unpublished manuscript, and the best academic bibliographies and reference works.

Year-round resources offered by AJL include the AJL Podcast, which offers recordings of convention sessions, the AJL blog “People of the Books,” and the AJL listserv “Hasafran” (Hebrew for “the librarian”). The quarterly AJL Newsletter is a comprehensive source of Jewish-interest book reviews. The Sydney Taylor Book and Manuscript Awards encourage Jewish publishing and provide guidance for those seeking quality Jewish books for youth, while the Bibliography and Reference Awards promote Jewish academic materials. These resources, as well as a Bibliography Bank and other publications, may be found online at www.jewishlibraries.org.

The Association of Jewish Libraries is thrilled to join ALA’s affiliate program. AJL President Susan Dubin says “AJL’s mission is to support Judaic libraries and promote Jewish literacy. ALA wants to do the same for American libraries. Our goals overlap and reinforce each other. We hope that this new affiliation will help AJL grow and strengthen even as it helps ALA diversify.”

For more information, please contact Heidi Estrin - heidi@cbiboca.org.


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