Underused synagogue libraries speak volume

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by Arlene Fine

Originally posted March 6, 2012 on Cleveland Jewish News

Many of their own congregants may not realize it, but Cleveland’s synagogues that have their own religious schools contain more than sanctuaries, social halls and classrooms. Many also boast libraries containing an astonishing wealth of material. Filling their shelves are the newest fiction and nonfiction, updated Jewish research collections, current periodicals and newspapers, and a substantial audiovisual collection.

Despite this “treasure-trove of material,” as B’nai Jeshurun Congregation librarian Dr. R. Raphael Simon calls it, synagogue libraries across the board are underused by their congregants and community members. “Our library usage is just adequate – there is plenty of room for more people to access our material and the hidden gems we have,” Simon said.

B’nai Jeshurun

During the 16 years Simon has worked in the Conservative synagogue’s library, he has grappled with how to draw more traffic to the synagogue library’s 15,000-item collection.

He has experimented with evening hours and keeping the library open when synagogue events draw people to the building. He has special preschool story hours before each holiday, and last year he hosted a summer supper story hour for families.

This year he is planning an afternoon “Chai Tea” to introduce members to the library’s newest materials. “I’ll do whatever it takes to bring people to our library,” he said.

To attract teenagers to the library, Simon, who began shelving books at Shaker Heights’s Onaway Elementary School when he was a fourth-grader and went on to earn his Ph.D. in information and library science at CWRU, has an active synagogue library internship program. “It is very rewarding to expose young people to good literature and help them gain familiarization with research techniques,” he said. With an eye to high-tech, Simon is exploring adding e-books to the library despite the extremely high start-up cost.

The veteran librarian, who retired from Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools after 30 years of service, does not take his synagogue work lightly. Last Shavuot on one of his frequent trips to Israel, he shlepped back 200 pounds of books.

“It was Hebrew Book Week, and I could not resist the wonderful new books stacked high on the tables,” he said. With a goal to fill the Pepper Pike synagogue’s library with quality literature that has academic appeal and is of popular interest, Simon said he is “building an enduring collection that is both timely and timeless.”

Read the full article at http://www.clevelandjewishnews.com/news/local/article_d448f730-5e3d-11e1-ac1b-001871e3ce6c.html