February 25, 2009
A Library for All Needs a Location for All
Tucked away on the third floor of The Jewish Federation Building is a community treasure, unknown to many but without question a great asset. Getting there is difficult. You must go through security at The Federation Building and then have an escort up to the library. Visiting the library is tougher then getting into the CIA.
Sadly, a plan is under way that instead of taking this great asset and helping it realize its true potential, will cause it to lose its identity and compromise its mission. The present idea to move the Jewish Community Library to the campus of American Jewish University (AJU), up in the hills between the city and the Valley, is a grave error. Years of effort to build a quality library will be lost as this becomes another component of AJU. It will be geographically remote and inaccessible to many.
It’s not the only potential location for the library. There are two other libraries in the midst of Jewish Los Angeles: the Wiesenthal Center and Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad. Both have libraries that reflect their missions.
The Wiesenthal has a great wealth of material on the Holocaust and the yeshiva a rich collection of classic rabbinical texts. The addition of the Community Library would be a big plus for either of them.
All three of the these locations have a common inhibiting factor. They serve specific segments of the community. Just as students from religious homes will find it uncomfortable using a library at AJU, members of Temple Emanuel may have the same feeling about visiting the Wiesenthal Center or the yeshiva.
The library needs to be an independent community institution, not reflecting any specific point of view or linked to one segment of the community. It needs to be a library for all.
The Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) has nurtured the library and is to be lauded for its efforts. The BJE has a broad agenda, with crucial needs for schools, teacher training and other areas. The library has been low on its list of priorities.
Transferring the library to AJU is an easy way out for the BJE. Doing so is an abdication of the BJE’s responsibility to provide Jewish educational resources for the whole community.
It’s time for the BJE, in conjunction with The Federation, to act with communal responsibility. The library has the potential to be a great resource for all. To make that possible, several important steps need to be taken.
First, it’s time to the let the child grow up. The Jewish Community Library needs to become an independent community agency. The BJE, in partnership with The Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation, should ensure that success of this agency.
Funding needs to be secured for the first steps toward independence. The Federation needs to help in enlisting leadership to guide the library’s growth and direction.
The library needs its own location in Los Angeles.
For the first few years the library should apply the rent subsidy given to it by The Federation, together with grants from the foundation and private individuals, to leasing a facility. A strong board must be built to guide the library during its transitional period of development. The existing stakeholders, including the BJE, Federation, library clientele and community educators, should be part of this new board.
The board should set a goal that within five years, the library will purchase its own facility in Los Angeles. The board should develop new sources of income and broaden the donor base for the future. Some of this will come from the expanded base of library users and from the community at large.
Omaha, Neb., with 5,000 Jews, has its own Jewish library. Los Angeles, with over half a million Jews, can achieve the same goal.
It takes leadership, vision and some imagination. It’s easy to move the 30,000 books up the hill to AJU. Of course we will hear assurances that all will be welcome. And I am sure that they will make every effort to do so.
But let’s get real. The average citizen does not make the trip to UCLA or USC to get a book for their kid or themselves. That is why we have a network of public libraries.
Books are essential for the transmission of ideas. The library is a great resource for all of the community. It should remain a unique communal asset for all.
By seizing control of its destiny, a new established library will have the opportunity to grow and dream of new ways to serve the community. With some creativity, commitment and vision, the present library will evolve into a great asset for all.