March 15, 2009
L.A.’s Jewish Community Library Likely to Move
A coalition of Jewish Community Library supporters say leaders at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have spurned their efforts to create an independent library and to stop a proposed merger with the American Jewish University.
Since March 2008, leaders of Federation, which funds the library through the Bureau of Jewish Education, and AJU have been exploring a merger of the 30,000-volume collection at the Jewish Community Library with AJU’s 115,000-volume library at the Mulholland Drive campus. AJU plans to expand its library facilities in the next few years and to open the library up to the community.
BJE leaders say the merger is the only way to keep the collection public, since Federation has been steadily reducing its funding for the library, which draws about 2,000 patrons a year to its third floor suite in Federation headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.
BJE will not request funding to run the library for the 2010 fiscal year, BJE executive director Gil Graff told The Journal.
But library supporters say AJU shouldn’t be the collection’s only option. They have formulated a plan that would set the library on an independent course, to open a freestanding, centrally located facility, possibly with satellite facilities, that would increase community access to the library. They are not asking for funding from Federation – just to entrust it with the collection.
The supporters say a merger with AJU would sacrifice the library’s identity as a community resource.
“I just don’t think an academic library that sits on top of a hill, over a freeway, which you can’t even see from the street, which few people ever go to is the place to put a community library,” said Sherrill Kushner, an attorney who is heading up Save the Jewish Library, which also includes Orange County’s Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie.
But Federation officials say this plan is just another version of a 2006 plan that was already analyzed and rejected by a BJE task force set up to determine the library’s future. In 2008, that task force recommended pursuing the possibility of a merger with AJU. Those talks have been under way since June 2008.
Issues on the table include what to do with duplicate volumes, which could be placed in other libraries or institutions where the community could have access to them, Graff said. Still unclear is what would happen to the Slavin children’s library. Graff says BJE will not be asking for funding for that entity in 2010, either.
Eliezrie and Kushner say Federation leaders seem sold on the AJU plan, and they have had a hard time getting anyone to discuss their approach. While Federation vice president Beryl Geber said she is planning to meet with Eliezrie, Eliezrie said 10 days worth of emails to Geber, Graff and Federation President John Fishel have not yielded indication that a meeting will take place.
“The library should be an independent oasis for everyone,” said Eliezrie, who as Chabad’s liaison to United Jewish Communities is well seasoned in working with Federation. “I’ve been shocked that they won’t even talk about it. Let everyone meet and argue and hear what we have to say.”
Graff expressed pessimism about the ability of the grassroots effort would be able to take on the responsibility for the community collection with no facility, supporters or infrastructure to manage a library in place.
“It’s not clear to me that this is something as attractive as an entity with a history of 60 years and a campus,” he said, referring to AJU.
Kushner counters that it is difficult to fundraise without any indication that they could have access to the collection. The BJE and Federation will jointly decide whether the AJU merger will go through, and then the Federation’s Education Pillar will decide whether the new entity would get funding, and how much. Under a new structure put into place in Federation last year, Federation agencies do not get any entitlements and any non-profit can apply for funding – including AJU or an independent library.
The idea that AJU could get funding for absorbing the community collection is appalling to Abigail Yasgur, who resigned from her position as Jewish Community Library director in protest to the merger.
“Giving the library to the AJU serves only the interests of the AJU and the Federation, but not the interests of the people. The arrangement serves the AJU by enlarging its collection. (While the specifics of the Federation-AJU arrangement remain unknown, should the Federation also decide to give funds to the AJU to take the Library, that would be scandalous,)” she wrote in an editorial submitted to the Jewish Journal. “The arrangement serves the Jewish Federation by lowering or eliminating the cost of running the library, which it has borne in major part. But the losers in this deal, which has not been subjected to public scrutiny, are you and me and everyone else who seeks a Library that serves the people.”
Geber disagrees. She says the merger will give more people more access.
“What we are talking about is not the disappearance, but the expansion of the Jewish Community Library, and it relocation,” Geber said. “It means an expansion in the possible number of hours it is open, in the number of volumes, in the space it will have. These are all things it can’t do here.”