The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles announced plans on March 14 to close the Slavin Children’s Library, which is located in the lobby of its Wilshire Boulevard building, to make room for an expansion of the Zimmer Children’s Museum. The space will become the new Slavin’s Children’s Center.
The library is home to an estimated 10,000 books, CDs, DVDs and Jewish-themed computer games. It is the Federation building’s only remaining library since a larger, more comprehensive collection moved out in 2009, some of it to the American Jewish University. The library will be shuttered by May 19, according to Jonathan Jacoby, the Federation’s senior vice president of Programs for Jewish Life.
“There’s less of a demand for [books], and there’s a growing demand for the kinds of programs and services that they get at the museum,” Jacoby said of visitors to Federation’s building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd.
Amy Muscoplat, the Slavin’s librarian, estimates that the library attracts 500 to 600 visitors weekly, with many coming to take advantage of ongoing children’s programs. As far as publicly accessible libraries go, the Slavin is on the smaller side, about as large as two classrooms. Its small size, though, hasn’t stopped it from offering a wide range of services to its primary users, Muscoplat said, who are families with children in preschool through sixth grade.
The library includes an area for a designated reading circle, hundreds of children’s books published in Israel, and several shelves of adult books to keep parents busy while their children read or watch an educational DVD.
“It has served a good role, reaching people in the community and helping people who either want to learn new things or teach different subjects or just be exposed to different books,” Muscoplat said during an interview on March 17 at the library.
Around 1 p.m. Sunday, attendance at the library was scarce, while dozens of children and parents were in the two-story museum. An employee at the museum said that fewer people than normal had come that day because of the Los Angeles Marathon. And though the runners may have also kept some families away, the fact that the museum had far more foot traffic than the library may also be a sign of the times.
Demand for the library’s offerings, Jacoby suggested, is low for two main reasons: location and technology.
Located in The Federation’s office building on busy Wilshire Boulevard, it’s not easily accessible for regular use for families with children from throughout the region.
Additionally, the proliferation of online and digital reading sources poses a major challenge for all libraries and bookstores. For Jewish families, as well, there’s the added benefit of the nonprofit PJ Library, which offers families free books with Jewish content for children.
One also can’t help notice that when walking into The Federation’s high-security lobby, the museum is impossible to miss, standing just feet away from the elevators and security desk.
The library’s entrance, meanwhile, is somewhat hidden in a corner hallway behind the security desk. People who aren’t coming to Federation to visit the library might not see it while passing through the lobby to their destination. The same can’t be said for the museum.
And although the Slavin library faces a challenging location and the emergence of digital books, the Zimmer Children’s Museum is “bursting at the seams,” Jacoby said.
Esther Netter, the Zimmer’s CEO, said in an interview that more than 70,000 people visit the museum per year, and that the museum’s programming has been severely limited because of lack of space.
“We are going to be able to offer additional classes, additional school field trips, parent and educator programming, [and] performances,” with the expanded facilities, Netter said. She pointed to the Mann Theatre as an example, which is located on the first floor of the museum and sits next to several other interactive exhibits, limiting how many children and parents can watch the theater’s performances. The new space, Netter said, “could give us program capacity.”
The museum’s current exhibits include a “tikkun olam house,” a model synagogue, a miniature restaurant where kids can pretend to cook and serve food, and a “water rescue area” that houses a donated raft used in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
Throughout the sleek-looking museum, many words and phrases appear in multiple foreign languages, particularly ones used by Jewish Angelenos — Hebrew, Farsi, Arabic and Russian. The museum also offers annual membership plans and has a robust programming schedule, including events like “The Bumble Bee Boogie!” and “HERBan Planters.”
The library’s impending closure comes less than four years after The Federation’s 2009 closure of the Jewish Community Library, which had been located on the third floor of its office building. That move caused an outcry among some community members, with the librarian resigning and a group of supporters and lay leaders trying to formulate a plan that would have reformed the library into an independent nonprofit.
That never happened.
American Jewish University, located on Mulholland Drive just off the 405 Freeway, took in about 6,000 of the library’s 30,000 volumes, making those books available to the public. Many of the rest of the items in the collection were duplicates, and many of the holdings were given to the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California.
The Slavin Children’s Library had been part of the Jewish Community Library. After the closure of the latter, though, the Slavin became independent, relying in the previous two fiscal years on an annual $70,120 grant from Federation and an annual $1,200 grant from Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), which partners with local organizations and schools to provide resources, programs, and funds for Jewish education.
Federation, which orignally established the library and ran it with help from BJE, was fully responsible for the decision to close it. In a March 15 press release, Federation described the closure as a modification of the space's use, in hopes that it might “reach even more children and young families.”
The press release also stated that many of the programs currently offered at Slavin, such as puppetry and storytelling, “will continue to be available under Zimmer auspices.”
BJE and Federation will work together in finding a new home for the collection, BJE Executive Director Gil Graff said.
“We would want to distribute those materials in a way that would make them accessible and useful,” Graff said.
Although BJE and the Federation have yet to determine where exactly the collection will go, Jacoby said that he expects the two groups will reach a decision in April, shortly after the Passover holiday. Robert Wexler, president of AJU, wrote in an e-mail that there currently are no plans for AJU to acquire any items from Slavin and that the university had no involvement in the plan to shutter the library.
Jacoby suggested that many of the books could end up being given to synagogues, Jewish preschools, and public libraries — places where there is more demand “for a physical library.”
Shulie Taban, herself is a librarian at two local schools, said she uses the Slavin library every few weeks and often visited the Jewish Community Library when it was in the Federation building. She said that her seven kids—many of whom are now adults — often took advantage of the free, public, Jewish library.
“It’s a big void for us,” Taban said by phone. “It’s too bad that we can’t have a Jewish community library with the size of the community we are.”
But, she added, “I can’t say it’s a total shock.”