AJL Member Spotlight

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AJL Member Spotlight

In January 2012, Aimee Lurie will be the new committee chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. Aimee has over ten years experience as a librarian working with children and young adults in northeast Ohio. Currently, she is the librarian at The Anne Frank Library in for The Agnon School, a community day school in Beachwood, Ohio that serves children from preschool through 8th grade.   Aimee is active in the Association of Jewish Libraries Greater Cleveland Chapter and reviews books for the AJL national newsletter.  

New committee member include Charna Gross and Diane Rauchwerger. Charna has been a teacher since 1975, and a school librarian since 2000. A Los Angeles native, Charna is currently the school librarian at Sinai Akiba Academy. She has lived on three continents and speaks English, French and Spanish.  

Diane has been the librarian for Congregation Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, CA from 1990 to the present. She is the author of the Dinosaur series published by Kar-Ben Publishing (Dinosaur on Shabbat, Dinosaur on Hanukkah and Dinosaur on Passover.  Dinosaur Goes to Israel will be out this spring).

The committee is excited to welcome Diane and Charna!  

Other members of the committee include Debbie Feder, Barbara Krasner, Nancy Silverrod, Barbara Bietz (Past President) and Kathe Pinchuck (Compiler). The committee sends a hearty thank you to Heidi Estrin, Rachel Kamin, and Rita Soltan who completed their service this year.    


AJL members are an erudite bunch. Just this week, three articles have been published in various journals representing the expertise of AJL librarians.

Rachel Leket-Mor, President of AJL's RAS Division and Jewish Studies Librarian at Arizona State University Libraries, manages an enormous collection of Israeli chapbooks called IsraPulp. A detailed and enthusiastic article about the collection appears in ASU News at http://asunews.asu.edu/20111209_IsraPulp, and there is an associated podcast interview with Leket-Mor at http://lib.asu.edu/librarychannel/2008/10/10/ep83_israpulp.

Kathe Pinchuck, AJL's Development Chair and Secretary of the SSC Division, has authored an article in NewCAJE's online journal The Jewish Educator. "Rosh Pina: The Judaica Librarian as Cornerstone of Lifelong Jewish Learning," is the lead article in the journal's Fall 2011 issue and can be downloaded as a PDF at http://thejewisheducator.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/the-jewish-educator-fall-2011-05_pinchuk.pdf.

Heidi Estrin, AJL's Vice-President/President-Elect, has contributed an article to School Library Journal's "Focus On" column. She was invited to write about celebrations and festivals, and created a recommended reading list on Jewish and other observances called "A Calendar of Holidays." The article can be seen in School Library Journal's print magazine as well as online at http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/printissue/currentissue/892545-427/celebrations_and_festivals_a_calendar.html.csp.
Author Eric Kimmel has recently published a new children’s story entitled Joseph and the Sabbath Fish. AJL member Lisa Silverman compares his version to the beloved Marilyn Hirsh book, Joseph Who Loved the Sabbath, in this article from the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.

http://www.jewishjournal.com/books/article/the_battle_of_the_fishy_folktales_20110830/
Naomi Steinberger is Director of Library Services at Jewish Theological Seminary. This interview was conducted by Bob Schrier. Bob Schrier holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Earlham College and spent the last 8 years working as a teacher, manager, and high school librarian. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Syracuse University with a focus in Jewish and digital librarianship.

This is part two of a two-part interview. See Part One here.

Q: How have you helped the library to cope with changes in technology over the years?

“Today it’s very different than when I started. When I came to this library there was one computer in the library. It was 22 years ago; it was a different time. We had a card catalog in those days. But times have changed and that was evolutionary. People still wanted the cards even though we had the online system but slowly people began to believe that the online system would work.

Skip forward to 2010 and were talking about ebooks. I can tell you that over the last four or five years we’ve talked about electronic periodicals. And four or five years ago we said ‘Alright, fine, we’ll get a hard copy and electronic format.’ Slowly, as people got used to using electronic journals, this year we decided to buy only electronic copies and we get hard copies only if an electronic copy is not available. So it’s an evolution of the world and the library.

There’s such major changes in the library today. To keep up we have meetings, talk to people, and we also have to stay in touch with our users. Our undergraduates, for example, are coming from a whole different world than most of our veteran librarians. By the time they were born and could read, the internet already existed.

You have to go with the trends and the way the world is changing. I think that librarians by and large are fine with moving in that direction. I feel like there’s much less resistance to change today than there was 15 years ago because of the way the world is changing so rapidly.

Q: Do you ever encounter resistance to change?

With regard to people who are resistant: sometimes we do focus groups, sometimes we do brainstorming sessions. We discuss how we’re going to make changes, exactly what we’re going to do, how it will impact other things we’re doing, how our users will see the changes.

I think there was more discussion about it 10 years ago than there is now because change is so rapid all the time. I don’t think we ever held brainstorming sessions about shifting to ejournals but 10 years ago we talked a lot about what our website would look like. Today we’re not talking as much about it. There are smaller groups dealing with it; it’s sort of just understood.

With regard to other kinds of change: we’ve unfortunately had a lot of cuts in staff and that’s been very difficult on a personal level because we had to lay people off and also because we had to take on more responsibility. People have been extremely cooperative in those areas and also understand that there are things that can’t be done that we would like to do. Sometimes we get someone who ambitiously comes and says ‘I really wanted to do x-y-z and plus-plus-plus,’ and we have to reign them in a little. We refocus and try to put the idea in a positive light so that we work on how we actually can do it. You don’t have to tell them they can’t do it. You have to say ‘ let’s work on how-to’ rather than telling them why we can’t do something.

We have a wonderful staff who are open and are always looking for new challenges. I know a lot of larger institutions and larger academic institutions have problems with a lot of resistance. Some of their staff is unionized, they have strong unions and won’t do things a certain way because their contract says that they shouldn’t. We don’t have those problems here. We really have a group of amenable and cooperative people.

But there are always challenges because there are always changes.”

Q: What do you like best about your job?

Every day I come in and there’s something new, it’s never boring. There are interesting people to talk to and interact with. And there’s always something that you can do to make a difference, both in the library and hopefully for the community of people who use our collections, onsite and electronically. Another really exciting part for me is dreaming up new projects and seeing them come to fruition.

Q: What are your thoughts on the role of digital librarianship in libraries today?

Digital librarianship. That’s a large field. Are we talking about the actual people doing the digitization, making choices about the digitization; are we talking about the people who create metadata, how is metadata different for electronic objects different than traditional cataloging; are we talking about the web, the presence on the web; are we talking about images, are you talking about text; how are you going to present the text, different formats, the pros and cons of different kinds of formats; also the back office programming, systems work vis-à-vis presentation of the digital object. It’s a very big field to go into because clearly that’s the future.

Q: Specifically, is there a need for digital librarians in the area of Jewish librarianship and at JTS?

“I think there’s a lot of material in Jewish studies out there on the web now and nobody has pulled it all together. We did a rare book digitization project last fall and the first thing that we did was to make sure that no one else already digitized the items. There’s no union list of digital items in Jewish studies. There’s a pressing need for that so that we don’t duplicate each other’s work.”

Q: Is pulling all that material together part of JTS’s mission?

“We’re talking to other organizations to work collaboratively on it. I’m not sure it’s our job to take it on. I see it as a job for the National Library in Israel to take on. But I think that an area that’s important in Jewish studies, it’s important to bring it all together.”

Q: What you look for in the people you hire?

Aside from competency, you have to be able to interact with people. Different types of people are good for different kinds of jobs. In the public area you want people who are easy to interact with, people who want to deal with the public, who don’t want to sit buried at their desks. In other areas, you need specific skills. In cataloging you need specific skills, you need language skills. It really depends on the type of job. There also has to be good chemistry between the supervisor and the potential employee. It’s really a combination of skills and excitement about what they’re doing.

Also you have to have a feel for whether or not someone is going to stay the course. We have someone who’s completing a project for us. It was an 8-month project and we’re in the sixth or seventh month and even she found another job, she said ‘I’m not leaving now. I have to finish this job.’ So a lot of commitment also.

I can tell you that I’ve gotten better at it. Earlier on there were people that I made mistakes with but you make fewer mistakes as you get more experience. Sounding people out is essential in the interviewing process. It also helps if you bring other people into the process. While you might get very excited about someone, another person may see it differently and give good insight. That helps a lot for a better evaluation.”

Posted by Marie.
Naomi Steinberger is Director of Library Services at Jewish Theological Seminary. This interview was conducted by Bob Schrier. Bob Schrier holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Earlham College and spent the last 8 years working as a teacher, manager, and high school librarian. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Syracuse University with a focus in Jewish and digital librarianship.

This is part one of a two-part interview. Come back next Wednesday, October 27, for the conclusion.

In broad strokes, Ms. Naomi Steinberger paints a picture of her personal career path as well as her outlook on JTS and the state of libraries in general, past, present and future.

Q: What led you to the library profession and how did you make your way into your position at JTS?

“ While I was living in Israel, I first earned a degree in musicology and then got a library job. While working there, I realized that I really enjoyed working in the library. So after that, I did a masters in musicology and a master’s in library services.

I’ve been at JTS for a long time, for more than 20 years. Before that, I worked as a music librarian in various capacities: in music libraries, as a music archivist, and in a music indexing and abstract journal/database.

I’ve worked in public services, as a head of systems, and have been doing this job more or less for the past 10 years or so, maybe a little longer.

My background in Jewish studies is more informal. I acquired a lot of knowledge here but before that, I had Jewish education through high school and lived in Israel for many years. I also did some Jewish studies courses in college in Israel but music was my subject specialty area. So I was able to draw on that plus the music when I came to JTS, which has large music collection.”

Q: What exactly do you do at JTS?

“I administer all activity here in the library. We’re comprised of three departments: technical services, public services, and special collections. In terms of the day to day, I supervise the department heads and the different departments. I also work on special projects as well as initiating grants and administering them. Overall, I manage the professional aspects of the library as opposed to the more academic aspects.”

Q: How does that supervising process take shape?

“Each department has a rhythm of its own and has tasks that it has to take care of in order to meet the user’s needs.

My role comes in more with charting out a course, setting strategic plans, and setting up goals and objectives. There is a formal review process. I meet with each department head once a week. I summarize generally what’s going in the library but we also plan what we would like to do, what we are going to do, how we’re going to change, and the direction we’re going. In other words, we focus on strategic planning. We look at the department strategically and see how we’re going to accomplish certain types of things that we’d like to do.”

Q: Do the strategic goals have to do with whoever’s funding the department or is it more internal in terms of the goals that are set by JTS itself?

“The library has a mission: to collect and preserve and make available the literary cultural heritage of the Jewish people. So we’re actually doing that in each department. I’d say that now it’s slightly different because of changes in funding but sometimes it’s funder directed and sometimes it’s our choice based on what we feel is important at a particular time.

The funded ones are pretty straight forward. You get funding to do a certain project and you have a certain timeline deadline; you have to make sure the work gets done.

In terms of JTS directed programs on the other hand, we’re upgrading our library catalog system, for example. That’s cyclical and it happens every two to three years. So the quantity of testing and customization is our prerogative.

We have three phases of the test for the system. The first phase is: did our data transfer properly? And that’s imperative to accept the system. Then it’s more about the functionality: is the functionality working the way we’d like it to work? What changes do we need to make and what changes would we like to make? The final step is making the system-function move forward from its current level to a level that will work better for what we need. That’s where more of the planning and prioritizing comes in. Ultimately then, we ask ourselves at what stage are we going to do these improvements? That whole process has nothing to do with our funding. It has to do with regular project work in the library.

We have a grant now from the Metropolitan New York Library Council to put up an archival collection in our digital library. There, we must finish the project by November first present them with a completed report. For that, you have to make sure that each of the pieces are in their place as we’re working.

So there are different ways of supervising and managing different kinds of projects.

Also it has a lot to do with people; getting the right people to do the right kind of work and making the right kind of matches for people.”

Q: So your position must require you to be extremely knowledgeable about your staff.

“Well first of all, we’re not such a large staff. Unfortunately we’re smaller than we were, somewhere between twenty-five and thirty now. We’ve been up to thirty-five or forty but we’ve had some cutbacks. If I don’t personally know what would be a good match, the supervisors can make that determination.”

Q: So it sounds like one of the keys to your success is a well-trusted staff of supervisors who help you get things done.

“Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely!”

Come back next Wednesday, October 27, for part two of this great interview. Please email me at mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org if you would like to be interviewed or know of someone who'd make a great subject.

Posted by Marie.