Starting this month, if you venture past the BJE Jewish Community Library at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus, you may notice some changes.
The library is going to begin a pilot program, sharing its space with the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center. “We would like the community to use this shared space for book clubs, story times, JCC camps and meetings,” says Elaine Hirsch, director of adult learning and the Jewish Community Library at the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Phoenix.
The most significant change will be that the books that currently occupy the center of the existing space will be redistributed and new bookshelves will be installed inside the existing classrooms. “Just like public libraries have public use spaces, this will open up a huge area for us,” explains Elaine. “The books in this main area will be primarily children’s books
The remainder of the books will be housed in BJE’s four classrooms.
For example, in the classroom that is primarily used for bible and text studies, there will be shelves containing the Talmud, Bible, commentaries and other classical Jewish literature. “That will be nice because as students are studying, they can walk over to the shelf and take out the book, instead of having to bring their own, it will be right there,” Elaine says.
The other three classrooms will contain their large fiction series, sections on the Holocaust and Israel as well as biographies. There will also be a curriculum section for teachers providing both ideas for the classroom and ideas for extension activities.
Elaine admits that one of her favorite things is working with the teachers that come into the library. “Teachers that want to do an activity beyond the curriculum they are teaching, enhancing the curriculum, those are called extension activities. That’s what I really love to do.”
The library is open to everyone in the community and Elaine says that she often has non-Jews calling her asking questions about Judaism and Jewish life. She shares a funny story about a recent request she had. “Someone was getting a tattoo and wanted to know the correct Hebrew quote from the Song of Songs.”
There are so many services that the library provides that are not always tangible. Elaine likes to share her favorite quote by Erica Silverman, “Libraries and librarians do what they do so quietly and efficiently that it’s easy to take them for granted. But we do so at our peril. If we don’t safeguard them, we will wake up one day and realize that we’ve lost something very, very precious, essential to democracy, to literacy, to our quality of life. A world without libraries is unthinkable.”
Elaine stresses the fact that with all the information on the internet, people need a place where they can access quality, accurate information. She also believes that technology and physical books can complement each other. “One isn’t necessarily better than the other, we need both,” she explains. “When people are doing research, it’s often easier to have 5 or 6 books open in front of you rather than having to go back and forth on the computer.”
There is no arguing that books will always win over technology in one situation, in particular, says Elaine, “There’s nothing like cuddling with a child with a book. You are instilling Jewish memory, and a Kindle can’t do that, only a book can.”
To learn more about the services offered at the Jewish Community Library and classes offered through the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Phoenix, visit bjephoenix.org.