by Rabbi Ellen Greenspan
I am a member of my alma mater’s LinkedIn group for alumnae. The discussions we have on this group page are wide ranging. Someone started a conversation about waste by asking “Do you hate waste as much as I do? How are you trying to eliminate waste in your life?”
Five months later, the discussion is still going strong. We Smithies have discussed recycling, composting, “free-cycling” and, most recently, different ideas for sharing books – a conversation that got me thinking about how we share books in the Jewish community.
Most synagogues struggle with their libraries. We all want to have libraries – and most synagogues do have a room called “The Library.” But few have the budget to hire a librarian. All too often the synagogue library is a jumble of books with no one dedicated to organizing it and then maintaining the organization.
I do not have an answer to that conundrum, but we can benefit from some of the ideas that have been posted on this Smith College LinkedIn group.
Instead of a full lending library, we might consider creating a library of Jewish reference books that can be used by the rabbi, religious school teachers, congregants and maybe even members of the community at large. These books would have to be read/used in the synagogue library. Maybe there could be a system for getting special permission to borrow a book – but then you get into the whole question of who monitors books that go out to make sure they are returned.
All other books – novels, books of secular interest, current non-fiction, etc – could be “loaned” out on an informal basis. I know that many NYC buildings have “Take a Book; Leave a Book” shelves in their laundry or common rooms. That could work easily in a synagogue.
Through the LinkedIn discussion, I learned about a growing national movement of “Little Free Libraries” – written up in the NY Times. It struck me as such a fabulous idea for synagogues. It is simply a box and a sign: “Take a Book — Return a Book.” Each Little Free Library is a “house” just big enough to hold 20 or 30 books. The Little Free Library organization will even sell you a library box, and their website offers instructions for building your own. The box would sit outside your building – maybe at the curb, so as to be easily accessible. I could even see more than one box – maybe one for kids and one for adults. Maybe one for Jewish-themed books and one for secular ones. If bringing strangers to your synagogue door represents a security threat, how about sponsoring a Little Free Library in a local park, along your favorite bike path or near the local coffee shop? What a great way to “advertise” your synagogue – and serve the community at the same time. (Click here for more photos of Little Free Libraries).
God be thanked for books! They are the voices of the distant and the dead, and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages. (W.E. Channing)