Friday, July 17, 2009

AJL Conference - Part One

This year's conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries was held in sunny Chicago and for me it was three days of fun, sharing, and learning.

Day one was Sunday, when my husband and I arrived. We spent some time walking around the hotel area and hit a local bookstore where we picked up some treasures. I got Victor Erofeyev's Life with an Idiot, a collection of highly metaphorical political short stories, and Yoram Kaniuk's Adam Resurrected, historical fiction about Israel and the Holocaust. Sunday night was the big welcome reception and dinner, at which I connected with my friends and colleagues, made some new friends and settled in with a keynote speech by Northwestern University professor Peter Hayes entitled The Holocaust: Myths and Misconceptions.

Sessions got rolling Monday morning with Good Reads, What's New in Adult Jewish Literature, moderated by librarian Marga Hirsch (Park Avenue Synagogue) with librarian Nancy Rivin (Temple Emanu-El) and Michlean Amir (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum). Rivin brought to our attention some recent favorites like People of the Book as well as 2009 titles like
  • The Believers, by Zoe Heller,
  • You or Someone Like You, by Chandler Burr,
  • America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story, by Bruce Feller,
  • Day After Day, by Anita Diamant,
  • Home Repair, by Liz Rosenberg,
  • Drawing in the Dust, by Zoe Klein, and
  • This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper, which I'll soon be reading courtesy of Penguin Books.
Amir spoke on Hebrew-language books recently translated into English, highlighting the efforts of Toby Press to bring Israeli literature to English-language readers. Some recently translated books she mentioned include
  • To This Day, by S.Y. Agnon,
  • Dearest Anne: A Tale of Impossible Love, by Judith Katzir,
  • Valley of Strength, by Shulamit Lapid, and
  • Laish: A Novel, by Aharon Appelfeld.
Next up was a panel called Writing the Jewish Children's Book, a panel moderated by librarian Norma Newman (Hebrew Academy, Montreal) and including authors Esme Codell, Ilene Cooper, Brenda Ferber and Esther Herschenhorn. The general topic of discussion was the eternal question, what makes a book Jewish. This topic is one that could merit a whole series of articles or discussions, but the consensus seemed to be, from this group of authors whose work ranges from explicitly Jewish to solidly secular, that a book is Jewish because, to paraphrase one author, I am Jewish and the books are a part of me. Well said.

After lunch, librarian Lisa Silverman (Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library, Los Angeles) gave a talk on Teaching the Holocaust Through Picture Books. I found her talk extremely illuminating and useful- probably the best hour and change I spent at the conference. She gave a very hands-on, detailed breakdown of different kinds of Holocaust books for kids, and how (or if) to use them with different age groups, as well as some great practical suggestions on programming and how to bring books into the classroom. I appreciated that she discussed questionable or hard-to-use books as well as favorites; a few of the books she mentioned were new to me but most I've read over the course of my time in a synagogue library. It's just as important to highlight what not to do sometimes when working with a difficult and emotionally volatile subject.

The final program of the day I attended was Synagogues and Centers Roundtable, moderated by librarian Eileen Polk (Prentis Memorial Library of Temple Beth El). Here we synagogue librarians gathered to discuss various issues affecting us, including fundraising, book clubs, book sales, economic difficulties, building relationships with clergy and different programs and ideas that people had for building interest and momentum for our libraries.

With no official functions to attend Monday night, my husband and I headed out for some deep-dish pizza and more bookshopping. What else is a librarian to do?

You can read Part Two here!


Anna said...

Wow! Sounds like a great conference. Can't wait to hear more.

Diary of an Eccentric

Darlene said...

Sounds like a fantastic conference. I would have found the part of Teaching the Holocaust through Picture Books very interesting. Glad you had a good time and yum to the deep dish pizza! Looking forward to Part 2.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Fun that your husband was able to go to Chicago with you.

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU was one of the titles that caught my eye at BEA; lots of buzz around that one. I'll look for your review.