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Dismantling a Jewish community resource

The Koopman Library prepares to close

By Cindy Mindell

 

WEST HARTFORD – As this month comes to a close, so too does the Koopman Library at the Mandell JCC of Greater Hartford. The community resource, managed by the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford’s Commission on Jewish Education & Leadership (CJEL), has served as a center for Jewish learning, information, and entertainment since its inception in 1990.

That was the year the JCC cut the ribbon on an addition to its Bloomfield Avenue building, which would house the Koopman Library, named by donor Georgette Koopman, a daughter of Beatrice Fox Auerbach. Under the auspices of the Commission on Jewish Education (now CJEL), and with the guidance of its assistant director, Dr. Sandy Dashefsky, the library transferred and expanded two collections housed at Congregation Agudas Achim in West Hartford: academic materials affiliated with a satellite program of Boston’s Hebrew College, and the HaMerkaz Educator Resource Center of the Commission on Jewish Education.

A decade ago, the library received a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford to link the Koopman Library with the collections at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford and the Bess & Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy in Bloomfield, making the three resources available online.

Koopman 1The library expanded to offer both educators and the community at large an invaluable resource: Jewish books for all ages and interests, a large number of Jewish- and Israel-themed films, an extensive reference collection, and a variety of Jewish-themed periodicals and journals. Teachers had access to consultations with library staff, Jewish educational lesson plans and curriculum materials, music CDs, an Ellison die-cut machine, and study space. The library provided a monthly story-time for the Mandell Jewish Community Center’s Beatrice Fox Early Childhood Center, as well as free Jewish holiday booklets.

Most of the library’s funding was provided through Friends of the Koopman Library, which solicited donations from the community to purchase books and other materials and to provide educational projects.

As the library grew, so did its reach. It served as a resource not only for Jewish educators, but also for teachers outside the Jewish community looking for Holocaust-related classroom materials, or for nursing-home staff seeking to serve Jewish residents. A Koopman Library mobile cart and story-time program frequented Whole Foods Market at Bishops Corner. The annual Holocaust Educators’ Workshop, hosted by the University of Hartford Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, held a regular information session at the library.

In a joint letter to community members, David Jacobs, executive director of the Mandell JCC, and Cathrine Fischer Schwartz, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, cited “the changing patterns in usage and technology, as well as the programmatic needs of the JCC,” for the decision to dismantle the library. “Given the advances in technology, many of the library’s current resources are available digitally and/or on the Internet or can be made available without the need for a dedicated physical space,” they wrote.

As explained in the letter, the space will be used to expand the existing Family Room Parenting Center, which will house the Koopman Library resources geared toward families and children in a dedicated reading space.

The Koopman’s materials are being relocated to Jewish institutions throughout the community.

“Our focus in the transition is to find appropriate placement for all of the library’s resources,” says Anna Elfenbaum, associate vice president of Jewish Education and Leadership at Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. “In light of space configuration at the JCC, with the Family Room being adjacent to the library, the thinking was to keep books for families and children in that space. The other resources are moving to places appropriate to the readers or users.”

For example, Hebrew Health Care in West Hartford received the large-print collection, and the three Hartford-area Jewish day schools are taking resources that will be used by students and faculty. Hebrew High School of New England received more than 1,000 books, says Koopman librarian Susan Fried, “and there are plenty more on our shelves.” Many of the novels from the Koopman’s collection will be housed in a newly designed Reading Room space on the second level of the JCC and available for sign-out.

Elfenbaum says that CJEL will continue to house and provide educators’ resources and leadership materials to the community.

CJEL and Federation leadership considered relocating the Koopman’s collections to the Deborah Library at Congregation Beth Israel, part of the West Hartford synagogue’s learning center that serves as a community resource. But because the two libraries share similar resources, Elfenbaum says, the transfer would have resulted in many duplications. Jane Zande, director of membership and communications at Beth Israel, says that the synagogue is open to being “as helpful as possible” with the transition and may take materials in the future.

Elfenbaum says that CJEL staff members have received very few comments about concerns regarding the library. When asked why the library wasn’t simply moved in toto to the CJEL offices, she explained that the Beth Israel library will continue to serve as a community resource with as many, if not more, books available than the Koopman Library offered. “We anticipate that library patrons will continue to find the resources they need and enjoy through many different venues in the community,” she says.

 

CJEL is planning a community sale of the remaining Koopman Library materials. For information call (860) 231-6375.

 

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