Over the past year, the Clarence L. and Estelle S. Meyers Library at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park has undergone a $20,000 facelift that has included the expansion of its collection, the purchase of a new computer with high-speed Internet access, the addition of new furniture and lighting – and a gourmet coffee machine.
Couldn't placing hot liquids in the same room as a new $3,000 Talmud set and 15,000 other volumes be potentially hazardous to the texts?
"We haven't had any problems yet," said Norman Olson, chairman of the synagogue's library committee.
For these improvements – and for maintaining a facility that is professionally organized, and has a clear and cohesive mission – the library received accreditation from the Association of Jewish Libraries on June 21 during that organization's annual conference in Oakland, Calif.
While roughly 900 synagogues and Jewish communities centers nationwide enjoy membership in the association, only about 60 have been accredited, according to Etta Gold, who chairs the association's accreditation committee.
"This is a real feather in their cap," said Gold. "For them to go through this process, which requires tremendous dedication, speaks volumes about their library."
Gold said that two other libraries in the area had previously received accreditation. One belongs to Congregation Beth Or in Spring House and the other to the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education, headquartered in Elkins Park.
Olson explained that the primary goals of the library are to serve the synagogue's religious school, as well as offer adult members material that is "current, interesting and entertaining." The general public can also check out books during regular library hours.
Olson's most recent borrowed book? China Incorporated: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World by Ted C. Fishman.
Amy Seidman, a synagogue member who voluntarily runs the library and is currently completing a master's degree in library science, spearheaded the process for accreditation. She said that aside from access to additional resources and the Association of Jewish Libraries' network, the biggest benefit accreditation offers is to be able to attend the annual conference alongside librarians from top-flight academic institutions.
"We emphasized how important the library is for the congregation," said Seidman, before leaving for California. "Every Friday night, we bring a book cart to the Oneg Shabbat service showcasing our new acquisitions. We want to encourage people to come in and read."