Librarian dedicated to Jewish community

Published Jan 23, 2013 at 10:44 am (Updated Jan 23, 2013 at 10:44 am)

L ibraries have always drawn my curiosity. As a young girl, the public library in Canonsburg is where I found my favorites, the Beverly Gray and Nancy Drew mysteries, the life lessons of author Grace Livingston Hill and all the reference books I needed. Every week I headed home with an armful of books, always the maximum allowed. As toddlers and teens, my daughters were also fascinated with the library’s reading treasures. As adults, they continue to enjoy the advantages they provide, Susan borrowing books on tape and Wendy curling up with new releases from the state-of-the-art library in Easley, S.C.

My enthusiasm with libraries has continued to grow through my friendships with library heads all around the South Hills. They pique my attention with up-to-date educational materials as well as creative programs for men and women, moms and dads and children of all ages. Libraries not only supply an awesome collection of books, but computers and free Internet and Wi-Fi access, diverse materials, the latest technology and comfortable reading areas.

Just recently I was pleasantly surprised to meet Paula Altschul, the librarian at Temple Emanuel in Mt. Lebanon. She shared with me the congregation’s impressive collection of books, tapes, DVDs, magazines and periodicals, all dedicated to Jewish studies and enjoyment, offering its members a great resource of the celebration of Jewish writings.

Meeting Paula was delightful. For the entire afternoon, we shared stories and confirmed many of the benefits libraries offer today.

“Libraries have always been exciting to me,” said Paula. “As a high school student, I worked in a library in New Jersey and frequented the library in Charlottesville when I lived in Virginia. I really didn’t plan on working in the library here at Temple Emanuel, but the previous librarian became ill and I came to help.”

Temple’s library began in a small area of an older section of the synagogue’s building. Needing more space, in 2003, the books, magazines and all its materials were moved into a larger, more inviting room. With help, Paula divided the room into sections for fiction and nonfiction, historical, reference, new releases, those focusing on Israel and even added a little romance to the shelves. Groupings of audio books and DVDs with a Jewish theme are available, too. New shelving, computers, an appealing area for children’s storytime and comfortable seating for adults draw many to the library each week.

Members of Temple’s family began noticing how well their library was responding to its layout and acclaimed reading materials and how knowledgeable and helpful their librarian was. Her formatting was so good that she could put her hands on a book or an article someone was looking for within minutes.

As the staff and library visitors continued to enjoy their well-lit reading room featuring its 3,000-plus books, unbeknownst to Paula her service dedication was being recognized. Her name was added to nomination forms and sent to the Church & Synagogue Library Association to be considered for its annual Outstanding Congregational Librarian Award. Paula had no idea Carol Meisinger, head of the Southwest chapter, submitted the application to the awards committee.

Not long after, Paula began receiving calls announcing that she would be the recipient of the CSLA’s annual award. Paula was sure the calls were pranks and just passed them off. In total disbelief she later had confirmation from Carol that she indeed was the 2012 winner and traveled to Springfield, Ill., for the national conference to receive her award.

“I’m excited to be working in the library,” continued Paula. “It doesn’t matter whether I’m telling stories to preschoolers, introducing Jewish books to students, working with the faculty of our religious school or sharing the Jewish film experience with adults, I love it all.”

“Paula is a great librarian and teaching partner,” said Melinda Freed, Temple’s in-house caterer and cooking instructor. “She sets aside books or articles that are of interest to the subjects I teach. She makes it easy for me to bring more to my classroom.”

Librarians play a key role in developing a positive influence for their visitors. They perform their designated duties, pursue research and provide professional and helpful service to all ages who walk through their doors.

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