Sally Hyam didn’t mind working on her birthday. A librarian for the last 19 years at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA), Hyam was actually delighted that some 40 visitors were checking out books and videos at the opening reception celebrating the library’s new location in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd.
"You’re the heart and soul of this library," one woman told Hyam.
"This is the best place," Hyam told The Journal. "It’s just one big happy family."
Unfortunately, "family" might be a more apt word for the library than "community," accounting for JCLLA’s annual traffic. The library still occupies a very marginal space in Los Angeles’ Jewish community of 600,000. Only 150-200 items are checked out daily. In the bigger picture, JCLLA serves a relatively small network of academics and individuals — a glorified extended family.
Abigail Yasgur, JCLLA’s executive librarian and driving force, believes that the nearly 60-year-old library has historically suffered from a lack of aggressive marketing. But JCLLA’s supporters are hoping that, at its new location, Los Angeles’ Jews will discover the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles Peter M. Kahn Memorial, which operates under the Bureau of Jewish Education, a Federation department and the library’s new floormate.
The library, with a staff of four, operates on a $100,000 annual budget. Friends of JCLLA, headed by Judy and Nat Gorman, raises an additional $20,000-$30,000 each year. Currently, the library boasts over 25,000 Jewish books, videos, DVDs and CDs and hosts lectures, readings and family-oriented events.
Like Los Angeles itself, JCLLA has always been saddled by impermanence. Over the years, it has moved around with The Federation, starting at its original 590 N. Vermont Ave. headquarters.
For the last four years, JCLLA shared ground-floor space on Museum Row at 6006 Wilshire with fellow Federation-supported entities the Jewish Historical Library of Southern California and Los Angeles Martyrs Museum.
The long-intended move back into 6505 Wilshire comes with perks. The JCLLA’s staff is excited about the new space, which resembles the stacks at an Ivy League university, with its cozy carpeted floors and window nooks. Many believe that JCLLA’s placement will create a new kind of synergy with its Federation neighbors.
"This is where we belong," said Sandy Bernstein, former JCLLA chair.
"We’re delighted to have it near the Children’s Library and the Bureau [of Jewish Education]," said Jewish Federation President John Fishel.
While Federation brass salutes the JCLLA director’s passion and drive, Fishel did not always see eye to eye with Yasgur. In 1999, Yasgur was clearly frustrated with the state of her library, then at 6006 Wilshire. Yasgur had voiced displeasure over the library’s 5,000-square-feet designation, reduced to 2,500 square feet at 6505 Wilshire. She had lamented that one-third of the library’s collection was in storage.
Today, Yasgur does not view The Federation as a taciturn supporter.
"There’s no rift with The Federation," she said. "I don’t expect the library to be a priority over the Jews in Crisis campaign. John Fishel, [Executive Vice President] Jack Klein and [Vice President of Facilities] Cyndie Ayala have worked very diligently. The library looks great."
Space is no longer an issue either. The proximity to the library’s sister facility, the Slavin Family Children’s Library, will prove, according to its director, Amy Muscoplat, mutually beneficial.
"Now we have most of the collection available and for use with the children’s collection downstairs," said Yasgur, who even reserved a room as a community beit midrash (house of study).
Visitors enjoyed the new location. "It was too cramped at the old space," said Al Schoenberg.
"I come here for the [Jewish] music," said Lorette Ben-Nathan. "This place is more specialized [than public libraries]."
But Yasgur said she would love to see benefactors "step up and provide the base for a large, ongoing enterprise." She envisions a prominent $7 million Pico-Robertson area storefront.
Fishel finds such expectations quixotic.
"I would caution letting the dream carry them away," Fishel said. "I don’t believe they would raise that kind of money. It’s not only raising money for the physical facility, it’s a question of operationally, how are you going to finance it and maintain it."
Yasgur holds onto her long-term goal.
"If we build it, they will come," Yasgur said. "Once people find us, they exclaim, ‘Wow, this is a well-kept secret. I never knew there was a Jewish Community Library.’ Everybody will want to use this library if they know about it."