Stanford Hillel librarian preparing to check out of job

Sally Wieder has a lot of reading to do in a really short time.

Wieder, the Stanford Hillel librarian for 20 years, will work her last day on Wednesday, June 10, and she's trying to finish the eight books she has checked out.

The Saratoga resident is closing out her 25-year career of starting and maintaining five Jewish libraries on the Peninsula.

Hillel is in transition, which has led to her exit, even though she was in the middle of a retrospective reconversion which puts the card catalog on the computer.

The library she helped build and nurture is no longer able to fund Wieder's two-days-per-week position.

"We're going through a period of change and restructuring," said Rabbi Yoel Kahn, Stanford Hillel executive director. "The library will continue to be open." Right now, the Hillel board of directors is "exploring our long-range goals."

Kahn is confident that Hillel will raise enough money to staff the library in time for the fall semester, but Wieder doesn't fit into the still-unformed future plan.

"I've loved it. It's been a wonderful source of satisfaction for so many reasons," said Wieder. "I've really enjoyed seeing it grow. It's been my Jewish education."

Born into what she called "a very Reform" household in Cleveland, Wieder married an Orthodox man, which may have been the beginning of her Jewish education. Today they are members of Palo Alto Orthodox Minyan.

Back in 1968, however, with two small children in tow, the couple moved to the Bay Area. They bought a house in Saratoga two years later.

Wieder, who earned a library degree at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, had professional public library experience under her belt before taking on her first Jewish library project more than 25 years ago at Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, where she and her family were members.

Wieder volunteered to catalog Beth David's collection of 200 books, which she packed into her car so she could organize them at home.

When her family, now expanded to three children, joined Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, Wieder spent the next five years as the synagogue's volunteer librarian. At the same time, she helped establish a library in Sunnyvale for the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School.

When her daughter, Deborah, attended the now-closed Kerem Yeshiva in Santa Clara, the institution used Wieder's expertise to establish a secular library.

By 1978, Rabbi Ari Cartun, then-executive director of Stanford Hillel, was well aware of Wieder's contributions to the Jewish library scene. He hired her to join him in organizing the library's 600-book collection.

Over time, the pair and a number of volunteers were able to transform the library into a more efficient, welcoming place for students and the surrounding Jewish community.

"She was the best thing that ever happened to the Hillel library," said Cartun, who left Hillel two years ago and is now at Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto. "She's a sparkling human being who cared about the [volunteers] who worked with her. She loved watching students get excited about Jewish knowledge."

The library has grown to nearly 6,000 volumes and subscribes to at least 60 Jewish periodicals.

"It was a wonderful opportunity to help create this collection and work with students and faculty," said Wieder. "What I liked about working at Hillel was there was a whole spectrum of Jewish backgrounds of library users."

Wieder read as much material as she could on her own, in order to help library users. "Every book I read would make me a better resource," she said.

"Questions would run the gamut. One person would want to read the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the next person might want to see a Bible commentary."

The library has been successful lending by the honor system, with borrowers signing out their own books. While some may have stretched the overdue limits at times — three years was the longest, said Wieder — usually a reminder notice from Wieder and her core group of regular volunteers was enough to get the books returned.

In one instance, Wieder played hardball, however.

"One graduate student was remiss for a long time in bringing a book back," she said. "I went to his dorm room and left a threatening tongue-in-cheek note and the book came right back.

"That's part of the fun of the library."

The Hillel Library is recognizing Wieder's contribution with a farewell luncheon at the Stanford Faculty Club on Tuesday. The board also voted to establish a book acquisition fund in Wieder's name.

Meanwhile, Wieder will be dedicating her volunteer efforts to Saratoga-based Hatikvah, which organizes events for developmentally disabled adults in the Jewish community.

"We are working to open the first independent Jewish group home in the South Bay," she said.