Library books take on new life in SFSU reading room

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In 1995, close to 2,000 books were displaced to storage-room shelving in the Jewish Community Library of the Bureau of Jewish Education. There they sat among office supplies, collecting dust.

But while unusable in the growing, S.F.-based library, the books might just be a godsend somewhere else, thought Jewish Community Library director Jonathan Schwartz, as he stared at the looming collection of castoffs.

Schwartz's inclination was right. Last week the books — dusted off and ready for use — settled into a new home at the Marvin L. Silverman Jewish Studies reading room at San Francisco State University.

"They had works they were unable to use and we are the beneficiaries," explained Jewish Studies program director Fred Astren. "It's something we could not have purchased or come by on our own. It's like a gift from heaven."

The donation, providing the first books for the reading room, is a "a real shot in the arm," said Astren. It will "add strength to our Jewish studies program," a small but growing program that offers around 13 courses per semester.

The exchange was also like kismet for Schwartz. Not only did he find a suitable purpose for the extra books, mostly duplicates, weeded from his 30,000-volume library — but upon clearing the storage space, he also found enough room to create a staff office. But it was the donation aspect of the project that most pleased him.

"We're seeing a new function for our library," he said. "We see both what the Jewish Community Library means in terms of our own public, but also what we can do for others in the Jewish community. The mission is to get books into people's hands, whether through our library or another library. "

Founded in the early 1970s, the community library has also, in the past, donated books to Chico State University. Schwartz said he hopes to continue giving books to SFSU and Chico State, as needed, so "we're increasingly getting books to new members of the public."

The Jewish Studies reading room, named for the late SFSU education professor Marvin Silverman, was officially opened under its new title during a dedication ceremony Nov. 30. As both a founder of the SFSU Jewish Studies program and a former BJE board member, Silverman seemed perfect for the commemoration.

"He was instrumental in the creation of Jewish Studies — a renaissance man," whose commitment to the Jewish community never waned, said Astren. "It only seemed right and appropriate to name the room after him."

Close to 100 people attended the ceremony, participating in both a reception and dedication.

The reading room includes academic, reference and historical books on Jewish subjects, including texts of Talmudic and Jewish law, histories of Israel written in Hebrew, books on historic Jews of America, facsimiles of early editions of the Talmud and encyclopedias, and the "Encyclopedia Judaica."

Books are only available for in-house use. And while the room is open to the public, its primary target is the 250 to 300 students enrolled in the Jewish Studies program.

"The students have been thrilled that they're finding materials on the shelves that they wouldn't otherwise be able to find at San Francisco State," said Astren. "It's a wonderful resource for those interested in studying Judaism, right here on campus."

He said the room, formerly used for seminars, already included a computer with Internet access and Jewish studies on CD-ROM. The room is furnished with tables, chairs and a couch.

"The books have made it into a warmer environment," said Astren. "There's nothing warmer than books. Not only do they speak to the practical issues of teaching and learning, but in a very deep way, they also speak to our culture and the psychological roots of Judaism."