Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Calendar

The Calendar

Do we take the calendar for granted or are we totally dependent on it? Over the past few weeks several calendar related questions were asked of me. In the last blog article I stated that the reckoning or changing of the date of the year varied by time and place. Someone
asked me to elaborate. Since the holiday of Pesah is coming and Nisan is the first of the months, someone asked me why is Nisan the first month and Rosh Hashana at the beginning of the seventh month. Another person pointed out that some units of time are natural (i.e based on astronomically observed events) and some are human convention. The calendar is designed for societal needs. There many kinds of calendars. Some list only holidays or events and others list every day of the year. As long as the calendar meets societal needs and it is consistent in the following of its own rules, it is accurate. This article attempts to seek out the common basis to answer all these questions.

A full calendar is marker for time that we use to keep track of the days of the week, the days of a month, the months and the year, but did you ever consider that some measures for time are natural and some totally artificial? A day is the rotation of the earth on its axis. A month is the time the moon rotates around the earth and a year is the rotation of the earth around the sun.

How did an hour become 1/24 of day and an hour divide into 60 minutes and a minute into 60 seconds? Hours, minutes and seconds are human conveniences. In today’s number systems we use base 10 which is commonly thought to correspond to ten fingers. In other systems such as ancient Babylonia and Sumar, they used base 12 or 60. Twelve is the number of digits (also called phalanges) on our fingers when not including the thumb. The thumb could have been used to count the digits. Hence 24 is both hands and 60 is five fingers times the 12 digits on the other hand. This is speculation as we have no documentary evidence.

The first clocks were sticks placed in the ground to act as a sundial. A refinement was to add marks to measure and calibrate movement of the sun. The time between sunrise and sunset was divided into 12 parts. In the ancient Jewish time calculations this was a halachic (legal) hour. Twelve parts or hours are either from the base 12 finger counting system or from the twelve yearly cycles of the moon.

This was the same way that the ancient Greeks and Romans divided the day. Noon, when the sun is at its greatest height in the sky is halfway between sunrise and sundown. The length of the hour varied with the season. In the Middle East the number of daylight hours varies less than in Chicago. For example the range from the most hours of daylight to the least in Chicago is about 6:05 hours and in Jerusalem it is 4:09 hours.

The exact measurement of time was important for religious rituals. The ancient priests in the Middle East had rituals that were time dependent. For example the very first chapter in the Talmud, Berakhot discusses the correct time for reciting the prayer, Shema and the morning prayers. Ancient Egypt and Babylonia also had time dependent rituals.

Sun dials were fine when the sun shined. At night people needed to use marked candles, oil lamps, or dripping water clocks. People needed to know time more precisely than in hours.

What is week? There is no natural reason that a week is seven days. The 354[1] days of a lunar 12 month cycle and the 365 [2]  days of the solar year are not evenly divisible by 7. One theory is that 360 is close to the number of days in a year. 360 is evenly divisible by three and six (i.e. no fractions or remainders) unlike 10 or 100. The Bible gives us six days of creation and the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath, the day of rest. That is our week.

What is the first day of the year?

There is no straight forward answer. The first chapter in Talmud Rosh Hashana discusses the four new years, Nisan for the liturgical year i.e cycle of holidays; Tishrei for counting of years and sabbatical years, Elul for animals; and Shevat for trees. I am only concerned with the first two. The Torah tells us that Rosh HaShanah of Tishei is the seventh month and Nisan is the first of months. We change the year of calendar on the first of Tishrei. The counting of Pesah as the first holiday of the year really makes very little difference in keeping track of time or dates. The interesting question is why January 1 is the beginning of the year. Tishrei is connected to fall and Nisan with spring. In the solar/secular calendar fall is a natural beginning because the summer harvests are over. We start our school year in the fall. Spring is natural for a new year because the plants that were dormant over the winter start to grow.

Without getting into a prolonged discussion, the winter solstice is associated with the constellation Capricorn. In astrology this period is December 22 to January 19. Capricorn is ruled by the planet named for the Roman god, Saturn. Ancient Rome had a holiday, Saturnalia.[3] This was a festival of lights. Originally the date was December 17, but because of the Julian calendar corrections, the day became December 25 [4]. Seven days later is January 1, which is Kalenda.[7]

In Talmud Avodah Zara 8a is a description a pagan festival called Saturna which occurs eight days before the winter solstice. It is followed eight days after the solstice with a festival called Kalenda. The Talmud ascribes the origins of this festival to Adam, who saw that the days were getting shorter and thought it was punishment for his sin. He was afraid that the world was returning to the chaos and emptiness that existed before creation. He sat and fasted for eight days. Once he saw that the days were getting longer again he realized that this was the natural cycle of the world, so made eight days of celebration. The Talmud states that this festival was later turned into a pagan festival.[5]

The darkness gave Adam what we call winter depression. Adam did not know the cycle of the year is to have days that get shorter and after winter solstice they get longer. Saturnalia became a festival of lights to conquer the darkness. Note the connection to lights on the Christmas tree and the lights on the menorah. The lights of Hanukkah increase each night to match the increasing length of daylight. The winter solstice can not be assigned an exact Hebrew date that will work every year. However, since Pesah always falls in the spring, we can count the days until Kislev, making Kislev correspond to the beginning of winter. In the cycle of the lunar months, the 14th or 15th of the month is a full moon, the day with most moonlight. The last week of the month is the darkest as the time is before the new moon. The new moon is the first day the moon is visible. Hence, Kishlev 25 is a good choice. A celebration [6] on that begins on Kishlev 25 that lasts eight days will include the new moon or rosh hodesh Tevet.

In the Roman calendar, Kalenda (Kalendae), would make a good choice for the new year because it was the 8th day after the start of the winter solstice holiday. Just as the days stop getting shorter, there is a holiday to celebrate the new year of longer daylight. Saturnalia and Kalenda were legal holidays in Roman times when no business was conducted. Perhaps this is an explanation for a “natural” reason for a January 1 new year?

We already have a fall and a spring new year date; why should the winter date be any more reasonable? The information on the Ancient Roman calendar is limited. We do know that the year had 10 named months. That is why September means seventh month and December means 10th month. Bernard Allen , referring to O. E. Hartmann, [9] suggests that the 10 month year corresponds the ten month vegetation year and is analogous to our 9 or 10 month school year. The 60 days for the months of winter i.e. January and February were not numbered. Hartmann speculated that farmers did not do much in the winter months. That would indicate that March 1st [10] is a “natural” choice for the first day of the year and that was the date for new year in pre-Caesarian Rome.

Janus was the two faced Roman god of change and new beginnings; one face for the future and one for the past. January was named for Janus and the first day was a celebration. January 1st was the 8th day after December 25th. January 1st was the date the Roman consuls began serving their term. In the Catholic liturgical calendar January 1 was the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, but this is confusing two time periods. Europeans celebrated the new year on December 25, March 1, March 25, and Easter.[11]

In medieval Europe, however, the celebrations accompanying the new year were considered pagan and unchristian like, and in the year 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year and forbade celebrations. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation [12] ; and Easter.

H. J. Rose [13] suggests that what we know about the calendar before Julius Caesar is speculation. The early Roman calendar, unlike the Jewish calendar, was not connected to the seasons. The early Romans did not seem to care. Since the 10 month year of either 295 or 304 days depending on how you counted was not even close to the solar year, November was not always in the fall. Eventually to correct this, an extra month was added about three times in eight years to keep the numbered months in the correct season. Few Roman days had special names. The Jewish calendar has named holidays associated with a particular day of a particular month. However, in the Torah the months don’t have names.

The calendar that Julius Caesar enacted with names for the months and fixed numbers of days per month is pretty close to our current calendar. This is the Julian calendar. This calendar modified by Pope Gregory in 1582 with the addition of ten days to correct the shift of dates and realign the solar year to the date on the calendar. By 1582 the vernal equinox was March 11 not March 21. The vernal equinox sets the date of Easter. The Gregorian calendar was immediately adopted in Catholic countries. In other countries acceptance was slowed by political or religious reasons. Russia only accepted it 1918 after the revolution. Greece was the last European country to accept it in 1923.  [14]

Perhaps you are wondering how 16th century scientists knew the exact date of the equinox, solstice or length of the year? After all Galileo Galilei first pointed a telescope to the sky in 1609. 16th century observations used a room sized camera obscura. The room was a darkened church and the pinhole in the roof made a lens that focused the sun’s image on the wall. The wall had a map with a metal line that charted the movement of sun at precisely noon. The extremes of the line made by the sun were the winter
and summer solstices. 


The calendar was created for the convenience of society. In an agricultural society, people needed to keep track of seasons. Agricultural holidays commemorated the change of seasons. When society needed times for religious ritual a system of time was invented based on solar observations. For example the times for morning prayers and the times to start and end the Shabbat and holidays needed to be predictable. Since the length of a day and month are not evenly divisible into the length of a year, some compensation needed to be made to keep seasonal festivals in their proper season. The adjustment is a leap month, leap day or leap second.

Each of the dates for the new year, fall, winter and spring are based on the movement of the earth around the sun. Since the new year automatically starts at the moment the old year ends, this article while it ends here, never will be completed. 

Postscript for April 1

The origin for April 1 as "April Fool's" is not certain.  In today's Time Magazine Daily Brief is an article by Jennifer Latson (  suggesting that it started in 1582 after France adapted the Gregorian calendar. In many places new year was celebrated on March 25. If there was an eight day celebration, it would end on April 1. Those who celebrated New Year on January 1 called the March 25thers  fools.  This theory is suspect since Chaucer mentions a new year in the Nun's Wife's Tale

   Whan that the month in which the world bigan,
   When the month in which the world began,
   That highte March, whan God first maked man,
   Which is called March, when God first made man,

   Syn March [was gon], thritty dayes and two,
    Since March had gone, thirty days and two

Thirty-two days after March 1 is April 1.


[1] The Jewish year could have 354, 355, or 356 days depending on how many 29 and 30 day months.

[2] The actual length of the year is usually rounded to 365.25 days, requiring a leap day every four years.  More precisely the length of the solar year is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. The Gregorian calendar corrects this by making years ending in 00 a regular year except when the year is divisible by 400.  The Jewish calendar corrects the lunar/solar cycles by having seven leap years within a 19 year cycle. An extra month is added before the spring in a leap year. The one prayer that is totally dependent on the solar year is the recitation of “Tal Umatar” which is supposed to be recited 60 days after the autumnal equinox.  For a full discussion of the date see:  “Regarding the Date to Begin Reciting Tal Umatar”

[3]   For a fuller discussion on Saturnalia see:  “Saturnalia” in Wikipedia The holiday’s customs changed over the years. 

[4] December 25 was a pagan holiday long before it became a Christian one.

[5] See Menachem Leibtag’s article,  “Chanuka - its Biblical roots - Part Two” where he discusses this Midrash.  The Talmud describes observances of the Roman holidays of Saturnia and Kolenda that are very close to the Romans sources described in the above Wikipedia article.  The legend also appears in Ginzberg, Louis
Legends of the Jews, (Philadelphia; Jewish Publication Society, ©1937) v. 1 page 89. 

[6] There is a musical play, Celebration, book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt that opened on Broadway in January 1969 and closed after only 109 performances. The title song has the theme of the sun setting and never rising.  When that doesn’t happen they want to “make a celebration.”

[7] Also spelled Calenda and it is the root for the English “calendar” and German “Kalendar.”

[8]  Allen, Bernard Melzar. “The Early Roman Calendar” The Classical Journal, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Dec., 1947), pp. 163-168.  Retrieved from Jstor: Another  article on the Roman Calendar talks about chronology and is not totally relevant to this discussion :   Johnson, Van L.  “Early Roman Chronology and the Calendar” The Classical Journal, Vol. 64, No. 5 (Feb., 1969), pp. 203-207. Retrieved from jStor:

[9]  Hartmann , Otto Ernst. Der Römische Kalender.  Leipzig : Teubner, 1882. pages I0 -I4.

[10] The “ides” is the middle of every month i.e. the 15th.  In a lunar month this would be a full moon.

[11] To read more see: Brunner, Borgna.  “A History of the New Year : a move from March to January”  Infoplease Old Tappan, NJ :  Information Please® Database, Pearson Education, ©2007. I do not totally agree with Brunner’s analysis.
[12] I’m not going to get in a Christian liturgy explanation of the Feast of Annunciation.  In England the day was called Lady Day. You can look at the article, “The Feast of the Annunciation” in the Catholic Encyclopedia . The important aspect for my analysis is that the day is close to the vernal equinox and it was the end of the quarter for the tax year.

[13] Rose, H. J. “The Pre-Caesarian Calendar: Facts and Reasonable Guesses” In: The Classical Journal,  Vol. 40, No. 2 (Nov., 1944), pp. 65-76. Retrieved from Jstor: Stable URL:
 [14] The Wikipedia article “Gregorian Calendar” has a chart when each country adapted the calendar and when they start changing the year on January 1. Great Britain and its colonies (i.e. British America) adapted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 when 11 days were added to the date. This change was established by the Calendar Act of 1751. This was accomplished on Wednesday 2 September 1752; the next day was Thursday 14 September 1752. This did not change Shabbat for that week.  For dating of books and documents one must use a dual dating or conversion factor.  This act also established January 1 as the date to change the year.  Previously it was March 25.  The text of the act may be found at:   

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pesah and Wisdom

Pesah and Wisdom
This is the week before Pesah and this Shabbat is Shabbat ha-gadol.  Since Nisan is the first of the months, I am preparing a longer article on the calendar.  After Pesah we start reading from Perke Avot and I want to discuss a few management ideas found there.

Communication and trust are concepts that encourage people to work hard.  Arcane rules and busy work make people more concerned with the following the rules.  Rabbi Shammai in Perke Avot 1:15 tells us to “say little and do much.”  For some people words escape from one’s mouth easily. One can spend too much time talking and too little time doing.  An action leading to an accomplishment is more effective than endless chatter.  Bright people do not require elaborate explanations.  They have the intuition and power of analysis to figure things out.  This is not a science.  Sometimes the neophyte needs an explanation of all the steps.  That is the learning process.  Eventually the mature learner needs only to be pointed in the right direction.  Never use 100 words, when 10 is sufficient.

Rabbi Shimon in PA 1:17 reminds us that deeds are more essential than study. This does not tell us to act without thinking or preparation, but tells us not to lose sight as to what is the ikar (essence) and what is the road leading to the ikar. He is not telling us to not study, but the message is never forget that reason for learning is to perform the deed.

Knowledge is getting the right information from the right people or sources in a timely manner.  Getting people to act, to perform deeds, and complete projects is the management process based on knowledge. Knowledge is the basis for action.    Wisdom is the use of experience, knowledge and previous actions so that new problems and challenges can be solved.  Wisdom is the basis for strategic decisions.  Making wise choices should be a source of gratification for us.

The Pesah seder gives us an opportunity to perform actions after all our preparations.  The symbols of the holiday on the sedar plate and in our food are a constant reminder that words lead to deeds and study leads to proper correct actions.  May the wisdom we gain empower us to do mitvot and other good things.

Hag samah v'kasher.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Shannah Tovah 5775

This is the time of year when we celebrate a new year. We spend a month preparing by adding a psalm to the evening a morning services and hear the shofar every non-Shabbat morning.  This leads us to the solemn mood of the actual days of Rosh Hashana.  They are days of prayer, reflection, thanks, and appreciation of family, friends, and community.  Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world.  The day is universal. Rosh Hashana is a fall holiday always on Tishri 1.

Before 1752 the date of the new year in the western world had several dates, January 1, March 1, March 15, March 25,  September 22, December 25, and Easter. March 25 (for the spring solstice) and Easter are close in time to the Jewish month of Nissan, which is the first of months according to the Torah.

January 1 was the beginning of the civil year in Ancient Rome beginning about 153 BCE.  It was the date the year tenure of the consuls began.  Julius Caesar introduced a solar based calendar called the Julian calendar in 46 BCE.  He decreed the new year started on January 1.  This date became consistent in the Roman world.

In the middle ages celebrations of the new year were considered pagan and unchristian.  The new year date was not consistent.   In 1582 when Pope Gregory introduced calendar reforms to correct discrepancies between the calendar date and the solar date.  10 days need to be added to the calendar.  This meant the date in England was not the same as the rest of Europe.  The Julian calendar was 11.5 minutes less than the solar year.  The Gregorian calendar differs from the solar year by 11 seconds per year. The Jewish calendar is a lunar-solar year that is corrected by adding seven leap years within a 19 year cycle. This makes the dates seem to late or early compared to the civil years,  but with the cycle the holidays always occur within correct seasons.

On September 2, 1752 British subjects including the U.S. Colonies went to bed and woke up on September 14.  The days were added to the calendar to put England into sync with those countries using the Gregorian calendar.  Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1918 after the revolution.

The early Christians celebrated their new year with reflecting on past mistakes and resolving to improve, echoing their Jewish roots.  In ancient times and continuing to modern China noise and fireworks are used.  This is custom is believed to bring good luck by scaring away evil spirits.  In the United States new year is a time for parties and celebrations, football, parades, and the Times Square gathering.

I wish you a Shana Tovah, a good year full of good things and events.  May you, your family and friends, be showered by haKodesh Barechu with Gezunt (health), Parnassah (income) , Yiddishe Nachat (pride from your children and families), wisdom, and may you have the honor and respect that you deserve.  May all your Tefillot (prayers) be answered for the good and may we only share in Simachot (happy occasions) and support each other in times of need.

May we be zoche (deserving) to experience peace in our personal lives, peace in our communities, peace in Israel, and peace in the entire world for the coming year.  We should pray for peace, prosperity, and justice for all for now and forever.

Ketiva v'chatima tovah! May you be inscribed for a good year, a sweet year!  May God bless us and keep us, shine his face on us,  and send us a happy and good year for us and all those we know.

Spread the good wishes to all your friends, family, and contacts.

Comments:  Sept 21, 2014

After receiving many nice comments and discussing some of the academic points above I have additional comments.

Connection to library cataloging --  Entering the year is an important part of the catalog record.  The date helps keep editions straight.  There are well established practices for entering Hebrew dates and making sure the correct civil date is indicated.  For example from now until January 1, 2015, one must be careful about the Hebrew year of 5775.  The the year may be entered as 2014/2015.

Every year publishers will issue books with the following year on the title page.  For example the publisher puts "2015" on the title page and copyright date, but sells the book months before January 1.  The rules tell the cataloger to record the date as written on the title page and usually a note will be added to remove confusion.  Before I wrote the above piece I never thought about a difference in date on a British book when compared to the date in Europe.  We would record the date from the title page.  The first law of copyright, The Statue of Anne was effective in February 1709.  However, the year was 1710 in Europe. 

Noise making -- The sound of the shofar is loud and piercing sound.  In the month before Rosh Hashana we blow the shofar every morning.  On the morning of the 29th of Elul we do not blow the shofar with the reason given, "we want to confuse the Satan (evil spirits).  If the shofar blower has difficulty blowing on the day of Rosh Hashana the folklore says that Satan is in the shofar preventing the sound form emerging.  These ideas may be related to the noise making on new year for other cultures.  The difference is the law of blowing and listening to the shofar.  One is required to listen to 100 sound blasts. Someone calls out each sound so that the shofar blower can concentrate on the sound.   Each blast must be perfect or it must be repeated until it is correct. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Are you a volunteer?

Sage advice to a job hunter is to find a job that you enjoy and never work a day in your life.  In reality it is very hard to find a job that you are so passionate about that you would work there without pay if you were independently wealthy.  Most librarians love their profession and what being a librarian can contribute to the world.  Librarians try to make order out of chaos so that library users can find what they need or want.  

Most of the time, I write columns that are more academic than passionate.  Last week I saw an e-mail on HaSafran that made me angry.  The post wanted a volunteer to help organizing a synagogue library.  The person, the rabbi of the synagogue, posting did not even understand enough about how a library works to ask the right questions.  This rabbi has simcha (rabbinical ordination) from a yeshiva that does not require a college education and his biographical profiles on the synagogue web site and LinkedIn do not list a college degree.  He has been the rabbi of this congregation for about 20 years.

In July and August of 2003 I wrote two articles on the compensation, expertise and training of librarians.[1] One of the reasons I started writing these columns is to show off the expertise of librarians.  Librarians are valuable members of the education team.  One of the questions librarians hate to hear is, “It must be great to sit and read all day. Are you a volunteer?”[2]

Here is the rabbi’s request with all names and identifying details removed:

To whom it may concern,

 My name is Polony Almony, I have a small Congregation in a suburb. Over the last several years we built a Synagogue, established a full time kollel where Talmudic law is studied, and have an active outreach program where many people are connected to their Jewish tradition. Starting from scratch, we have built up a library of a few thousand (English) books.  Things were totally out of hand as far as having books borrowed and returned, with no good record of what was out. One lady in the community tried to make a system with cards that were in each book, but it really did not work. This summer my mother put bar codes on most of our books. She lives in another city, but came here to volunteer for a while.

At this point we are at an impasse as we try to get our library functioning again. The bar coding is still not finished for the hundreds of new books that were never entered, nor with old books as they come back. We also have not yet set up a system to actually start using the scanner that we have here. In addition my mother has told me that I must have a librarian come in once a week to simply keep the library in order.  Of course, paying a librarian is something that I simply don't have funds for. I've been trying to get a local person to volunteer, but haven't succeeded yet. I know that in many fields, schools encourage their students to spend some time interning, as that gives them experience. Someone suggested that I contact you, if you might be aware of or possibly be able to help me find an intern and at the same time help us get our library together?

Thanks for your time and consideration.
Rabbi Polony Almony

Commentary:  There are many synagogues are in suburban areas 10 or more miles from urban centers with a large number of observant Jews.  Rabbi Almony has worked very hard over the past 20 years to establish a community with a building.  In the early years they had no set location. They have a kollel with several families who are part of the community and two commute more than 50 miles each way.  I am not totally sure what he means by “Talmudic law.”  Most yeshivot base their learning on the text of Talmud.  My synagogue has daily and weekly Talmud classes.   We also have classes in Jewish law.  While the Talmud may be the source of Jewish law, we don’t base our observance directly on the Talmud. We use later codes of law and legal opinions. These contemporary opinions make the principals for the Talmud relevant to our times.

Building a collection requires lots of work.  The process is not just ordering books from a store.  Collection building is a process of understanding your current and future audiences.  It requires understanding of the book trade, budgeting, and subject knowledge.  If the rabbi built a collection, then he is to be commended.  If there is just a bunch of book collected without a plan, then there is a problem. Material acquisition is a never ending task as new books are published all the time and the audience changes.

I really don’t understand his statement of applying bar codes to all the books.  A bar code is just a pointer to a catalog entry.  Without a catalog, the bar code is worthless.  The circulation system needs to query the bibliographic and patron databases to check out books.  Rabbi Almony does not say anything about non-book materials. Does the library have audio-visual items, periodicals, electronic books, or databases?

The part that really bothers me is the request for an unpaid intern.  The Rabbi contacted a library school in the same metropolitan area with the request.  The synagogue does not have a budget to pay the intern or even reimburse for travel expenses.  They expect someone to drive 20-25 miles each way for no pay.  I drive 15 miles and I don’t like to cost in time and money for the commute.  When I was in college I traveled 2 hours by public transportation for a teaching job, but I was paid.  I worked in an academic library for three years while in college and I was paid.  I was also supervised and guided by experienced librarians and teachers.

An intern not only should be compensated, but must work under the close supervision of an experienced professional.  The rabbi does not have that expertise. 

There is a place in a congregation or community for volunteers.  In small congregations volunteers do work that large congregations would hire someone to do.   In an informal poll many volunteers in my congregation put in 4-5 hours per week.  That translates to about $4000-5000 worth of services per year. 

There a place for volunteers in the library.  Volunteers do jobs that paid staff never gets around to doing.  In some libraries they run the friends of the library groups. They have to learn "first do, no harm."  They could give tours, help with promotional activities, work on programs, help supervise traffic, help check out books, etc.   Volunteers are very well meaning people, but they have limitations.  The biggest limit is time.  They will show up when they want and don’t have time conflicts.

What can Rabbi Almony do to get his congregation’s library in order? It is to his credit that he recognizes the need to organize the library to enable circulation.  They could have a fund raiser to higher a librarian who could supervise, but that is not in their budget.  Graduate schools will not allow an internship without supervision from a veteran professional.  If the student is going to earn credit, there has to be some learning involved and that usually means documentation and/or an academic paper.  The rabbi would not be able to perform this supervision or evaluation. Students and interns are learning how to be professionals.  

Emily Bergman in a September 3, 2014 posting to HaSafran, says that she is volunteer for her congregation’s library. That is her gift to the congregation. She has a full-time job as an academic librarian.  This kind of volunteer position is the only type I can condone.  Ms. Bergman makes it clear that this is her contribution.

Librarians are professionals.  I would not expect my car, my plumbing, my electricity, my roof, or my teeth to be fixed for free or by a volunteer intern. I would not want a medical student treating me without supervision.

Don't demean our profession.  Don't condone using volunteers for professional work.  It is hard enough to get people to understand that libraries don't get created and don't operate by magic.

There is a story -- A homeowner called for a plumber to fix his noisy pipes. The plumber arrived looked around for a few moments, asked a few questions, then took his hammer and hit a pipe.  He announced that he was done and prepared a bill for the homeowner.  The homeowner was thankful for the job, but didn't understand why a 2 minute visit cost $150.  The plumber apologized and changed the bill to:  $5.00 for the hammer stroke; $145 to know where to hit the pipe.

[1] Stuhlman, Daniel D.  “Professional Compensation”  in Librarian's Lobby July 2003  and   “Professional Preparation” in Librarian's Lobby August 2003.   
[2] For another opinion that supports the idea that libraries are not run by volunteers see:  “Please Don’t Say This to a Librarian” by Ingrid Henny Abrams written under the name magpielibrarian.  In the blog:  The Magpie Librarian: A Librarian's Guide to Modern Life and Etiquette (July 2012)   

Tags: #librarian  #judaica  #volunteers




 I don't usually like anonymous comments, but the comment below has nothing wrong with it.  I did fix the spacing and correct typos.  I do thank the writer for both agreeing and disagreeing.  My intent was to spark discussion.

Me has left a new comment on your post "Are you a volunteer?":

There is quite a lot I disagree with in here - and a lot I agree with. I do not criticize the rabbi for not knowing how a library works or what questions to ask. If libraries appear to run by magic, that's because of our professional skills - and those underlying skills and structures shouldn't be obvious. Credit to him for spotting that it doesn't work at the moment and for wanting to make improvements.

I hold up my hands and admit to being a volunteer, having retired from a long career as a professional bib services librarian. It's hard to give up the habit. I would never, ever, volunteer in an institution which should be paying professional staff - public libraries, academic libraries, government and corporate libraries should all be employing qualified staff and paying them appropriately.I absolutely do not condone volunteers being used to paper over the gaps caused by under-funding or because professional skills are not recognized or valued. And I have no respect for professional librarians who act as volunteers in institutions like these. However, there are other types of libraries which would close if volunteers did not keep them open and those libraries still have a valuable role to play for their communities.

I take no payment for my time or my skills, but I do get travel expenses - my one demand was that I should not be out of pocket as result of volunteering. But because I do not get paid does not mean that I am any less committed. I really am very weary of hearing the same criticism of volunteers, that you can't count on us. I am sure that some of us are unreliable, but so are plenty of employees.
The real danger with volunteers comes when they are managed by people who are not prepared to treat them in the same way as paid staff - by being clear about their roles and responsibilities, by reviewing their performance and making sure that they fit the library where they work and do what the service needs, and by providing training, encouragement and support.