A Patriot in the Data Revolution Paul LeClerc, Dedicated to Information Access, Takes over the New York Public Library

By Lucia Mouat, | The Christian Science Monitor, September 23, 1993 | Go to article overview

A Patriot in the Data Revolution Paul LeClerc, Dedicated to Information Access, Takes over the New York Public Library


Lucia Mouat,, The Christian Science Monitor


LEADERSHIP comes in many styles. Paul LeClerc, who will take over the presidency of the New York Public Library (NYPL) in January, favors partnership. In fact, he says his first job is to listen.

Yet he has many ideas of his own. He insists that Voltaire and other writers of the French Enlightenment - with their strong views on free access to information - will guide his new work.

"Information is power," he says. He wants to see if programs based on library collections, such as the great works of children's literature, can be broadcast on TV or radio. He'd like the library play a more active role in the life of the city, becoming a major resource for the city's economic future.

The tall, thin Voltaire scholar, who has been president of Hunter College since 1988, has long championed these ideas of broader public access to information and the widest possible knowledge base for students. Shortly after taking over at Hunter, the largest school in the City University of New York (CUNY) system, he pushed to require a more multicultural curriculum. "I felt it was a matter of educational responsibility," he says.

Faculty members were given a free hand to shape the particulars. "They had to be empowered to choose the specific content for themselves," he says. "It had to be theirs."

Hunter's faculty-student senate adopted the new requirement after almost four years of study and debate. The change probably never would have happened without strong leadership from the top. LeClerc played a major role in "pushing it through," recalls Naomi Miller, former head of Hunter's history department.

Professor Miller describes Hunter's president as scholarly ("he has enormous respect for learning and for the life of the mind"), but very sympathetic and direct in his dealings with people. "When he talks to you, he screens out just about everything else - you feel very much listened to," Miller says. A top research library

President LeClerc's leadership style, his interests and accomplishments as an educator, scholar, and administrator all played a part in his selection from a field of more than 100 candidates for the library job.

The NYPL is widely considered one of the world's top research libraries. It is the only one directly linked to a public branch-library system.

Strong leadership for such an institution "at the forefront of the information revolution" is vital for everything from setting nuances of direction to follow-through, says NYPL Chairman Marshall Rose.

"Our program is dedicated to democratic access to information at a time when there are some concerns about having two classes of citizens: the information-rich and the information-poor," Mr. Rose notes.

The NYPL system includes four research and 82 branch libraries in three of New York City's five boroughs. Queens and Brooklyn have independent library systems. The unusual NYPL system began with the merger of two major private book collections in 1895. Andrew Carnegie later gave $5 million to build a new branch system that he said should be directed by the existing library's board of trustees.

The NYPL's $146 million annual budget is roughly a 50-50 split between public and private money. …

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