PROFILES IN EDUCATION: President Paul Le Clerc
New York Public Library: Key to City’s Future
By Lisa K. Winkler
“The New York Public Library must remain a major player in developing human capital in the city,” said President Paul LeClerc, noting that other nations are investing heavily in education. “We need to provide services to our clients so New York City can maintain its position as a global leader, he told Education Update in a recent interview.
With its 90 branches, more than 14 million visitors, and another 22 million electronic readers, the library continues to address the needs of the city’s diverse population. Through surveys and soliciting input from users, the library has strived to deliver to patrons what they want. “It’s a lot about shifting attitudes. We no longer just stock a library with what we think it needs. Instead, we try to deliver specific resources to each neighborhood branch,” said LeClerc.
The Bronx Library Center, opened a year ago, is an example of how the local population has determined programs and services. Teenagers are using the libraries more than ever, said LeClerc, noting that the library enlists their assistance in planning spaces, including areas for playing music. The idea that libraries and books are the thing of the past, is a myth, he said. In reality, the libraries and all the activities and resources, are in high demand, serving more than 30,000 school children daily in after school programs and as homework centers. Teens are hired as computer pages to assist patrons with internet and other computer uses.
Rapid technological developments present additional challenges to the library. “Libraries are in the single most important transition period since Gutenberg,” said LeClerc, referring to Germany’s Johann Gutenberg, credited with inventing the printing press in 1440. “We’re in an era of radical change in how information is distributed, and we’re seeing a shift in how younger generations access information.”
While LeClerc believes books and print materials will continue to thrive, he’s adamant about the library strengthening its electronic presence. One idea LeClerc has is to encourage teachers to place curriculum materials on the library’s website, granting global access, and establishing interactions, perhaps through blogs, for teachers to further exchange ideas and materials.
To achieve these goals, LeClerc spends a lot of time raising money. Though the library receives government funding, it functions as a private, non-profit foundation with its own, non-governmental Board of Trustees. LeClerc, with the library since 1993, solicits from donors and corporations, and raises the staggering sum of $1 million a week. “As a library, we’re committed to embracing technology without neglecting the service needs of our multiple constituents,” he said.
Yet despite a busy fund raising schedule and overseeing one of the largest libraries in the world, LeClerc finds time to read. On a recent jitney from the Hamptons, he read Richard Ford’s latest novel, The Lay of the Land. On his night table sits David Damrosch’s The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh.#