Remembering Bernie Margolis, NY State Librarian

New York State Librarian Bernard A. Margolis, known to all as Bernie, died on Saturday, April 14 at age 69 after an eight-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia.
New York State Librarian Bernard A. Margolis, known to all as Bernie, died on Saturday, April 14 at age 69 after an eight-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia. As New York state librarian and assistant commissioner of libraries, a position he held since January 2009, Margolis managed a staff of more than 180, and stewarded the New York State Library’s (NYSL) collection of over 20 million items. He also administered the New York State Research Library—which serves as the New York’s official Law Library and Medical Library, and is the only state library to be elected to membership in the Association of Research Libraries (ARL)—and the Division of Library Development, which administers state and federal support for libraries of every type, including over $98 million in grants. NYSL delivers services to support the 19.5 million people served by New York’s 7,000 academic, public, school, and special libraries throughout the state’s 73 public and school library systems. Before stepping into NYSL leadership, Margolis served as president of the Boston Public Library (BPL) from 1997–2008. While there, he expanded library hours and appointed a children’s librarian in every branch; created a nationally recognized Homework Assistance Program and online tutoring program; launched local history centers in branch libraries; created the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center; and developed a collection conservation program. He initiated the restoration and renovation of the historic Central Library building, establishing the library’s Critical Repair Fund to ensure that repairs could be made as needed. Margolis helped secure more than $22 million in gifts from individuals and corporations to maintain and enhance operating expenses, with millions more realized in restricted funds. Under his leadership, operating revenues from federal, state, and private resources grew by 22 percent. In 2007, after refusing to comply with then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s demand that BPL filter Internet content on public computers, and public clashes with the mayor over how the library’s funding should be spent, Margolis’s contract was not renewed. He promptly proceeded to NYSL where, by all reports, he was warmly welcomed. “The library community has been behind me 110%,” he told American Libraries in 2008. “I think we all realize that when we give leadership to institutions that are part of the political environment…sometimes crazy things can happen.” Prior to his tenure at BPL Margolis served as director/CEO of the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs from 1988–97. Margolis also held a number of positions within the American Library Association (ALA), including as a longstanding member of Council and a trustee of the ALA endowment. He also served as an ARL member representative and a delegate to the White House Conference on Libraries. He also  served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Library Administration and Bottom Line: The Magazine of Library Financial Management, as well as contributing to several books and writing articles for American Libraries, Public Libraries, and Library Journal. In a statement from Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia, they wrote, “Bernie was an outstanding library leader and a visionary. His expertise in library matters will be missed not only by the Board of Regents and the staff of the State Education Department, but across the State and the nation. His colleagues and friends at the Department and in the library community will miss his intelligence, eloquence, keen sense of humor and sage advice.”

“FROM THE BASEMENT TO THE TOP FLOOR”

Margolis attended the University of Denver, earning a BA in political science and an Masters in librarianship. As a student, he worked shelving books at the Denver Public Library—often using roller skates to traverse the library’s lower levels, reading class assignments as he rolled along. In his cover letter for the New York state librarian position, Margolis wrote, “I have progressed, literally and figuratively, from the basement to the top floor.” Margolis is remembered as a strong advocate for libraries. During his tenure as state librarian, New York State library aid increased over $17 million, and funding for the Library Construction Aid program rose to an all-time high of $34 million. “The library community has lost a stalwart champion,” said executive director of the New York Library Association (NYLA) Jeremy Johannesen in a statement. “Bernie’s indomitable spirit will be sorely missed by all those who believe in the critical role that libraries play in their community. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Amanda.” “Bernie was very much looking forward to celebrating the State Library’s 200th Anniversary this month,” Rosa and Elia wrote. “Thanks to his vision and leadership, we have much to celebrate.” Margolis is survived by his wife of 45 years, historian Amanda Batey, and his brother Michael, of Santa Fe. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations and support in kind (including volunteer service) be made to your local library. Anyone wishing to leave a message about Bernie can go to berniemargolis.com/remembering-bernie.

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