State Librarian Bernard A. Margolis, 69, died early Saturday, April 14th, after an eight-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia. His wife of 45 years, Amanda Batey, and close friends were by his side.
Margolis, known as Bernie, began serving as New York State Librarian and Assistant Commissioner for Libraries in January 2009, following appointment by then Governor Eliot Spitzer.
Reporting to the Commissioner of Education, Margolis administered the New York State Research Library and the Division of Library Development, which is responsible for administering a system of state and federal support for libraries, including more than a hundred million in annual grants and support. He also managed a staff of over 180 and stewarded the State Library’s collection of over 20 million items. The State Library will celebrate it’s 200th Anniversary on Saturday, April 21st.
“Bernie accomplished much over the course of a long and successful career as a librarian and library leader,” a statement from State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and Commissioner of Education Maryellen Elia said. “During his tenure at the New York State Library, state funding for public library construction more than doubled; participation in Summer Reading at New York Libraries grew to more than two million young people; and free public access internet and Wi-Fi are now available to patrons in all of New York’s public libraries. Of course, those are only some of the highlights of his exceptional tenure as New York State Librarian.”
“We are so fortunate that Bernie chose to share with the public his lifelong love of books and learning,” the statement said. “We are all better off because of his dedication and service to others.”
From 1997 to 2008, Margolis served as President of the Boston Public Library, during the expansion of branch library hours; appointment of a children’s librarian in every branch; creation of a nationally recognized Homework Assistance Program and online tutoring program; implementation of Reading Readiness to prepare preschoolers for school success; creation of local history centers in branch libraries; creation of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center and the development of a collection conservation program.
He led the effort to restore and renovate Boston’s historic central library, but was removed in June, 2008 following feuds with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who ordered the library to filter internet content on its public computers. Margolis refused and suggested the mayor was being dictatorial and had an “anti-intellectual bent.” He was appointed New York State Librarian that October.
In the cover letter sent with his application for the position, Margolis wrote “As a freshman in need of funds to continue college, I found myself strapping on roller skates to shelve books in the subterranean floors of the Denver Public Library. A promotion began a lifelong commitment to applying sound management practices to the work of libraries. I have progressed, literally and figuratively, from the basement to the top floor.”
Margolis earned a BA in Political Science and an MA in Librarianship at the University of Denver. He held a number of positions within the American Library Association and was a delegate to the White House Conference on Libraries. He served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Library Administration and Bottom Line: The Magazine of Library Financial Management. He contributed to several books and published articles in American Libraries, Public Libraries, and Library Journal, among others. Before his tenure in Boston, Margolis served as Director/CEO of the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs from 1988 to 1997.
In addition to his wife Amanda, he is survived by his brother Michael of Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is predeceased by his parents Rose and Sidney Margolis.
Bernie’s funeral will be held on Wednesday, April 18th at 11 am at the Levine Memorial Chapel, 649 Washington Ave., Albany.
Burial will immediately follow the funeral at approximately 1 p.m. at Pittsfield Cemetery at 203 Wahconah St, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Photo: Bernie Margolis at the Boston Public Library in 2003 (via C-Span)