Trustees to replace BPL head
Margolis praised; need for change cited
Boston Public Library trustees are planning to remove president Bernard A. Margolis, who has served for the last 10 years at the helm of the nation's oldest public library.
Margolis, who has clashed on several occasions with Mayor Thomas M. Menino, will not have his contract renewed when the nine-member board of trustees meets Nov. 13, according to a copy of the agenda obtained by the Globe.
"While he did a great job restoring the main branch in Copley, I believe the board is looking to expand their search for a new director, someone who would be interested in looking more at the branches," said Menino's spokeswoman, Dot Joyce. "That's no slight at Bernie, because he did a great job. But with his contract up, it's the right time for someone new to come into the library and have a fresh approach."
Joyce said a national search will be launched to find his replacement with the goal of having someone in place by June 30, 2008, when Margolis's contract expires.
Margolis, who made $167,000 last year and is among the highest paid city employees, did not return telephone mes sages left at his home yesterday or answer e-mail queries.
Board chairman Jeffrey B. Rudman, who is scheduled to make a statement about Margolis's 10 years as president of the city's libraries at next week's meeting, did not return calls seeking comment.
Several other board members declined to comment.
Menino, who has appointed all nine members of the board, has had several disagreements with Margolis, with their initial public spat coming on Margolis's first day on the job.
After learning that children and teenagers could browse pornographic websites on library workstations in March 1997, Menino demanded that the library install software to block certain Internet sites from view.
Margolis fought back, contending that there were important free-speech issues involved, concerns that Menino's spokesman at the time called absurd.
After a meeting with the mayor, Margolis agreed to install the software only on the 26 terminals available to minors.
His position won him praise from First Amendment advocates, but put him on shaky ground with Boston's political establishment.
Margolis and Menino have also clashed over funding for the library, how much to focus on technology improvements, and expansions at branch libraries.
"Any issues that he and [the] mayor have had or didn't have wouldn't have anything to do with this," Joyce said.
Margolis, a gregarious man, headed the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs for nine years before being named president in 1997 of Boston's system, which was the first public library in the country to lend its books, and in 1870 also became the first to institute a system of branch libraries.
He has overseen Boston's famed headquarters in Copley Square - along with its 27 branch libraries spread throughout the city - in an age when libraries have tried to stay relevant as bookstore chains have grown, Internet usage has soared, and municipal budgets have been slashed.
"Given the resources available to him - both financially and manpower - and dealing with an entrenched bureaucracy at City Hall, he has done a truly outstanding, professional job," said Vivian Spiro, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Associates of the Boston Public Library, a community group that works to promote the library.
"If they choose not to renew his contract, it's to their detriment," she said.
Last year, Boston spent about $50 per resident on libraries, about twice as much as other municipalities in the region and more than the $32.64 statewide average.
Total circulation has increased 16 percent between 2001 and 2006, with a reduction of 55 library staff positions over the same period.
But while the mayor has been publicly calling for more and better branch libraries for the neighborhoods, Margolis would not rule out trimming them back to focus on other areas.
"I think we have to be good stewards of tax dollars," Margolis told the Globe in January, saying he would consider consolidating or closing branches over the next 20 years.
Several months later, the mayor played a prominent role at a ribbon cutting as he announced a new $16.7 million library branch in Mattapan, the city's first new branch library in six years and the second in at least two decades.
"This is not a frill," Menino told the Globe.
"It's very important that we have branch libraries. I want kids in the city to have the same experience as kids in the suburbs," he said.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.