Journalism prof to head library system
Thomas Leonard named university librarian

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs



Thomas Leonard, outside the Doe Library, will lead Berkeley’s library system, which boasts some 9 million volumes.
Peg Skorpinski photo

22 March 2001 | Thomas Leonard, professor and former associate dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, is turning a new page in his career to oversee what he calls “one of the best libraries in the world.”

“The dicta that everybody loves libraries includes journalists,” said Leonard, whose selection as university librarian was approved last week by the UC Board of Regents.

Leonard, who earned his Ph.D. in history at Berkeley, has an office in Doe Library, near the stacks where he spent countless hours in the early 1970s researching his doctoral dissertation. “I like to tell people I got my Ph.D. in the old stacks here at Cal,” he quipped.

He has served as the campus’s interim university librarian since Gerald Lowell left last year.

The author of three nonfiction books and dozens of magazine articles on politics, history and the media, Leonard will now put his fourth book, about notorious characters in U.S. history, on hold.

Leonard has been warming up to his new role possibly since childhood; his mother spent her career as a librarian in Grosse Pointe, Mich. He has consulted for the Library of Congress and was chair of the Academic Senate Library Committee, as well as co-chair of the Digital Library Advisory Committee.

As university librarian, the 56-year-old Leonard oversees the library system, which includes 9 million volumes, 3 million pictorial images, 50 million manuscripts, 4,000 architectural drawings, a payroll of about 600 people and an annual budget exceeding $50 million.

Library collections and services include a vast array of learning and teaching treasures, such as musical scores hundreds of years old, archives of the Free Speech Movement, a research skills teaching center, the Mark Twain Project and Sierra Club papers, and the golden nugget that triggered California’s Gold Rush.

Leonard wants to add to the library’s greatness. “It’s amazing how much still needs to be done,” he said.

His to-do list includes meeting the needs of new libraries for music and East Asian studies, as well as of libraries that have been moved for earthquake work, finishing seismic improvements at Doe Annex, completing restoration of the Great Rooms of Doe Library and planning for a new building core there. Additional plans include renovating Moffitt Library’s collection, improving services for undergraduates, and consulting on workplace values and compensation to retain staff and academic personnel.

“Tom’s understanding will be invaluable to the library and the campus,” said Chancellor Berdahl. “He understands the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and will be a tireless champion for maintaining and extending our library’s excellence.”

All libraries are debating their own futures, he said, and confronting thorny questions involving intellectual property, distance learning, Internet law, freedom of information, the search for new or renovated space and buildings to house collections, and the very future of the library.

“Tom Leonard brings a keen appreciation for the library as a crucial component of the university as it carries out its mission,” added Paul Gray, executive vice chancellor and provost. “The campus is fortunate to have the services of such a fine administrator in this crucial capacity. We will benefit from his leadership of the library as it moves into a new era and continues to be an essential resource for research and education.”

“There’s something about the library that people seek out, kind of a magnetic quality,” Leonard said, noting that many students flock to the library at all hours of the day and evening. “There’s a sense that we’re all in this together, seeking out information.”


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