University Librarian Tom Leonard announces retirement

Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/Staff

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University Librarian Tom Leonard will retire from his position next year after 15 years of overcoming the library’s funding struggles, adding to its collection of books and transitioning it to the digital age.

Leonard, who will celebrate his 70th birthday in October, said he will step down in June next year for the sake of new leadership with a “fresh perspective.” Hired as university librarian in 2000, Leonard manages about two dozen libraries on campus, including the Moffitt, Doe and Bancroft libraries, as well as a storage facility in Richmond that holds more than 6 million books.

The challenges Leonard faced in his job were numerous, including hiring concerns and budget constraints, especially during the recession. He also worked to digitize about a million of UC Berkeley’s books and 3.5 million throughout the UC system with the help of local technology firms and other libraries.

“The most fundamental challenge is that, about the time I took the job, it became clear to everyone that the way we save and share information was changing and moving to the Internet,” he said. “We continued to do a lot of things we’d always done, like buy books, but we had to know there was a whole new model out there of sharing scholarship.”

Leonard has also prioritized adding to and enriching the campus’s library collections, and during his tenure thus far, UC Berkeley added almost two million volumes from around the world.

“We, over the years, have built one of the finest collections of art books and journals west of the Mississippi,” said Kathryn Wayne, head of the art history and classics library in Doe, who worked with Leonard on fine art collection projects.

Despite budget constraints, Leonard oversaw the construction of the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library and the C.V. Starr East Asian Library as well as the renovation of the Bancroft Library.

“Those cluster together as very proud moments,” he said. “We’ve given students and faculty here a wonderful laboratory and studio to think and make discoveries in.”

The Commission on the Future of the UC Berkeley Library, which Leonard advised, called for greater investment in the campus library system, leading to an additional $4.6 million in funding for the libraries.

In his remaining time as university librarian, Leonard hopes to help hire about two dozen people, modernize Moffitt and increase its hours of operation.

“I heard a student say once that Moffitt was like an old sweatshirt — it might be comfortable and you sometimes like it, but we could certainly do better with it,” he said.

Once he retires, Leonard may continue teaching freshmen journalism seminars on campus and plans to continue working with Authors Alliance, an organization that helps use digital networks to facilitate making publications more easily accessible.

“There is a pressing need to make sure that our current and future scholarship is made widely available, and I know this is a passion of Tom’s,” said Erik Mitchell, an associate university librarian who served under Leonard’s direction for the last year, in an email.

Leonard also wants to write more books and go skiing in the mountains. On his reading bucket list are titles related to wilderness explorers and the history of early humans.

According to a campuswide email from Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele, information regarding the search for a new university librarian will be provided “in due course.”

Contact Sumaiya Mubarack at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @sumaiyamubarack.