The world lost a fierce advocate for public libraries and their mission to provide unfettered access to information when Bernard (Bernie) A. Margolis, 69 died early Saturday, April 14th. Bernie succumbed to an eight year battle with acute myeloid leukemia. His loving and dedicated wife of 45 years, Amanda Batey, and close friends were by his side.
Bernie combined his love of politics and librarianship in every position he held. With a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in librarianship—both from the University of Denver—Bernie blazed a trail characterized by innovation, vision, steady and reliable leadership, and dedication.
His commitment to his ideals and the values that libraries represent were his guiding force. As the Director/CEO of the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, CO from 1988 to 1997, Bernie stood up for freedom of expression at a time and in a place where doing so put his career at risk.
From 1997 to 2008, Bernie was President of the Boston Public Library, the oldest municipal library in the country. He oversaw the operations of 27 neighborhood branches that housed over 34 million items including the library of President John Adams, Shakespeare’s first folio, and Gutenberg’s Catholicon among many other unique and rare materials.
His accomplishments at Boston Public were many. Among them are expanding access to library programs and services by increasing open hours, the appointment of a children’s librarian in each branch, and creating a nationally recognized Homework Assistance and online tutoring program.
Bernie led the effort to restore and renovate the historic central library building, securing funding from a number of sources. His passion for the central library building led to some political wrangling with Boston’s former Mayor Thomas Menino. His legacy as a fierce advocate for Boston’s libraries lived on beyond his employ.
He left Boston Public Library June 30, 2008 to be appointed New York’s State Librarian in October of that year by then Governor Eliot Spitzer. Upon hearing of his appointment, his colleague Barbara Stripling, director of library services for the New York City Department of Education and soon to be president of the American Library Association wrote “We welcome you with open arms. As a school librarian, I am so pleased that we will have a state librarian who understands how all types of libraries work together to provide seamless and complementary services. We look forward to your leadership!”
In writing his cover letter to apply for the position, Bernie 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.”
His tenure as the New York State Librarian has been marked with continued growth of the state’s library construction fund, strengthening the financial sustainability of public libraries by establishing myriad library districts across the state and being a fierce advocate for library programs and services. He managed a staff of over 180 people, oversaw hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal library aid, and stewarded the State Library’s collection of over 20 million items.
With only two years under his belt, Bernie was diagnosed with cancer. The ups and downs of his health were buoyed by knowing he would always come back to the magnificent state library building in Albany and his dedicated staff. He also knew the national library community had his back because of his commitment to the American Library Association, the Public Library Association and myriad other professional organizations that benefitted from Bernie’s commitment and love of libraries and all the life long learning they offer everyone who walks through their doors.
Bernie understood exactly what Andrew Carnegie meant when he said “Libraries are the great equalizers.” Bernie spent his professional life putting those words into action.
In addition to his wife Amanda, Bernie 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 a.m. 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. Anyone wishing to leave a message about Bernie, what he meant to you and America’s libraries or a particular memory, can go to berniemargolis.com/remembering-bernie/