Dr. Paul LeClerc served as President & Chief Executive Officer of the New York Public Library (NYPL) from 1993 to 2011. Born in Lebanon, New Hampshire, he is a French literature scholar with French-Canadian antecedents.
In 1963, he graduated from the College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit undergraduate liberal arts college located in Worcester, Massachusetts, and spent the next academic year studying at the Sorbonne. He earned his doctorate in French literature with distinction at Columbia University, with a dissertation on Voltaire.
On Wednesday, May 26, 2010, LeClerc was awarded the Order of Isabel La Católica by Spain's Minister of Culture Ángeles Gonzalez-Sinde Reig at a ceremony at the NYPL’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. “It is an exceptionally great honor to be a recipient of the Order of Isabel la Catolica and I am delighed [sic] to receive it on behalf of all of my colleagues, past and present, at The New York Public Library who have built both brilliant collections in the Spanish language and a comprehensive collection, spanning many centuries, of works by Spain's authors,” stated Dr. LeClerc. “One of the highlights of my tenure at the Library was the privilege of hosting a visit by Their Royal Highnesses, Felipe, Prince of Asturias, and Letizia, Princess of Asturias, to the Library and showing them some of our greatest treasures from Spain. I would like to thank Spain's Minister of Culture, Ángeles Gonzalez-Sinde Reig, for conferring this prestigious honor.”
Dr. LeClerc assumed the presidency of the NYPL in 1993. He had served as president of Hunter College from 1988 to 1993.
From 1966 through 1979, LeClerc was a faculty member at Union College in Schenectady, New York, where he chaired the Department of Modern Languages and the Division of Humanities. In 1979, he joined the central administration of The City University of New York (C.U.N.Y.), the largest urban university system in the U.S., as University Dean for Academic Affairs. LeClerc later became Acting Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. In 1984, he was appointed Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs of Baruch College, CUNY, home of America’s largest business school.
Dr. LeClerc announced at a meeting of the New York Public Library (NYPL) Board of Trustees on November 18, 2009 that he would retire in the summer of 2011. “I'm more enthusiastic about the Library's mission and service to its public than ever before, and look forward to all we will accomplish during the remainder of my tenure,” stated Dr. LeClerc. “The present momentum behind the Library, with the number of users depending on us at record levels, is a source of great pride for me, the Trustees, and all the staff. I am excited about the strength of the organization that my successor will inherit, and am pleased to be working with the Board of Trustees to ensure a sound transition with the participation of all the Library's constituents. Serving as the President of The New York Public Library, with the chance to work with so many to transform it in wonderful and important ways, is the highest honor I’ve ever been given.”
“With intellect, determination, creativity, and a passionate belief in our mission, Paul LeClerc has led the Library to unprecedented levels of accomplishment,” said Catherine Marron, Chairman of the Library’s Board of Trustees. “Through years filled with opportunity and challenge Paul has been driven to provide the best possible services to the public. By expanding access to the Library through digital technology, building major new libraries, acquiring important collections, expanding hours, hiring stellar staff, and developing plans to strengthen the Library in the years ahead, he has built a legacy woven into every corner of the organization, which will continue to grow far into the future.”
The NYPL stated, “Dr. LeClerc has overseen the merging of the branch and research library systems, over $500 million in capital projects, the creation of notable programs and exhibitions, and a more than twofold increase in the Library’s endowment. Users pay 18 million physical visits to the Library each year, in addition to more than 26 million global visits online… Dr. LeClerc came to The New York Public Library in 1993 from Hunter College where he had been President since 1988. He spearheaded the creation of a digital library, launching the first NYPL.org website—and continues to oversee the digitization of the Library’s catalog; its 700,000 image Digital Gallery; and the vastly growing field of downloadable e-books, videos, and music. The Library, which recently created an integrated catalog of research and circulating materials representing 14 million items, has also entered into new partnerships with Google, Flickr, Apple (iTunes U), Kirtas Technologies, and numerous others that provide expanded access to the Library’s resources. All of the Library’s branches now provide free wireless access to the Internet, and the Library offers 3,600 free public-access computers, with training for those new to computers.”
One of the last accomplishments of Dr. LeClerc was the consolidation of many services, including sorting, conservation, and digital imaging in the Library Services Center over in Long Island City, Queens, which opened in 2010. Gensler Architects designed the renovation of a warehouse, a $50,000,000 project.
In the basement of the building is a $2,300,000 automated sorter. Kate Taylor described it in The New York Times (“That Mighty Sorting Machine Is Certainly One for the Books”). “On one side of the machine, which is two-thirds the length of a football field and encircled by a conveyor belt, staff members place each book face-down on a separate panel of the belt. The book passes under a laser scanner, which reads the bar code on the back cover, and the sorter communicates with the library’s central computer system to determine where the book should be headed. Then, as the conveyor belt moves along, it drops the book into one of 132 bins, each associated with a branch library. It’s sort of like a baggage carousel that knows which bag is yours and deposits it at your feet.”
After Salvatore Magaddino complained it was difficult to recruit people to sort through books being sent from one NYPL facility to another, another staff member who had seen a YouTube video of an automated sorter in Washington State brought the existence of such things to his attention and he lobbied for the NYPL to buy one. The one installed in the Library Services Center was thought to be the largest in the world. With the help of this machine, Magaddino’s staff of fourteen could sort 7,500 items per hour, and it was no longer necessary for him to hire temporary workers to help out.
On the first floor of the building, the people who ordered and cataloged books for the NYPL Research Libraries and the NYPL Branch Libraries sat next to each other so they could collaborate for the first time. The digital imaging department, formerly housed in the Main Branch, moved to the second floor of the Library Services Center.
The Manuscripts and Archives Division was also located on the second floor of the Library Services Center. The Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division, located on the third floor, had ten employees when the Library Services Center opened in 2010, but the workspace was built to accommodate a staff of up to thirty people. It was in part because of these consolidations that the NYPL Branch Libraries reduced its staff by 15.6% between 2008 and 2010.
For over thirty years, Dr. LeClerc has been married to Judith Ginsberg, Executive Director of the Nash Family Foundation in New York City. Dr. Ginsberg is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University and received a doctorate in Spanish literature from CUNY Graduate Center using the facilities of The New York Public Library. They have one son.
In 2011, the NYPL Board of Trustees appointed a political scientist, Dr. Anthony W. Marx, to succeed LeClerc as president and chief executive officer. From 2003 to 2011, Dr. Marx served as president of Amherst College.
Before that, he was a professor and director of undergraduate studies in political science at Columbia University. In the 1980s, he helped found Khanya College, a secondary school in South Africa.
 The Order of Isabel La Católica is a Spanish civil order granted in appreciation of services to the Kingdom of Spain, and is not given exclusively to Spaniards. King Ferdinand VII of Spain created it in 1815 by in honor of Queen Isabella I (“Isabella the Catholic”) of Castile. Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, is the Grand Master of the Order, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs is the Chancellor of the Order.