The New York Public Library’s board named Anthony Marx its new president today. Marx, a New York native who grew up in Inwood and attended the Bronx High School of Science, currently serves as the president of Amherst College in Massachusetts. Next summer, he will replace outgoing president Paul LeClerc, a Voltaire scholar and the former president of Hunter College who is retiring after 17 years at the helm of the library system.
Marx comes to the library at a time when e-books and e-readers have caused many to question the future of books. “Libraries are about access to ideas and information," says Marx. "Books have been the delivery systems for that information for hundreds of years, but that is changing.”
He adds that the 21st century library has to embrace new technologies, and hopes to increasingly offer books online in his new post. "Our job is to make sure that the new technology doesn’t diminish that access," Marx says. "We have to make e-books available to everyone, including those that can’t afford the fees that a private company might charge."
Prior to his time as university president at Amherst, Marx was an apartheid scholar and urban education specialist. In 1984, he opened a school in South Africa that took students out of the apartheid school system and trained them for top universities. "That was a powerful lesson to me about the turnaround possibilities for people’s lives under the worst circumstances," says Marx. Later, as a professor at Columbia University he started a program that trained and recruited New York City public school teachers.
Among Marx's new challenges will be operating 86 neighborhood branches with a reduced budget. The city council cut $10 million from the library's funding earlier this year, forcing some branches to reduce operating hours.
Marx acknowledges that the future of libraries is uncertain. But he's ready to take on the challenge of running a sprawling non-profit, including courting donors during tough economic times.
“Libraries are at the core of our values as a civilization and as a city," says Marx. "We need to make sure the library not only continues to exist, but that it continues to be a center of educational life, and informed life and of citizenship and enlightenment, at a time when all that seems to be much more threatened than I would have guessed.”