Former Inwood Resident to Head Public Library System

By Medina Roshan on Dec 28th, 2010

Incoming New York Public Library president Anthony Marx. (Photo by Samuel Masinter/Amherst College Public Affairs)

On a recent visit to the Inwood branch library, Anthony Marx was blown away by the 2001 renovations.

It wasn’t just the increased space or modern finishes that impressed him, but what he called “the aliveness of the place” and “the most amazing mix of New Yorkers” he found there.

“It was just inspiring and remarkable,” he said — and something he said hasn’t changed since his childhood, when he frequently visited the Inwood branch.

Marx will be the next president and chief executive of the New York Public Library system, the library announced in October.

Growing up in Inwood in the mid-1960s and 1970s, Marx attended P.S. 98 on West 212th Street and found the library a quiet refuge with a variety of books to explore. “It’s something we did pretty regularly,” he said of his library visits. His most vivid memories are of reading circles, when a librarian would read aloud to a group of children.

On his recent visit to the Inwood branch, he noticed immigrants looking at paintings, a school teacher looking for books for her students and patrons who came because the library was the only place they could use a computer.

In his new role as president, Marx hopes to make the city’s libraries places for a variety of people to access the information they need, just as they do in Inwood. “The library should be the place that brings together New Yorkers who need help finding information and using information to advance their lives,” he said.

But he’ll have to contend with less money.  “Despite significant funding cuts, library circulation and attendance have reached record highs as New Yorkers and others rely on NYPL in hard economic times,” a press release from the library stated.

This can’t deter the library system from being helpful for residents, Marx said.

“We need programs to bring the resources from our libraries to bear, whether it’s access to computers, whether it’s information, looking for jobs or immigrants looking for jobs,” Marx said. “Even when resources are less available, it needs to continue to be that place for New Yorkers.”

Marx will begin his tenure in July. He is currently president of Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he has served since 2003.

His colleagues there will miss his leadership and compassion, said Gregory S. Call, dean of the faculty. “I will miss dearly his warmth and keen wit which have made our daily partnership a pleasure,” Call said via e-mail.

Before his tenure at Amherst, Marx was a professor of political science and director of undergraduate programs for the department at Columbia University.

His wife, Karen Barkey, a professor of history and sociology at Columbia, said that moving back to New York will be a family homecoming.

“Both our mothers live in New York,” she said. “We have a community here, so it makes a difference for us.”

The library, she said, has always been an important part of life for her family, including their children, Joshua, 16, and Anna-Claire, 12. And it’s a place, she added, where communities form.

“He really wants to continue that and push for that more powerfully,” she said of her husband’s goals.

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