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Journal News, The (Westchester County, NY)

October 31, 2002

Freedman honored by WLS for achievements

Author: Adam Schleifer; Staff

Author: The Journal News

Section: Business
Patent Trader
Page: B5

Estimated printed pages: 3

Article Text:

By Adam Schleifer

The Patent Trader

MOUNT KISCO - Maurice J. Freedman came to Westchester 20 years ago with the idea of ridding libraries of cumbersome card catalog systems and hundreds of thousands of dog-eared index cards.

Melvil Dewey's Decimal System was revolutionary when he proposed it in 1873, but by 1982 the well-thumbed cards used to navigate the stacks had seen better times. With the 21st century rapidly approaching, librarians were eager to dump the cards and go digital.

Freedman, a Mount Kisco resident, came from the New York Public Library System as its technical services coordinator where he automated the city's libraries. He was hired to do the same for the northern suburbs, a goal that would take seven years, $2.3 million and a lot of late-night talks with worried library trustees.

"They were concerned about turning over their money," said Freedman, with the libraries having to pitch in a million dollars of their own money.

The Westchester Library System, a cooperative that provides services to the county's 38 libraries, wanted to catalog its holdings. "The library boards had to be convinced that technology was a good thing and that the Westchester Library System is a viable and capable institution," Freedman, 62, said from his Mount Kisco home this week.

After a lot of prodding and handholding, a contract was signed in 1987 and the WESTLYNX catalog went online in 1989, with 100 terminals found throughout Westchester. Now there are more than 600 terminals and the WLS manages a $5.6 million annual budget, with about half of that going to the libraries.

Circulation in Westchester has reached 7.2 million and includes books, DVDs and CDs. The circulation has been boosted by patrons able to order books online via home terminals from any library in the county and have them delivered to their neighborhood library the next day. In August 2002, the number of items circulating among the libraries jumped from an average of 4,000 a month to a record of nearly 73,000.

`Life sentence'

Freedman was honored this week at Tappan Hill in Tarrytown for his 20 years as director for the Westchester Library System at the group's 43rd annual meeting. "I jokingly refer to it as my life sentence," he said.

"Mitch is an extraordinary and vibrant man who has taken the idea of the library as a quiet, reclusive place and has, along with his staff, made it the center of our communities," said Barbara Hickernell, a WLS board member and past president. "Our library system has become a nationwide model."

In fact, Freedman has gained international visibility. This year he was elected the president of the 65,000 member American Library Association, one of the oldest library associations. Additionally, he has visited libraries around the globe as a consultant.

His ALA agenda includes keeping Internet filters off library computers and seeking more money for the librarians.

In fact he said he's in discussions with the 13-million-strong labor union, the AFL-CIO. While he said unionizing librarians was not the only way to address what he sees as pay inequities, he added that unionized librarians tend to make more than 21 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. He said he is fearful of layoffs if more funding is not found for the county's libraries, which he called vital.

"Especially in suburban communities, libraries are the heart of it. Our role over the years hasn't changed much. We meet people's information needs. But now we can go beyond the limits of a physical building and into the ether."

Copyright (c) The Journal News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: wst2002103110290234