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Journal News, The (Westchester County, NY)

October 28, 2002

Library chief to be honored

Author: Barbara Livingston Nackman; Staff

Author: The Journal News

Section: News
GWP- Westchester and Putnam
Page: 1B

Estimated printed pages: 4

Article Text:

Freedman has led Westchester system for past 20 years

Barbara Livingston Nackman

The Journal News

ARDSLEY - Maurice J. Freedman became a professional librarian 37 years ago to satisfy his love of books, reading and sharing information with others.

A seemingly simple and personal goal, but one that has transformed library services in Westchester by making innovative technology available to all county residents. Library services and resources are now a mouse click away via personal computers and hundreds of terminals in local public libraries. Additionally, library personnel are at the cutting edge of information technology.

Now at the pinnacle of his career, Freedman, 62, will be recognized Wednesday for 20 years as director of the Westchester Library System, a cooperative of 38 libraries. He is president of the American Library Association, a 65,000-member organization and one of the largest and oldest library associations in the world.

"I'm proud of what we've accomplished," he said last week, making certain to credit his 50-member staff, county officials and each member library for the vast improvements and support.

"We have brought information to people's homes, hotels and places of business. We've radically altered delivery exchange, and that's pretty exciting."

Beyond providing Internet access, computer connections have expanded interlibrary loan and the ability to share 5.6 million materials from local libraries. Each day, WLS shuttles more than 6,000 items to local libraries to answer public requests for shared materials, he said.

Joan Silverstein was a library trustee in New Rochelle when Freedman was hired in 1982 as WLS director.

"He has outstanding qualities, knowledge and a commitment to technology," said Silverstein, also a former WLS president. "There is no way our budgets could have done it alone. He made WLS a real cooperative system."

Freedman was associate professor of library services at Columbia University, technical services coordinator for New York Public Library branches and technical services director at the Hennepin (Minn.) County Library. He majored in philosophy at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., has a master's degree of library science from the University of California at Berkeley and in 1983 received a doctor of philosophy in library and information science from Rutgers.

In 1985, Freedman began bridging the gaps among the libraries by pushing the idea of a centralized catalog accessible via computer.

"It was hard to sell," he said, explaining it required a financial commitment from each library for equipment.

System upgrades continued until the network reached its current online format, which allows users to wade through hundreds of resources and to perform library transactions from personal computers. The nearly 600 terminals in Westchester libraries also provide Internet resources to residents who would not otherwise have access to today's technology, Freedman said.

Freedman brought his vision of modernization to Westchester, said library development consultant Jim Farrell of the New York State Library.

"When he came, his big thing was automation, and he has seen that through," said Farrell, a 21-year veteran with the state governing body. "Also, he got county support for libraries and the system, and that speaks volumes for his enthusiastic leadership."

The Westchester Library System manages $5.6 million annually. Half of that is state money and grants en route to local libraries. The WLS operating budget is $2.9 million, one-third from the county and two-thirds from the state. The state's portion has remained flat for years, Freedman said. He noted that the county has increased support through County Executive Andrew Spano and his two predecessors, Andrew O'Rourke and Alfred Del Bello.

There are 23 library systems statewide with 750 public libraries. But Westchester, Farrell said, stands out because of its diverse communities and sophisticated users.

After completing a philosophy major in college, Freedman said, he realized he did not want a career poring over small details of didactic text.

"I like being with people and working with a range of books," he said. "The irony is I have never had a job involved with direct public service, and my on-the-job reading is professional literature."

He likes jazz music and books by Philip Roth, who writes about Freedman's old neighborhood near Newark.

Freedman has lived in a Mount Kisco condominium since he moved to the suburbs. He and his wife, Paula, a psychologist and registered nurse, have an 18-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son. He has two daughters, 35 and 34, from a previous marriage.

A favorite recent read, he said, is "The Russian Debutante's Handbook" by Gary Shteyngart, about a Russian immigrant's search for love, work and self-identity.

Freedman has found his own identity in library work. He said he can't imagine any other occupation.

His new goal is to make the public aware of the value of librarians and to promote better salaries.

Nationally, public librarians with master's degrees and experience are paid from $47,000 to $61,000. In his specialized post, Freedman makes $156,400 a year.

The library field draws more women than men, with nearly 80 percent of librarians female, he said, many of whom consider their work a labor of love and connected to financial sacrifice.

"We are the knowledge navigators of the 21st century," he said. "We have to be paid accordingly."

Reach Barbara Livingston Nackman at bnackman@thejournalnews.com or 845-228-2272.

Copyright (c) The Journal News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: wst2002102811242417