January 20, 2022

UC Berkeley University Librarian Tom Leonard Announces Retirement

The UC Berkeley Newscenter has posted a Q&A interview with University Librarian Tom Leonard.

The interview also includes news that Leonard will be retiring next June after leading the UC Berkeley Library for 15 years. We wish him the very best. More about Tom Leonard in future posts.

The interview consists of 14 questions and answers. Here are three exchanges between interviewer Cathy Cockrell and Tom Leonard.

Q. What was your early experience with libraries?

Leonard: My mother was a librarian in a public library outside Detroit and often brought me to work with her. I grew up seeing card-catalogue cards being typed and books being checked out.  I also remember, as a young person interested in political change, that the library provided a meeting place to talk to people. It stuck with me that libraries are important places.

Q. Have you always been enthusiastic about mass digitization of library materials?

Leonard: Yes. Some would say too enthusiastic. Because I know what it’s like to face a long row of books and pull them out one by one to search the index for clues to what’s inside. It was transformative when library materials could be searched electronically. That’s happened in a relatively short period of time because the great research libraries threw some caution to the wind and digitized their material.

Predictably, we were sued by some publishers and authors for doing that. I think that was a very misguided effort to slow down an inevitable transformation — namely the indexing of what’s between the covers of the millions of books in our heritage collection; I’m not talking about full display of people’s work.

It’s a great achievement that we’ve opened up our collections using digital tools. I’ve had lots of authors look at me like I’m a devil, but I’m happy to bear the criticism. Making out great collections visible and discoverable is worth every bad hour.

Q. I take it your concerns around intellectual property and fair use led to your recent involvement in the Authors Alliance.

Leonard: Yes. I’m concerned with what happens to published work that is “orphaned” — left in the stacks with no chance of being fully digitized because of our creaky copyright laws. With three other Berkeley faculty I helped start Authors Alliance, which represents writers who know how helpful it is to stand on the shoulders of other scholars by having access to their work. We are encouraging those who share our passion for moving work that has outlived its commercial life into the public domain.

The Library spends more than $5 million a year to license materials, so that students, faculty and staff can see all of this material from their home. But I also try to keep in mind the independent scholar who doesn’t have an affiliation with a research university. That researcher is a second-class citizen when it comes to information. Libraries should work to end that.

Read the Complete Interview

See Also: Learn More About the Authors Alliance

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.