After 16 years as executive director of the Princeton Public Library, Leslie Burger will step down in January 2016. Echoing Ms. Burger’s favorite term for the library under her tenure, particularly during crisis situations like Hurricane Sandy, former Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand credits her with making it “the living room of our community.” (Photo by Mark Czjakowski for Princeton Public Library)
Leslie Burger, the woman credited with turning the Princeton Public Library into “the community’s living room” while bringing it national recognition for services and innovation, is retiring after 16 years as executive director. According to the library’s Board of Trustees, Ms. Burger has decided to step down in January 2016. A national search will be launched by an executive search firm to hire her successor.
“This is a bittersweet moment for the Princeton community,” said Kiki Jamieson, president of the library’s Board of Trustees. “We’re very happy for Leslie as she starts a new chapter of her life, but we will sorely miss her leadership, vision, hard work, and dedication to the Princeton community and public libraries in general.”
Ms. Burger, who co-founded the private consulting firm Library Development Solutions with her husband Alan in 1991, will turn her full attention to that company once she retires. It was as temporary library director that she first came to Princeton in 1999 when former director Jacqueline Thresher had left for another position.
“Leslie took us by complete surprise,” recalled Marvin Reed, who was mayor at the time of what was then Princeton Borough. “We had this big plan to expand and double the capacity of the library. We weren’t sure what direction to take, or what we’d do about parking. Our director had gotten a wonderful job out on Long Island and here we were having to at least temporary fill her shoes. Leslie came on, and we told her we wouldn’t bother her too much about all our planning for our expansion, but she said, ‘That’s alright, I’m interested in that. We’ll fit it into the schedule.’ Eventually, she asked if we’d mind if she submitted her application for the directorship. Of course we said, ‘Fine.’”
Ms. Burger changed the way municipal leaders viewed the library’s future. “She introduced us to the fact that we weren’t just physically remaking a building,” Mr. Reed said. “We explored the whole concept as to what it means to be a library in this day and age. We were still on the edge with respect to technology and how far to go. She said, ‘Go for it.’ And she’s continued to press us to be as up to date as possible.”
As executive director, Ms. Burger led the library through an unprecedented period of growth highlighted by the design, construction, and opening of the Sands Library Building in 2004 and a successful campaign to build a $10 million endowment to support innovation. According to information from the library, she led development efforts resulting in more than $25 million in all in private funding for the institution.
During Ms. Burger’s tenure, all library usage statistics, including overall attendance, circulation of materials, growth of technology and digital collections, and public programming attendance either doubled or increased dramatically. She strengthened ties between the library and public, private, nonprofit, and educational institutions in the local community.
“Being executive director of a library in a town that places a premium on reading, learning, and community engagement has been the highlight of my career,” Ms. Burger said. “In 42 years as a librarian, I’ve seen the profession evolve from one marked by slow, deliberate planning to one driven by technology to rapidly meet the ever-changing and growing demands of library customers.”
Phyllis Marchand was mayor of Princeton Township when Ms. Burger arrived at the library. “I can’t imagine anyone who has accomplished so much in her job,” she said. “She literally stuck with this building and the garage and all the other issues she had to deal with, like the move from Princeton Shopping Center (the library’s temporary location during the renovation project). That library has become the living room of our community, as Leslie says.”
While working as the library’s executive director, Ms. Burger served as president of the American Library Association from July 2006 through June 2007. She is also a former president of the New Jersey Library Association.
“She had national contacts,” Mr. Reed said. “She was well known in the field. She brought national attention to what we had done here in Princeton.” Ms. Marchand added, “She really put the Princeton library on the national and international map when she was president of the AIA, which is a feather in our cap.”
Before joining the Princeton Library, Ms. Burger served as a development consultant at the New Jersey State Library where she focused on developing leadership and marketing initiatives within the state’s libraries. She served as executive director of the Central Jersey Regional Library Cooperative, which served Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean counties. She also worked at the Connecticut State Library as the LSTA coordinator, director of Planning and Research, and director of Network Services. Her library career began at the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Public Library when she was hired to develop a community information and referral service.
The announcement of Ms. Burger’s retirement comes as the library is in the midst of a campaign to raise $3 million in private funding for the planned renovation of its second floor. She hopes to have all funds secured and for the project to be underway when she leaves.
“I cannot think of a better way for Leslie to complete her legacy as executive director of the Princeton Public Library than by her overseeing the funding and launch of this planned renovation,” said Ms. Jamieson. “Her vision and inspiration will forever be part of our community and a reimagined second floor is a wonderful and enduring gift from Leslie to all of us.”
“I’m so happy for her,” said Ms. Marchand. “I think she’s leaving at the top of her game.”