January 25, 2016

Library Bids Farewell to Leslie Burger


NEXT STOP MANHATTAN: Retiring Princeton Public Library Director Leslie Burger with husband Alan in the library’s Community Room Sunday, where 150 people paid their respects to “a visionary and an image breaker” who “always had our back.” The couple will be moving from West Windsor to Manhattan. (Photo by Vic Garber)

Friends, colleagues, local politicians and longtime associates of departing Princeton Public Library director Leslie Burger gathered at the library Sunday to say bon voyage and recognize her contributions to the institution and the community. Retiring after 16 years, Ms. Burger is credited with shepherding the renovation and expansion of the library and turning it into “the community’s living room,” as she liked to say.

Some 150 people crowded into the library’s Community Room to hear tributes and sample treats from a table that included a miniature Eiffel Tower studded with cake pops, a reference to Ms. Burger’s love of Paris. Library Development Solutions, the library consulting firm she runs with her husband Alan, has often taken them to France. The couple is moving from West Windsor to Manhattan.

“To me, this is a celebration of accomplishments achieved, obstacles overcome, and leadership extolled,” said Harry Levine, a former president of the library’s Board of Trustees and a key player in the planning and funding of the library’s renovation 15 years ago. Calling Ms. Burger a “visionary and an image breaker,” Mr. Levine recalled that she didn’t have the typical credentials when she was hired.

“We were not looking for a traditional librarian,” he said. “It was a risky choice. But what a run it has been, as we all know. Everyone really likes Leslie. Everyone wants to follow her. Everyone wants to trust her.”

In his remarks Jeff Nathanson, executive director of the Arts Council of Princeton, focused on Ms. Burger’s talent for collaboration. She turned the institution into “a leading library as a center for collaborative partnerships,” he said, mentioning several events and programs the Arts Council and the library co-sponsored. Jack Morrison, owner of several restaurants in town and a board member of the Princeton Merchants Association, praised Ms. Burger for her willingness to collaborate with the business community. “Wherever she was, she was representing our community,” he said. “She always had our back.”

Before reading a proclamation honoring Ms. Burger, Mayor Liz Lempert spoke of her contribution as “not just bricks and mortar, but an incredible staff and this community you’ve built. It’s hard to imagine this institution without you.” Among the other politicians in attendance were Princeton Council members Lance Liverman, Heather Howard, Patrick Simon, and Bernie Miller.

Since Ms. Burger is known to appreciate good food, the parting gift to her was a set of recommendations of under-the-radar New York restaurants from six prominent food writers — Amanda Hesser, Andrew Knowlton, David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan, Frank Bruni, and Ruth Reichl. Each of these writers, most of whom have appeared at library-related functions over the years, included their favorite dishes at these eateries. A gift certificate to each restaurant was also included.

Old-style sign-out cards, the kind that used to be in a pocket in the back of a book, were stacked on tables around the Community Room, and party-goers were invited to use them to “Write a note for Leslie.” Mock-ups of a Town Topics newspaper front page, labeled “Special Burger Edition,” hung on the Community Room walls.

In her remarks, Ms Burger thanked the crowd of well-wishers and expressed her hopes for the future, including a $3 million reconfiguring of the second floor. Brett Bonfield, Ms. Burger’s successor, officially took over this week.