With departure of longtime members, board’s composition has evolved to reflect new challenges.
By: Jennifer Potash
The new members of the Princeton Public Library board of trustees bring unique perspectives on the past, present and future to the organization.
During the past six months, the board’s composition has evolved with the departure of longtime member Harry Levine, who was also the board president and driving force behind the library expansion, Lucy MacKenzie and Charline Johnson.
Joining the trustee board are Princeton Borough residents Ryan Stark Lilienthal and Lucy Hall and Princeton Township resident Ira Fuchs.
Nancy Ukai Russell, a board member for six years and Princeton Borough resident, was elected to serve as president in August.
"(The new members are) just part of our trustee board and we have these individuals who within them carry so much talent, history and desire to help the library," said Ms. Russell. She noted that the view from the Princeton History Room at the library, with the Princeton Cemetery on one side and the brand new plaza on the other, makes one appreciate that the library "really (is) the connective tissue to people in this community."
During a recent interview held in the library’s Princeton History Room, the new trustees talked about their personal histories and goals for the new library.
Ms. Hall has Princeton roots that go back for generations. She was born in Princeton, as were her parents, husband and mother-in-law. She spent her early childhood living in the John-Witherspoon neighborhood first in a house on Jackson Street, which was removed to make way for Palmer Square, and then on Birch Avenue.
"It was in many ways a very nice place to grow up," she said. "I have no complaints, many people do."
She fondly remembers visits to the Princeton Public Library when it was housed in Bainbridge House on Nassau Street.
"It was fun to read the books and look at the library cards (inside the books) to see who had read them," she said.
Despite living close by an elementary school on Witherspoon Street, Ms. Hall was forced to attend a segregated elementary school on Quarry Street. An image of the school, rendered in a ceramic tile by artist Katherine Hackl, is included in a collection of scenes of the Princeton area on view in the Princeton History Room of the new library.
After she married her high school sweetheart and started a family, Ms. Hall moved to Arizona because her son suffered from asthma. While in Arizona, she continued her career as a teacher and also earned a master’s degree in library science.
She later took another career path and worked for the U.S. State Department. While she is now retired, Ms. Hall occasionally goes on assignment for the department.
Developing information technology solutions to preserve research papers for subsequent generations of scholars is at the heart of Mr. Fuchs’ professional life.
A native of Forest Hills, Queens in New York City, Mr. Fuchs studied physics at Columbia University. After graduating in 1969, he worked for Columbia’s computing center in an era when computers were floor-to-ceiling sized and 100,000 characters represented the maximum storage capacity.
At age 24, Mr. Fuchs joined the City University of New York as director of its computing center and worked to bring a centralized computer system that would serve all 21 campuses. In 1981, he founded the BITNET Network, the first and world’s largest academic telecommunications network, and later served as president of its successor, the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking.
He has spent the bulk of his career in academic computing and technology and worked at Princeton University from 1985 to 2000 as the vice president of computing and information technology.
He also was involved in the creation and development of a database called J-STOR, which contains digitized versions of scholarly works from all over the world.
"I would say it was one of the first resources of its kind on the Web for scholars," Mr. Fuchs said.
Now vice president for research in information technology at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Mr. Fuchs is involved with several projects including a digital archive of artworks and documents relating to the history of Africa.
He also helped preserve a bit of Princeton history. Following his daughter’s internship at the Historical Society of Princeton earlier this year, Mr. Fuchs began leafing thought copies of the Princeton Recollector, a journal of oral history accounts by residents in Princeton, published between 1975 and 1986.
"And I thought it was a wonderful resource on the history of Princeton," Mr. Fuchs said. "Given my background with J-STOR, I thought it would be fun to digitize the entire run of the Princeton Recollector. So my daughter, my wife and I in our spare time digitized every page."
A key challenge for research institutions as well as libraries is maintaining digitized research as the storage formats, such as floppy disks and compact discs, break down over time or are no longer compatible with the current technology.
"People think if they don’t touch them, they can come back to them 20 years later and read it," Mr. Fuchs said. "Guess again."
That challenge will grow more acute in the future as reference and textbooks will likely include not only the printed word but also digital images and computer simulations and software, Mr. Fuchs said.
"To print it out, what does that mean? You’ll get the words but nothing else," he said.
Another transplant to Princeton is Mr. Lilienthal, who is an immigration attorney. He arrived in Princeton from Connecticut by way of Washington. He was working in Washington for the Religious Action Center, the political action committee for the Reform Jewish Movement on immigration issues, which he had developed an interest in from his family history.
During the Holocaust, Mr. Lilienthal’s grandparents fled Nazi persecution in Germany and Austria and today his family is spread all over the world from Brazil to South Africa to California.
"I got into the world of immigration in large part because of my family history and because of my work in Washington where I was responsible for immigration policy (for The Religious Action Center)," Mr. Lilienthal said.
After following Rachel Lilienthal Stark, his wife, to law school in New York and later to Princeton, Mr. Lilienthal said he appreciated the strong connection his wife’s family had to the Princeton area.
Now with children of his own, 4-year-old Noah and 2-year-old Evan, Mr. Lilienthal says the library is a major part of his family’s life.
As a member of the Princeton Borough Council from 1998 to 2001, Mr. Lilienthal was involved in the early discussion of the library reconstruction and the adjacent garage redevelopment project.
"It is exciting to be actively engaged in the institution that is now the hub of life in Princeton," Mr. Lilienthal said. He said he would like to encourage a variety of programs akin to the 92nd Street Y in New York City.
Ms. Russell said partnerships with other institutions and organizations such as Princeton University and the Princeton Adult School will enhance the library’s programs.
Ms. Russell is a West Coast transplant to Princeton, where she has lived with her family for about a decade.
A native of Berkeley, Calif., Ms. Russell graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1976 with degrees in anthropology and East Asian studies. She then went to Japan on a Fulbright English Fellowship. She lived in Japan for 14 years, working in Tokyo as a journalist for Newsweek. She also published articles in the Asian Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune and McGraw-Hill publications.
Ms. Russell continues to pursue research on Japanese education and has in the past five years published chapters in three books on public education policy and methods of teaching and learning in Japan and East Asia. She presented her research at a conference last year of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.
In 1998, she earned a master’s degree in sociological and philosophical foundations of education at Rutgers University.
Her own family was displaced during World War II when her Japanese-born grandparents were moved to an internment camp.
She hopes the library will continue to provide inspiration to all residents and patrons. Ik-Joong Kang’s "Happy World" mural comprising over 3,000 3-inch-by-3-inch tiles that covers the wall outside the first-floor Community Room is one example, Ms. Russell said.
The artist asked the community to contribute material, works and other personal items for the mural, Ms. Russell said.
And hundreds of people did from a hammered tin dove donated by a local family to the quote "only connect" by E.M. Forrester offered by a Princeton University literature professor, Ms. Russell said.
"For me it was the first time I really felt part of the Princeton community," Ms. Russell said, "because when the artist said, ‘Would you like to contribute something,’ and although I’ve lived here for over 10 years, a lot of my belongings are not necessarily of Princeton. But through working there and working with people has really integrated me into the community in a very real way."
Ms. Russell continued, "Our job at the library is to connect people with people, people with ideas, people with text and I really think if we do that, and who we have here and resources we have, we can really leverage that and have bigger dreams."
Over the next few months the trustee board and library staff will engage in a strategic planning process that will look at the library’s needs, what the community wants from its library and how the organization can focus its funding for meeting those needs, Ms. Russell said.
"We want to become the library this community deserves," she said.