Meet the Boston Public Library’s New President, David Leonard

He's got some plans for where to take the BPL going forward.

boston public library

Photo by Meredith Foley

The Boston Public Library may have gone through a slightly bumpy stretch, between missing artwork and its issues finding a new president, but with newly chosen president David Leonard at the helm, things seem likely to settle down. Plus, a brand new renovation will finally be open to the public this weekend. With an eye to the future, we thought it was time to get to know Leonard and what he has in mind for his new job.

While he says the renovation is project 1, he has an idea for what he’d like to do next.

“I am in the process of starting a series of listening sessions, initially with internal stakeholders, and then over the next couple of months we’ll broaden that out to members of the community and other important input, and I think that will feed then what our strategy over the next three, five, maybe even ten years will be.”

Though he’s from Ireland, he ended up staying in Boston after coming here in the ‘90s.

“I think Boston somewhere along the line became home to me. I have had an opportunity to work in some of the other cities across the U.S., but Boston really became home with the friends I’ve made here. The cultural life of the city really really appeals to me, and now the opportunity to lead one of the greatest institutions of Boston for the next hopefully several years is just an amazing opportunity.”

Staying in Boston all these years has given him a sense of how the city is evolving, and how gentrification has affected it.

“I think what’s changed have been some of the economic opportunities that have occurred over the last decade in particular. As I’ve gotten to know the neighborhoods much better over my tenure here, realizing that maybe all of that opportunity didn’t extend to every neighborhood quite the way that it did to some, and I think we have an opportunity both here at the library and as part of Mayor Walsh’s cabinet to try and ensure those opportunities are available to everybody in the city.”

While he says he and Marty Walsh have talked about the future of the library, the Mayor hasn’t shared his reading habits.

“Not yet. I do know he has a library card. He did tell me that.”

He’s currently mixing reading for pleasure with his assignments for the library science PhD program he’s enrolled in at Simmons College.

“I think there’s a mixture of interests that I have. Because I am studying in the library science program, I am finding that I am reading a little bit about public library history and so forth. For relaxation and entertainment, you’re more likely to find me curling up with a crime fiction book. So there’s kind of a nice mixture of some academic work and some philosophy, because that was my original field, as well as some books just for entertainment.”

But don’t ask him to pick a favorite place at the central library branch to read.

“It really depends on the day! It’s like asking me to pick between children.”