The Boston Athenaeum has appointed veteran academic administrator Leah Rosovsky as its new director. Rosovsky will assume her post at the venerable Beacon Hill library later this month.
“I’m thrilled because the Athenaeum is just a terrific Boston institution," Rosovsky said in a phone interview from her Cambridge home this week. “It’s really a privilege to be associated with it.”
A unanimous board of trustees selected Rosovsky at an April 30 meeting after conducting a nearly year-long nationwide search. Rosovsky’s name was introduced late in the process by a search committee member, according to board president Timothy Diggins.
When her tenure begins in mere weeks, Rosovsky will oversee the daily operations and finances of the 213-year-old institution, as well as its storied collection of art and rare books. Rosovsky’s background isn’t in libraries per se, but in education. Since 2013, she has held two upper-level administrative roles at Harvard University, her alma mater. There, she established the Harvard Global Institute, a research initiative focused on expanding the school’s international engagement. She also oversaw Tufts University’s School of Arts and Sciences as administrative executive dean from 2006 to 2013.
Diggins said Rosovsky’s administrative skills are transferable to the new role. “[She] brings to the Athenaeum a unique skill set,” he said via phone. “She has deep academic and intellectual experience. She has strong leadership and administrative experience, and maybe most importantly, she seems intuitively to grasp the mission of the Athenaeum.”
Assuming leadership during a global pandemic will make for an “interesting transition,” Rosovsky said, since the library’s doors are closed indefinitely. She plans to begin her work by speaking with the members, proprietors, and trustees at the center of the Athenaeum community.
“I’m really in a moment of trying to listen to a lot of people — to meet as many of them as I possibly can,” she said. “It’s a strange period to do that because, of course, I’m doing it all virtually.”
The Athenaeum has struggled for years with balancing its traditionalist history and adaptations for the modern era.
Elizabeth Barker, the former director, left the institution after a tumultuous 3½ years last March. During her tenure, she introduced innovative programs and gave fund-raising a boost. But she also was accused of deviating from the Athenaeum’s core values. Multiple employees also took issue with her management style, which some called “toxic” and “hostile.” Barker was paid more than $222,000 annually, according to the nonprofit’s tax filings for the fiscal year ending Sept. 2018. Former Boston Public Library president Amy Ryan has served as interim director since Barker’s resignation.
Though leading a cultural institution is new territory for Rosovsky, the city’s culture is not.
“Boston is a lively, exciting, diverse community that really likes to grapple with ideas,” she said. And the Athenaeum is especially tuned into this “community of people who like to think.”
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