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Checking It Out for Himself : The lure of the West--and the opportunity to head the city's library system--brought Michael Steinfeld from Massachusetts. 'I like a library I can kind of get my arms around,' he says.


BEVERLY HILLS — The news from California was daunting. It was filled with stories about traffic, floods, riots, earthquakes and the ongoing state budget crisis. And Michael Steinfeld's friends and colleagues in Massachusetts were quick to remind him of these things in their half-joking attempts to keep him there.

But Steinfeld was not deterred. The lure of becoming the director of the Beverly Hills Library was just too great.

"There's something very appealing about coming to Beverly Hills," said Steinfeld, 50. "It's a symbol of so much in this country. I had to test the reality. Does the West still really mean all that it used to mean to the Easterner, to come out West and start a new life?

"I told myself I was old enough to need an adventure and young enough to bounce back from it and try something else if it didn't work out. Staying in my field, this was the most adventurous option open to me--going cross-country and starting off in a new place."

The new director will oversee a 117-member staff at the two-story library at 444 N. Rexford Drive that opened in September, 1990. With its marble countertops, tiled archways and canopied light fixtures, it is considered the crown jewel of the city's ornate Civic Center.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 9, 1992 Home Edition Westside Part J Page 4 Column 3 Zones Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Library hours--An article in Thursday's Westside section said that the Beverly Hills Library may have to turn people away because of heavy use of the library on Sundays. There are no plans to close on Sundays or to turn people away.

Steinfeld was formerly the director of the 134-year-old municipal library and two branches in Brookline, Mass. He replaces Michael Cart, who left the Beverly Hills post in August, 1991, to pursue a full-time writing career.

Since he started work in Beverly Hills on July 7, he has been pinching himself to make sure it is all real, Steinfeld said. From the library's administrative offices on the second floor, he can survey the art collection that lines the walls of the promenade and watch the bustle of patrons on the first floor.

"I like being a librarian," Steinfeld said. "I stay in the field because I like to work with the public as much as possible."

And the Beverly Hills library is just the right size, he said. "I like a library I can kind of get my arms around rather than a megalopolis."

He is impressed with the library's 200,000-volume hard-bound collection. He cites the library's fine arts reference section, materials on theater and dance, and an extensive children's collection.

Steinfeld said he did not decide to become a librarian until late in his college career. At Queens College, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1963, he was a music major. He played violin, but said he was no great musical talent.

While a student he worked in the school's music library. When a staff member suggested he combine his interest in music with library work, he found his calling. Two years after receiving his BA in music, he graduated with a master's degree in library science from Columbia University.

Steinfeld landed his first job at Queens Borough Public Library in New York City, where he started out as a storyteller. Carrying his guitar and books, he traveled to areas that didn't have a branch library and read stories to children. Since then, he has tried to bring music to libraries wherever he goes, he said.

After 25 years in the business, Steinfeld still speaks with wonder about a library's mission.

"Everybody coming in has different information needs. We have a staff that's trained and a collection that's designed--no matter what it is you're interested in--to help you with that information need.

"There's no agency quite like that in the world whose goals is to give you information of any kind for free. I still think it's fantastic."

Steinfeld said he's still getting to know the library and Beverly Hills, but he doesn't plan on doing it from behind his desk. Over the next couple of months, he wants to be trained in each area of the library, from the reference department to the children's section to the circulation department.

"I know how a library works, but I don't know exactly how things are done here," he said. "I have found you make better decisions administratively and fiscally if you really understand the operation.

"If there are budget cuts, what can we do internally to save money first? Are we taking full advantage of the technology available to us? If our staff can't grow and our circulation grows, what are the things we can do with our computers to make it easier for our staff to keep up with the public demand?"

Those are not just theoretical questions, Steinfeld said. Beverly Hills and other California cities may face a serious budget crunch this year if the state Legislature decides to keep monies it previously shared with the cities in order to balance the state's budget.

Steinfeld will earn an annual salary of $82,000 to manage the library's $3.5-million budget and a 117-member staff that includes 30 full-time employees.

He may have his work cut out for him. The Beverly Hills Library is experiencing some growing pains, and its popularity sometimes outstrips its staff's ability to do the job.

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