The School of Information Sciences remembers alumnus Leonard Kniffel

School of Information Sciences alumnus Leonard Kniffel, former publishing executive for the American Library Association in Chicago, died March 19 of Pancreatic Cancer.

A man with short white hair is wearing a dark blue suit and tie. He is seated in a wooden chair against a dark blue backdrop.
Leonard Kniffel

He was a librarian, poet, journalist and author of many books including his memoirs A Polish Son in the Motherland: An American’s Journey Home and Busia: School Days on the Farm with My Polish Grandmother. He was one of the founders of the Poetry Resource Center (PRC) of Michigan and an organizer of the annual Michigan Poetry Festival.

After graduating with a master’s degree in library science in 1975 Kniffel maintained close ties with the faculty and staff at Wayne State. He worked at Detroit Public Library for 18 years before joining the staff of American Libraries, the flagship magazine of the American Library Association, in 1988. He spent the remainder of his career at American Libraries and served as editor in chief from 1996 to 2011. In retirement Kniffel served as executive director of the Polish American Librarians Association and was a board member of the Polish Museum of America.

He is remembered below by his friends at Wayne State.

Leonard was such a beautiful soul, always engaging about Poland, his ancestors’ beloved country. We shared our affinity for France and all things French. We exchanged notes about one of (probably) the last articles he wrote. It was about the centennial celebration of the American Library in Paris. Our library-related conversations revolved around his seminal piece “12 Ways Libraries Are Good For the Country” which has always been part of the required readings in my reference courses. What he wrote a decade ago is still valid today.

A group of travelers in Romania are pictured in front of a castle-like building
Irene Owens, former Dean of the School of Library & Information Sciences at North Carolina Central University (2008-2016); Kniffel; Marianne Hartzell-Mika; Joseph Mika, former director and professor emeritus of Wayne State’s School of Information Sciences; and SIS Professor Hermina Anghelescu in front of PeleČ™ Castle in Sinaia, Romania (photo by Roxana Macovei)

Leonard and I also shared our love for travel and we crossed paths in various parts of the world where IFLA organized its annual conferences (Helsinki, Lyon, Wroclaw, Quebec, Milan, Oslo, Durban…).  I invited Leonard to join me for a conference that took place in Romania in 2012. We visited archives and libraries in Bucharest. We co-authored an article about the National Library of Romania where we did an interview which proved revealing to both of us and led to an unflattering title. While in my native country we sampled the ethnic cuisine and the local wines as we did when he visited his native Michigan and spent time in his mother’s house, in Hamtramck, famous for its Polish life, culture, bakeries, and gospoda (restaurants).

Leonard was a bon vivant, with refined taste for gourmet food. I am delighted to have been able to have met him. He enriched the many wonderful memories that I have experienced in his entourage and shall remain with me. – Professor Hermina Anghelescu

With kindness and grace, Leonard hosted me and groups of students I brought from Wisconsin (UW-Milwaukee) when we visited Chicago libraries and related institutions. He offered ideal glimpses of the vast world of libraries because of his involvement with ALA and American Libraries. His encouragement and enthusiasm benefitted not just the students, but me as well. He represented the generous, intellectually-curious, and socially aware mindset that has drawn so many of us into this profession. If you are as keen on reading habits as Leonard was, please take a look at his book "Reading with the Starts: A Celebration of Books and Libraries" that features interviews about reading, books, and libraries with such luminaries as Bill Gates, Julie Andrews, Oprah, and Barack Obama. – Associate Dean Tom Walker

The School of Information Sciences and Wayne State University lost a great friend, Leonard Kniffel, on March 19.

A man, the late Leonard Kniffel, poses in front of an open window overlooking a town in Romania.
Kniffel at Bran Castle (often referred to as Dracula’s Castle) in Romania

In 1986 I was contacted by then Dean of the University Libraries System Peter Spyers Duran to be the Director of the Library Science Program at Wayne State. I was fairly familiar with Program Director Robert Booth who had just retired and the interim Director Edith Phillips. I also knew a few of the faculty and about the rich history of the program. What I did not know about was the extraordinary love and support that the alumni held for the program.

Among the many alumni I met during my first year at Wayne was Leonard Kniffel, who was working at the Detroit Public Library at the time. Leonard was a generous fount of information regarding the program, the faculty, and other alumni. In short order he became not only a strong supporter of our effort to gain American Library Association Accreditation, but also a friend. Due to his efforts, and that of many other alumni, faculty and students, the program was successful in obtaining accreditation. Leonard served as one of the alums who met with the visiting team from the Committee on Accreditation.

Three people stand in an ornately carved wooden doorway in Romania
Mika, Kniffel and Owens at the Village Museum in Bucharest are pictured under a traditional hand carved gate from MaramureČ™

Two years later he was off to Chicago to become the new editor of the American Library Association’s (ALA) main journal, American Libraries. Occasionally we would meet for drinks at conferences where he always asked about how things were at Wayne, what was new, the name change to Library and Information Science Program, how individuals he knew were doing, etc. He frequently traveled back to Michigan to visit friends in Hamtramck and often stopped in to say hi. We continued our friendship even after I retired. 

Dr. Hermina Anghelescu obtained a grant in 2011 and organized a “Library and Information Science Education & Continuing Education for Libraries in the United States and Canada” conference in Romania. Dr. Irene Owens (Dean at the School of Library and Information Science at North Central University in North Carolina), Marianne Hartzell (retired Executive Director of the Michigan Library Association), Leonard (who retired from American Libraries that year), Dr. Anghelescu, and I presented to librarians and library educators in Sinaia, Brasov, and Bucharest.  Leonard was an outstanding companion during the trip. He kept us smiling, told us wonderful stories about ALA, and regaled us with Polish humor. Though both Leonard and I were retired, we did keep in contact. In early 2020 he emailed me that he had moved to Sarasota, Florida, and we should plan to get together (I had moved to Florida in 2019). Then the pandemic hit so we planned to see each as soon as possible after it was safe. Sadly on March 24 I found out that Leonard had died five days earlier. Leonard was a superb writer, editor, educator, colleague, professional, and friend. He will be missed by many,  but always remembered by those at Wayne State who knew him for the outstanding individual he was. – Professor Emeritus Joseph J. Mika

Additional memories from Kniffel’s former colleagues at ALA, can be found here.

Kniffel is survived by his life partner of almost 43 years, Carlon B. Walker, along with many cousins, friends and relatives in the U.S.A., Poland, England, and elsewhere around the world. Kniffel’s complete obituary was posted to his blog at

Those interested in making a gift in Leonard's memory may do so here. In the section that reads “Notes about the gift,” please note your gift is in memory of Leonard Kniffel and select the designation School of Information Sciences Scholarships.

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