After receiving the PhD degree in Chemical Physics in 1969, Michael Lesk joined the computer science research group at Bell Laboratories, where he worked until 1984. From 1984 to 1995 he managed the computer science research group at Bellcore, then joined the National Science Foundation as head of the Division of Information and Intelligent Systems, and since 2003 has been Professor of Library and Information Science at Rutgers University, and chair of that department 2005-2008.
He is best known for work in electronic libraries, and his book "Practical Digital Libraries" was published in 1997 by Morgan Kaufmann and the revision "Understanding Digital Libraries" appeared in 2004.
His research has included the CORE project for chemical information, and he wrote some Unix system utilities including those for table printing (tbl), lexical analyzers (lex), and inter-system mail (uucp). His other technical interests include document production and retrieval software, computer networks, computer languages, and human-computer interfaces.
He is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, received the Flame award from the Usenix association, and in 2005 was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. He chairs the NRC Board on Research Data and Information.