Two well-known New York firms have been picked by President Clinton to lead the design team for the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark. Polshek Partnership Architects will be the primary designer of the building, and Ralph Appelbaum Associates will design the exhibits.

"The president finalized the decision in the last couple of weeks," said Skip Rutherford, president of the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, a nonprofit organization chartered two years ago to raise private funds to endow and build the library. The selection was reported yesterday in the Arkansas Times.

Museums and educational buildings are plentiful on the project list of Polshek Partnership, which received the American Institute of Architects firm award in 1992. The firm designed the Cultural Resources Center, a storage, research and ceremonial facility in Suitland for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.

Appelbaum Associates designed the exhibits for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Newseum in Arlington, among many other projects. The two firms have collaborated on several jobs, including the new Hayden Planetarium for the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The process of selecting a design team for the Clinton Library was highly informal, relying a great deal on Clinton's personal involvement. "The president drove the process," Rutherford said. No official announcements or requests were published. Rather, Clinton simply talked to many architects, other experts and friends before making the decision.

The Polshek firm was invited twice to the White House for presentations, according to senior partner James Polshek. Clinton "said many times he wanted architectural excellence," Polshek said, "and for us that is delightful." Polshek will share design responsibility for the library with partner Richard Olcott. The New York designers will work with four architecture and engineering firms from Arkansas.

Every president since Herbert Hoover has established a library in his home state for the papers and other historical records accumulated during his administration. Clinton already has approved a site for his library--27 waterfront acres adjacent to River Market, a downtown festival marketplace, now covered mainly by aging, abandoned warehouses.

Rutherford estimated that $80 million to $125 million in private funds would be needed to build and endow the library.