The head of Oxford University's Ashmolean Library, one of the world's great research facilities in the antiquities, has been denied the Labor Department work permit he requires to become chief librarian at the College of William and Mary.

The Labor Department's Middle Atlantic regional certifying officer, Richard Panati, explaining the decision on Clifford Currie, said yesterday, "The university failed to demonstrate that they were unable to hire a qualified U.S. worker for the position.

Dr. George R. Healy, provost at William and Mary, said the Williamsburg university is "enormously disappointed with the decision" and announced that the ruling would be appealed to an administrative law judge in Washington.

Currie, a Canadian-born British citizen, holds degrees from the University of London, Oxford and Cambridge. He was head of the Canadian Library Association for three years before moving to the Ashmolean Library six years ago. The library has one of the world's largest collections of works on ancient and classical history, archaeology and the Near East.

"We would never try to argue that there are not qualified U.S. citizens," said Healy, adding that Currie was "infinitely better qualified" to head the Earl Gregg Swem Library which Healy called "a significant academic division of the school." It has become an issue "of academic and professional excellence," he said.

Healy said Currie, 59, had accepted the post last February and "has burnt most of his bridges there," tendering his resignation at Oxford in anticipation of beginning work Oct. 1 at William and Mary.