By John Lynds
At a meeting hosted by the Boston Public Library’s President Amy Ryan inside the Harborside Community Center Saturday, the discussion ranged from the inability of one strategically placed ‘new’ library in East Boston to serve the entire population to how the closing of one or both branch libraries will affect local families and children to calls to shore up the two existing branches so they reach their full potential.
Boston Public Library (BPL) officials were on hand to take in a myriad of suggestions and field questions and concerns residents over the future of the local branches.
However, one thing seems clear-the residents, backed by their elected officials, want the BPL to try and keep both the Meridian and Orient Heights branches open.
“There seems to be evidence that there is an ever growing population of children growing up here in East Boston so instead of talking about closing a library or building a new library maybe we should talk about how we can make the ones we have work,” said one resident.
BPL Trustees met this week to discuss the library budget with Ryan and decided that Friday, April 9, is the date on which the Trustees will vote on the Boston Public Library FY11 budget, which includes reductions at the Central Library in Copley Square, in administration and operations, and in the neighborhood branches.
At Saturday’s meeting, Ryan said the BPL is entertaining a series of scenarios that examine what the system would look like with the closure of 8, 5, 3, and 0 branches across Boston; and what the corresponding hours reduction would be.
However, some elected officials are questioning the timing of BPL’s presence in the neighborhood and the fact it’s hiding behind the nations fiscal crisis as a way to reorganize and suggest possible closures of local branches.
“Look, state funding makes up only nine percent of the library’s budget so to suggest the state budget cuts and the ongoing fiscal crisis are forcing the library to ‘downsize’ is a bit disingenuous,” said Senator Anthony Petruccelli, who supports keeping both Eastie branches open. “It’s my opinion that they were looking to reorganize regardless of any fiscal burdens and this is a convenient way to cut costs.”
City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who would not like to see any libraries, police stations or fire stations close at all in the neighborhoods, argued that Eastie has escaped the brunt of the fiscal crisis but its luck may be running out.
“We been very fortunate in East Boston and haven’t really felt the pain of city budget cuts but I want to prepare residents that this time we may feel the pain,” said LaMattina, who vice chairs the Committee on Ways and Means. “I don’t want to see any of libraries close but we have to look at reality.”
At a recent Trustee meeting, Ryan told the Trustees that BPL is at a crossroads.
“This is a moment in time when we have the opportunity to re-shape the BPL for ourselves and for our children and their children. We all know that the world of information continuously transforms itself,” she said. “Libraries have never been more important or useful than they are today. Libraries help people make sense of the world. Up until about 1990, libraries essentially offered the same services for over a century. Within the last 20 years the rapid growth of change has been exponential.”
Ryan admitted that right now, the BPL is struggling to provide the right level of staffing and is stretched to the point where it has had to close for lunches and dinners due to inadequate staffing. Also, she said, positions remain vacant such as children’s librarians, front line staff and others.
“The status quo is not working-for the staff or the public,” she said. “But we owe it to our employees to build a financially sustainable and stable workplace. And we owe it to the citizens of Boston to deliver a stronger, better public library.”
Ryan said this will mean re-imagining the way the BPL delivers services and changing the way it conducts business, and consolidating its service points at Copley and in the branches.
“Closing some buildings is part of this discussion as is reviewing the hours options,” she said. “Some of the choices will be hard, but I am convinced that we will be positioned for the future if we align our resources for the library of tomorrow-serving the public in buildings, online and in the community.”
At Saturday’s meeting, Ryan spoke of the importance of being in Eastie and talking face to face with residents before BPL makes any decisions.
“It was a great meeting and good for me to hear what we need to do to improve and better deliver library services here in the neighborhood,” said Ryan. “In the end it really seems everyone here can agree we need to do more for children and elderly here in East Boston.”