There was no joyous applause when Boston Public Library's trustees announced on Monday that they are delaying shutting down four branches this fall. Instead, there is still tension, disappointment and anger over how the BPL is dealing with a more than $3 million budget gap.
“The postponement of closing branches is not a cause for celebration,” said Alyssa Cadalick, president of one of the unions representing library workers. “We think that every neighborhood and every area should have its own branch, permanently.”
Under the postponement, the branches in Brighton, Dorchester, East Boston and South Boston will be on an indefinite timetable for closure. Meanwhile, cuts will go forward in central administration and at the main Copley Square branch — eliminating up to 68 jobs — in order to save about $2 million.
Rep. Marty Walz, D-Boston, is angry the trustees are not revisiting the choice to close branches at all.
“I’m very disappointed in this decision,” Walz said. "Because what the Legislature is seeking to do is to keep the libraries open. What the Board of Trustees is doing is simply planning better for their closure.”
There are three amendments attached to the state budget that would eliminate the state’s $2.4 million funding for Boston libraries as punishment for shutting down branches. Walz still supports pulling state funding because she says it’s not enough simply to delay the closings.
The budget in question is in a closed-door conference committee.
Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, D-Dorchester, is also unhappy the trustees still plan to close branches.
“They are not saying, 'We are going to think creatively on how to keep these branches open,' " she said. "They are saying, 'We want to meet with these communities to figure out how to reuse these buildings. How do we close the buildings down because we don’t want to have libraries there?' That’s what I’m hearing and I think that is a serious problem.”
At the center of the debate is a $1.6 million hole in the BPL budget. Mayor Thomas M. Menino says he’ll fill that gap for this year so the city can figure out what to do with the buildings and how to deliver services without libraries. At the meeting Monday, Library Trustee Chair Jeffrey Rudman told state lawmakers he would welcome additional funding.
“If you will find us the $1.6 million of new money — am I being clear — and do not take away from us that last $2.4 (million),” Rudman said. “But if you will find us $1.6 million of new money there will be no closing of branches.”
During the public comment period, it was clear library supporters are not giving up the fight.
“This is a war,” said Elizabeth Buckley, whose local branch in Brighton is slated to close. “Our goal is to save these libraries. No one else seems concerned about that so it is a war. We are doing everything we possibly can to save them."
But Rudman refutes the assertion that the trustees are not concerned. "We do not have the money," he said. "Let me be clear, with all the state representatives in the room, we are not cavalierly closing a branch.”
The war comes down to budgets. Will the state budget strip Boston Public Library of funds as punishment for closing branches, even though the city has postponed the closures? Or will the mayor continue to find the money to take branch closings off the table, which would secure state funding?
This program aired on June 22, 2010.