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Possible library closings prompt community ire

Reynolds Douglass Graves

Calling possible branch library closings a potential

“catastrophe,” City Councilor Charles Yancey called on city and state officials to attend hearings on ways to eliminate the Boston Public Library’s budget deficit.

“I think it would be a catastrophe for the city to close any of its branches,” Yancey said in interview with the Banner. “It would be a detriment to the city, and most important to children who maybe have nowhere else to go after school to study.”

Yancey, a long-time advocate for increasing library services throughout the city, was reacting to a recent BPL meeting in which 100 people attended and heard that the system is in financial trouble.  

“We’re broke,” said Vivian Spiro, Chair of the Associates of the Boston Public Library, during last week’s meeting. “We are $3.6 million in the hole. That’s a large gap we have to close.”

In fiscal year 2010, the city of Boston, the library system largest funder, allocated $29.7 million towards the BPL’s revenue and is expecting a $300,000 drop in funding or about one percent, in its 2011 fiscal year funding, the smallest drop of any revenue source for fiscal year 2011.

The biggest drop occurred in the state’s contribution. In fiscal year 2009, for instance, the state allocated $8.9 million. That number dropped to $4.4 million in FY2010 and is expected to drop even further in FY2011 to an estimated $2.4 million.

Though the BPL recently received a $500,000 grant, it’s little wonder then that the BPL Board of Trustees convened a special meeting to discuss possible options.

One option under consideration is a possible reduction in hours at 18 branches by as much as 85 percent; “pairing” some neighborhood branches together, leaving them open one to three days per week; and sharing staff members that could work in up to three branches per week.

Maureen Neinhouse, president of the Friends of the South End Library organization, said that was a bad idea.

“If accepted by the board, this would damage the services of the community branches, and the surrounding communities the library serves,” she said.

Neinhouse also lashed out at the trustees board, blaming them for losing much needed state and federal funding.

Another option called for closing as many as twelve branches and strengthening between 16 and 18 by adding staff, computers, collections, and technological access.

Despite the budget shortfalls expected for the fiscal year 2011, library officials said they are still committed to delivering 21st century library services that respond to the changing needs of Boston residents.

“Decisions will not be made today,” Jeffrey B. Rudman, BPL Trustees chairman. “But  [this meeting] is the first step.”