BPL brass pressed to halt closings

Boston Public Library trustees, who voted to close four libraries in April, are willing to hold a public meeting later this month to discuss plans for the libraries and a potential influx of state aid to prevent their closures, according to City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo’s office.

Arroyo last week had pressed Boston Public Library President Amy Ryan to re-convene a meeting of the BPL’s trustees after state lawmakers attended a City Council hearing on the BPL budget and noted they were getting a noncommittal response when offering state aid to keep libraries open.

Ryan said she did not have the authority to say whether the money would be accepted and used to keep open the four branches slated for closure, including the one in Lower Mills. That authority is with trustees and their chair Jeffrey Rudman, she said.

“I ask that because I think the state should know the answer to that and the city should know that answer to that,” Arroyo said, adding that he wasn’t posing the question about a meeting as a “gotcha.”

Arroyo and Ryan spoke earlier this week about a potential trustees’ meeting, but no time or date has been set yet, Arroyo’s office said Tuesday.

Trustees voted in April to close the four branches, citing the economic downturn, a decline in state aid, and a “vision” of reorganizing and “strengthening” the branch system. The branches would be shuttered sometime this summer should the proposed budget, which includes the closures, be approved.

Asked by Arroyo whether the libraries are being closed because of the budget or because of planned programmatic changes, Ryan said, “It’s an economic decision, councillor.”

Ryan added that this “is not a one-year situation,” and economic indicators did not appear to be optimistic. Lawmakers who attended the hearing, including state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester), disagreed, saying the economy is on an upswing.

“I would suggest a brighter day is going to come,” said state Rep. Michael Moran (D-Brighton), whose Faneuil branch is slated for closure. “Revenues will return.”

Ryan said the decision to close libraries continues to be “painful.”

“I’ve been a librarian longer than I’ve been president of BPL, and let me tell you, it doesn’t get much tougher than this,” Ryan said.

But councillors, echoing their Beacon Hill counterparts, criticized the BPL’s attempt at a public engagement process, saying trustees had moved too fast in voting on a plan to close the libraries.” The plan was presented before there was a real process,” said Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley.

“It was a complex decision making process and it took place in public,” Ryan responded, noting that there had been several community meetings, including one at the Codman Square branch.

City Councillor Chuck Turner, who represents parts of Dorchester, told Ryan he will not vote for a budget that includes library closures.

Councillor Mark Ciommo, who chairs the council’s budget committee, said the community meetings took place within a ten-day span. “Our problem has always been with engaging the community in that process. I would implore you, the administration, at this point to reconsider,” he said. “Take a step back. We’ll find a way to keep these libraries open.”

Noting that state aid to libraries has been on the decline for several year, Dorchester Councillor Maureen Feeney said she’s holding out hope for a reprieve for the libraries and the formation of a committee to review library finances.

City Councillor At-Large Stephen Murphy added that the City Council, while considering the budget cannot add to it. The council has two options: Cut the budget or reject the budget, which has already been decimated, he said.

Arroyo said he could not support the BPL’s plan. “I don’t feel the process was right. I don’t know how we can make such decisions as drastic as these.”

Arroyo also expressed amazement that library trustees were not engaged in fundraising activities to help the system’s bottom line. “I didn’t know the answer was zero,” he said after asking for a total figure of how much trustees raised.

He called on the board to be restructured so as to include a requirement that trustees fundraise.

The council chambers were packed with opponents of the branch closure plan and 70 people had signed up to make public comments to council members.

Sheila O’Flaherty, one of the Lower Mills residents spearheading opposition to the closures, told councillors that seniors and children would have to change buses to go to an alternative branch should the plan go through.

About 140 people attended a rally on City Hall’s plaza before the hearing, as did state Reps. Byron Rushing, Gloria Fox and Forry.

Forry is the wife of Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.