City is facing House action on library closings; Amendments cutting funding expected to pass; BPL responds

House lawmakers expect to pass amendments to their version of the state budget this week demanding that the city keep all 26 libraries open. Boston Public Library officials, in turn, say the amendments could lead to further cutbacks and layoffs.

One amendment would reduce state support by $2.4 million if all the branches aren’t kept open. Four branches are currently slated for closure, including the one in Lower Mills, following a vote by library trustees earlier this month. Mayor Thomas Menino has included the recommendation in his fiscal 2011 budget as part of a plan to modernize the library system and close a $3.3 million budget gap in the system’s funding.
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“We’re asking Amy [Ryan, BPL president] and her team and Mayor Menino to come back to the drawing board,” said state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Lower Mills), who is sponsoring the amendments along with eleven other legislators. She, along with several other lawmakers co-sponsoring the amendments, is a member of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team.
Lawmakers were debating the $27.8 billion budget – a process expected to last through the end of the week – as the Reporter went to press. Local lawmakers have also pressed city officials to provide a dollar figure on how much they need to keep the libraries open, but say they have received vague answers in response.

Upon passage, the budget will be sent to the Senate, where state Sen. Jack Hart (D-South Boston) is expected to submit similar amendments. Both sides then will reconcile their versions and send a final budget document to the governor’s desk.

In his weekly column, Menino said his budget begins “strengthening our libraries and community centers, focusing not on the number of physical buildings they occupy but what goes on inside them.” He wrote: “I am confident that 22 strong branches along with our flagship Copley Square facility will help secure the long term financial security and services of our libraries. We will continue to invest in online services and technology to bring our library system into the 21st century, moving beyond the physical walls of libraries to deliver programs and services in community settings.”

But Rep. Forry said city officials moved too quickly to close the libraries and did not gather enough input from the public. “There was an option put on the table that would keep branches open and allow people to share the burden across the city,” she said. “The residents of Boston do not want the libraries to close.”

Rep. Forry, who is married to the Reporter’s managing editor Bill Forry, pointed to the different tack Boston school officials took in making a case for school closures in the district over a longer period of time, instead of two to three months.

“The people in the end understood because they were part of the process,” Forry said.
Library officials say keeping all the libraries open would lead to further cutbacks. In a talking points memo circulated this week, they said the system will see 31 additional job cuts if the amendments are approved. The borrowing of books from other libraries for BPL users would stop, they added.

According to the two-page memo, there would also be:

• A reduction in the purchase of new books, such as novels, travel guides, atlases, how-to books, best sellers and award winning titles, CDs, DVDs for the Central Library and branches

• Commercially-licensed databases and highly popular digital downloadable books, music, and video used throughout the state by students of all ages, the business community, and the general public, are likely to be further reduced and limited in use

• Possible ending of digitization efforts, which have made more than 20,000 historical titles of interest to students, genealogists, and historians accessible via the internet.

Meanwhile, neighborhood activists have ramped up their campaign to keep the Lower Mills branch open. Banners and yard signs are being put up in Cedar Grove and outside Meetinghouse Bank, where signs are available. The bank’s president and CEO, Anthony Paciulli, is spearheading the save-the-library campaign. “There’s a great demand for the signs, great demand for the banners,” he said, adding that he is ordering an additional 50 lawn signs due to the response.
“People have really mobilized around this effort,” Forry said.