Library chief 'strongly supports' keeping branches open if funding found

BPL president Amy Ryan speaks at Lower Mills meetingBPL president Amy Ryan speaks at Lower Mills meetingThe city's library chief said Monday night she would "strongly support" keeping all of Boston's library branches open if funding was found. Amy Ryan, the head of the Boston Public Library system, said she would also be prepared to make that recommendation to the library system's board of trustees.

The comments, a marked shift in tone after months of talk of closing the Lower Mills branch and others, came at a packed meeting at the Richmond St. library. About a hundred supporters gathered at the Richmond St. library on Monday night as part of a "working session" on the future of the library.

Sen. Jack Hart (D-South Boston) said he was seeing an "attitude change." "I think we're heading in the right direction," he said.

The Lower Mills library was among four library branches library trustees voted to shutter earlier this year. After lobbying from city councillors and lawmakers, the Menino administration granted the branches a stay of execution until spring 2011.

"This additional time was great and really allows us to continue our work with residents and others on how to keep the libraries open," Ryan said Monday night.

A $375,000 gap remains until the end of the fiscal year in June. For the Lower Mills branch alone, it would cost a total of $108,000 to keep it open.

“I am appreciative of what seems to be a change in theme and a change in how we approach this problem," said City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo.

State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester) credited neighborhood residents campaigning to keep the library open for the change in direction. "It was all of you who changed the tide," she said. Forry is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.

Menino administration officials and library officials have cited the weak economy and blamed state lawmakers' repeated cuts to the BPL budget for the axing of the branches. But they also repeatedly said they wanted to modernize the system.

On Monday night, Ryan said she would push the Boston Public Library’s foundation to make the leap into “major fundraising.” She said the foundation could be a “much greater part” of the library system’s success.

Lawmakers, who along with activists clashed administration and library officials over the way the plan to close the libraries was rolled out, are attempting to funnel money towards the library system.

"We were blindsided because we were not part of the process," said Mike Skillin, the president of the Lower Mills Civic Association.