Library closures delayed as lawmakers keep pressing for keeping branches permanently open

The Menino administration and Boston Public Library trustees on Monday said the proposed closure of libraries would be delayed as more public input is gathered, and finally acknowledged that if they’re given additional money they will keep them open.

But Boston’s State House delegation of elected officials, pushing to keep the libraries open permanently, blasted trustees for the decision, saying it still leads to the libraries being closed.

The trustees’ move comes after outcry from opponents of library closures and members of the state Legislature and City Council, who criticized the decision to shutter the libraries as rushed and perfunctory. Citing a declining stream of state revenue and a “vision” for a tighter, smaller library system, trustees voted in April to close four branch libraries, including the one in Lower Mills.

On Monday, trustees voted to temporarily keep the libraries open for an undetermined amount of time, instead of closing them in the summer as originally planned.

“We’ve heard everybody,” said Jeffrey Rudman, chairman of the mayorally-appointed board of library trustees. “We can have a fuller process.”

But the decision drew an angry response from state lawmakers, who attended the Monday meeting at the main branch in Copley Square and were expecting for the branches to be granted a reprieve. “You’ve done nothing except to plan for the closure of these branches,” said state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester). “And we are working with our colleagues in city government...planning to keep them open.”

Added state Rep. Martha Walz (D-Beacon Hill): “You’re just voting to delay the closure, to have a more orderly process for closure.”

State Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Roxbury) blasted trustees, saying they had a “terrible” relationship with lawmakers. “You have had lobbyists who are awful,” he said. “You have literally done a bad job.”

Rudman said if lawmakers provided an additional $1.6 million, all branches would be kept open.

"That is a totally different song from what we heard before," said Forry, noting that they had pressed for that answer at previous meetings and received weak responses. The lawmaker is the wife of Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.

The trustees’ decision on Monday is a reversal of the Menino administration’s position in April, after nine city councillors signed onto a letter saying “we cannot support the plan to close libraries after so short a discussion period.” In a statement to the Reporter, a Menino spokeswoman said in response to the letter, “Engaging in a debate about process is simply a tactic used to distract from the very difficult issues of how best to deliver quality library services to all of our residents.”

The Monday meeting came after City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo publicly pressed the Boston Public Library president, Amy Ryan, to convene a special meeting to consider the offer of state funds from lawmakers.