Lower Mills library activists press case at BPL meeting

Supporters of the Lower Mills branch library on Monday night pushed back against the forming of a Boston Public Library task force to handle “transitioning of services” as the City Council weighs Mayor Thomas Menino’s proposal to close the Richmond St. building.

Some of the sharpest criticism, directed at Boston Public Library officials who had gathered the task force at Caritas Carney Hospital, came from state Sen. Jack Hart. “I think we’re heading in the wrong direction here,” said Hart, a South Boston Democrat.

Hart, who along with other Boston state senators is proposing amendments to the Senate’s fiscal 2011 budget that prevents library closures, added, “I’m here tonight to fortify the point that we’re not taking this closing lightly.”

Hart blasted the BPL’s attempt to engage the community on the closures and quick move toward a Boston Public Library board of trustees’ vote as “shoddy.”

He added that BPL president Amy Ryan did not sufficiently answer questions community members had about the closure and said there was a belief that the “decisions were made already behind closed doors.”

With nearly three dozen people in the room, almost all opposed to the closure of the library, the representatives from the Boston Public Library abandoned the planned agenda for the evening.
“The agenda is nice,” Michael Skillin, the head of the Lower Mills Civic Association told BPL officials. “The folks down here are not interested in the agenda.”

Skillin said BPL officials needed to show community members the “facts that somebody used to come up with the decision.” “We’re a strong vibrant community and we deserve better,” he said.

Added state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, a Lower Mills Democrat: “Tonight you need to go back to the drawing board.”

Koren Stembridge, the BPL’s chief director of partnerships, said the task force meeting was not an attempt to stop efforts to save the library. “That’s your civic right,” she said.

“We’re not saying give up hope,” added City Councillor Maureen Feeney.

Stembridge told community members that she hoped “you will come back to the table should it be necessary.”

“It would be lovely to be here under different circumstances,” she added. “We’re not usually the bad guys.”

Stembridge and Feeney said library officials wanted to have a contingency plan in place in case the library does close, and to set up partnerships for programs at nearby organizations and buildings, such as the Pope John Paul II Academy campus across the street from the Lower Mills library.

Stembridge and another BPL official spent most of the two hour meeting on the defensive, listening as resident after resident praised the branch library and called it at important part of their lives.
Stembridge said she would report back to Ryan what residents told her.

The composition of the so-called task force remains unclear. BPL officials the task forces are still being put together.

Stembridge said it was unclear when the task force would meet next. The Monday night meeting was held in Carney Hospital in part because of available parking, she said.

Task forces are being put together for each library slated for closure. According to minutes of a BPL trustees meeting earlier this month, task force members would include “volunteers from the community,” “potential partners,” the neighborhood representative from the mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and the branch librarian.

The City Council is holding a hearing on the Boston Public Library’s budget on Thursday, June 3 at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall. On Tuesday, June 1, elderly individuals who live in the Boston Housing Authority building on Dorchester Ave. in Lower Mills plan to protest the proposed closure, handing out flyers and standing on street corners to implore residents to attend the hearing. The Mass Senior Action Council is aiding in the coordination of the protest.

On Ryan’s recommendation, library trustees last month voted to close four libraries, including the Lower Mills branch. The other libraries include Faneuil branch in Brighton, the Orient Heights branch in East Boston, and the Washington Village branch in South Boston. Library officials say the closures, necessitated by a $3.3 million budget deficit and a new “vision” from Ryan and Menino for the library system, would let the remaining branches maintain existing hours and even expand some programs.
Branches in Dorchester and Mattapan slated to remain open include Adams St., Fields Corner, Uphams Corner, Codman Square, Grove Hall, and the Mattapan branch on Blue Hill Avenue.