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Hope on a Mattapan street corner

mattapan library dedication: Mayor Tom Menino, flanked by State Rep. Willie Mae Allen, left, and City Councillor Charles Yancey, cuts the ribbon at the new Mattapan Branch Library on Feb. 28, 2009.Mattapan library dedication: Mayor Tom Menino, flanked by State Rep. Willie Mae Allen, left, and City Councillor Charles Yancey, cuts the ribbon at the new Mattapan Branch Library on Feb. 28, 2009.Last Saturday's official opening of the new Mattapan branch library was a feel-good event, something that's increasingly hard to come by at this moment in time. The malaise of a deepening national recession - and the spectre of further job cuts here on the homefront - do not exactly a party atmosphere make.

Yet, there was a buoyancy to the spirit in this spectacular new building that could have been interpreted by some as hope. Hope that even in the uncertain days that are surely to come, we can lean on a sturdy foundation of neighbors and history to pull us through the toughest of times.

Mayor Tom Menino - who presided over much of Saturday's festivities - can take great pride in the facility that his administration has brought to this corner of the city. It is clearly now the finest public indoor space of its kind within the neighborhoods south of the city center and his administration finally brought it into being.

There was a palpable sense, too, that this was a shared victory. Dozens of community people played a role in shaping the design of the structure. Youngsters - who make up a significant part of the library's constituency, particularly after school - - helped to pick the colors and fabrics that brighten the young adults section. Councilman Charles Yancey, an original proponent of the new library, recalled his long-ago push for the necessary funds. Many older residents, veterans of an era when Mattapan was clearly neglected by city leaders, had a hands-on role in scrutinizing every detail of the layout in more recent months. The architect, William L. Rawn, looked on proudly at the unveiling of his firm's latest success.

Our friends in the "bigger," daily media like to portray Mattapan as a neighborhood on "the edge" &emdash; without ever really saying what is meant by the edge. Is it on the edge of the abyss? The edge of the city limits? Perhaps it's a deliberate effort to appear mysterious.

We like to think of Mattapan as a neighborhood on the edge of greatness. It's an optimistic viewpoint, to be sure, but one that is perhaps more realistic than the more aloof media folks in town would acknowledge. Those who have more than a passing familiarity with the neighborhood understand that it's made up largely of middle-class Bostonians, living modestly, but not without buying power or a modicum of choice, in one of the more livable parts of the city. There is an active and engaged electorate, busy business districts, a huge youth population and the promise of even more growth through new public works projects, including a new stop on the Fairmount Line. There is a vitality to this community that is frequently understated, even in our own pages.

The introduction of this new, $16.9 million library is a welcome addition, but it is hardly undeserved. One might even say that - much like a borrowed book that's been buried under years of paperwork and other priorities - this new amenity is actually long overdue. It would be a fair assessment.

Yet, there were no such regrets or recriminations on Saturday. Only the excitement of people - both young and old - who marveled at a building that we can now truly call, without hesitation, the city's finest branch library building.

Making it the best branch library, of course, will require more than just speeches or bricks, mortar, glass and wood. It will require thoughtful and engaging programming, something that the branch library's staff will need to make a top priority. It will take a commitment to maintenance and first-rate collections from City Hall and the BPL's board and management. It will require continued stewardship from the community at-large, who can help by joining the Friends of the Mattapan Library, which plans its own events and fundraisers throughout the year, and by hosting meetings and other public events in the new community room. It will require the respectful use of its materials and rooms by our younger neighbors, who will be its most treasured occupants and who can also be its most trusted stewards.

Most of all, it will benefit from all of us going to the library and using it. Once you've physically been there, we think you will agree: it is certain to have a special place in this community for many years to come.