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Editorial Points for This Week
April 24, 2008
Bulger has right stuff for interim BPL post

The Boston Public Library's board of trustees has formed a committee to find a new president after declining last November to renew the contract of Bernie Margolis, who will leave in June. There is speculation that Margolis was let go in a dispute with Mayor Menino, who reportedly had lost confidence in him. Menino, always the "neighborhood mayor," is said to believe the library system had favored the main library at Copley Square, to the detriment of the branch libraries.

Since the non-renewal, Margolis has been outspoken in his criticism of the mayor and his administration, and relations between City Hall and the library have become severely strained. Some of that tension relates to the BPL's control of millions in trust funds; just this winter City Hall and Margolis engaged in a pubic and vitriolic struggle over control of those moneys.

The 14-member search committee, which is scheduled to meet this week, has hired a professional search firm, and will screen applicants for the job, ultimately making recommendations to the BPL's trustees, who have final hiring authority.

"Boston's public library system is one of the oldest in the nation and serves thousands of residents with free books and services," Mayor Menino said when the committee was formed. "Serving Boston's residents and scholars with the most innovative programs and quality materials is our highest priority. Finding the best possible leader for the Boston Public Library is critical to achieving this mission."The new library president will need a skill set that goes beyond the traditional role of library manager. The search committee's goal should be to find a person who can lead as well as manage, raise funds as well as oversee the library system's many treasures. She or he will need well-honed political skills, too, to navigate among the numerous interested constituencies both within and outside the library's orbit.

It is a complex system. Some believe a fault line runs between the interests of the main library and the branches, i.e., the main library's "elitism" versus the branches "democratic" populism. But that's probably much too simple an explanation. What is clearly needed is a leader who can balance the many and varied interests of the entire system, while working positively with the city's political leaders. Time is running short. The search committee has yet to interview its first applicant, and the president's job goes vacant in ten weeks. But among the trustees, a plan to name an interim president is being discussed, and discussion centers on a member of that body.

Bill Bulger, former president of UMass and of the state Senate, and a veteran trustee and longtime advocate for public libraries, is being urged to take on that role. In 1986, Bulger wrote legislation creating a public &endash; private partnership that led to more than $200 million being awarded to public libraries in 198 cities and towns. The South Boston man has the support of his fellow trustees, and with his neighborhood roots, he would be a powerful ally for the city's celebrated library system. Tapping Bill Bulger for this position is a bold proposal, but those who are suggesting the plan see it as a brilliant move to guarantee a vibrant future for the main Copley Square building and all the branches.

His supporters point to the turnaround he fashioned at UMass, where he emphasized high academic pursuits while introducing the notion of alumni and community financial support for the state's public university. Bill Bulger has made of career of bringing private resources into the public domain, and that's a skill that would be most beneficial to our city's library - Ed Forry

 

 

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