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Library amendments up for debate next week

It's enough to make any conflict-hungry reporter squeak with glee.

As both the Reporter and the Globe noted today, the debate over whether to close four libraries, including the Lower Mills branch, should get even more interesting next week. That's when the House starts up debate on its version of the fiscal 2011 budget.

A dozen Boston lawmakers have filed amendments demanding that the city keep all 26 branches open. Otherwise, the city won't get several million dollars for the Boston Public Library. (In response, a spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas Menino told the Herald that the lawmakers were playing a "game of chicken with literacy programs.")

Whatever the view on libraries and whether the four should be closed or not, it's clear that Boston Public Library officials have been engaging in a terrible sales job in pushing for the closures.

A few people in the neighborhood have compared the process to the Boston Archdiocese's move to consolidate parishes and schools several years ago. (Though unlike the Archdiocese and Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Menino has something a bit more tangible than a belief system: political capital from an overwhelming vote for reelection.)

Rep. Michael Moran (D-Brighton) told the Globe: “My gut is telling me that this has nothing to do with money. It has to do with the vision [BPL President Amy Ryan] has for libraries. That’s really what this debate is about."

That vision is something that has not been articulated well. Much of the focus has been on the $3.3 million budget deficit.

(Separately, Moran told the Globe that he didn't get a phone call notifying him of the closure. Seriously guys? Not calling a rep about a closure in his district? That's politics 101.)

It doesn't help when lawmakers are asking how much money will it take to keep all libraries open, and they keep getting answers that are, from their perspective, vague or unsatisfactory. Answers like the one Ryan wrote in an April 16 letter to lawmakers the same day they filed their amendments: "A response to this question will depend on a strategic plan that takes in to account long term financial sustainability, and the way the public uses libraries, the condition of buildings and capital needs, online services, community outreach, financial sustainability, and anticipated operating costs."

The question now is who's going to blink first?