Under questioning from city councillors, the head of the Boston Public Library said Thursday evening she would ask the chair of the board of trustees to convene to weigh potential state and local aid aimed at preventing branch closures.
City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo pressed Boston Public Library President Amy Ryan on the board of trustees holding a meeting sometime next week after state lawmakers attended last night’s City Council hearing on the BPL budget and noted they were getting a noncommittal response when offering state aid to keep libraries open.
Ryan said she did not have the authority to say whether the money would be accepted and used to keep open the four branches slated for closure, including the one in Lower Mills. That authority is with trustees and their chair Jeffrey Rudman, she said.
Ryan agreed to speak with Rudman Friday about a meeting next week and to tell Arroyo the response.
“I ask that because I think the state should know the answer to that and the city should know that answer to that,” Arroyo said, adding that he wasn’t posing the question about a meeting as a “gotcha.”
Trustees voted in April to close the four branches, citing the economic downturn, a decline in state aid, and a “vision” of reorganizing and “strengthening” the branch system.
“This is not a one-year situation,” Ryan told councillors Thursday, saying economic indicators did not appear to be optimistic.
Ryan said the decision to close libraries continues to be “painful.”
“I’ve been a librarian longer than I’ve been president of BPL, and let me tell you, it doesn’t get much tougher than this,” Ryan said.
But councillors, echoing their Beacon Hill counterparts, criticized the BPL’s attempt at a public engagement process, saying trustees had moved too fast in voting on a plan to close the libraries.” The plan was presented before there was a real process,” said Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley.
“It was a complex decision making process and it took place in public,” Ryan responded, noting that there had been several community meetings, including one at the Codman Square branch.
Arroyo said he could not support the BPL’s plan. “I don’t feel the process was right. I don’t know how we can make such decisions as drastic as these.”
Arroyo also expressed amazement that library trustees were not engaged in fundraising activities to help the system’s bottom line. “ I didn’t know the answer was zero,” he said after asking for a total figure of how much trustees raised.
He called on the board to be restructured so as to include a requirement that trustees fundraise.
The council chambers were packed with opponents of the branch closure plan and 70 people had signed up to make public comments to council members.
About 140 people attended a rally on City Hall’s plaza before the hearing.