Mayor Menino and his administration are fooling themselves if they think that neighbors in Lower Mills are prepared to give up in the fight to keep our branch library open. Any discussion about the BPL’s services in Lower Mills needs to be based on a fundamental premise: That the Lower Mills branch will not close as threatened in the next year and that any discussion of how to reform the BPL needs to start from scratch.
In June, the grassroots Save Our Library campaign won a small victory when Menino backtracked from his initial decision to close down the four impacted branches — Lower Mills, Oak Square (Brighton), South Boston, and Orient Heights (East Boston). But while Menino remained vague about what the nine-month delay meant, his own BPL president, Amy Ryan, made it very clear that the reprieve was only temporary and that the closings would go forward as planned next spring.
Last week, Ryan told her board of trustees that the BPL intends to hold community meetings next month in Lower Mills and the other Boston neighborhoods targeted for elimination. While Ryan attempted to sugar-coat the intent of the meetings, it’s clear that the real motivation is to compel our neighborhood to accept the fate thrust upon us by Ryan, Menino and his hand-picked BPL board of trustees and to start planning for an empty building.
We’ve been down this road before. Last spring, BPL officials and Menino’s office attempted to make an end-run around civic leaders by quietly staging a meeting of hand-picked people to discuss the “transition of services” once they close the Lower Mills branch. The meeting was over before it started as Lower Mills leaders and their elected allies crashed the Carney Hospital boardroom and let the BPL know precisely where we stand: Closing the Lower Mills branch is a non-starter.
Menino, Ryan, and his board have already acknowledged what opponents have been saying for months: They botched this process from the very beginning. When Boston’s State House delegation challenged them on the branch closures— and promised to cut state funds to the system if branch libraries are shuttered— they got the message. One of those state lawmakers is Rep. Byron Rushing, who revolted over the closings and slammed the BPL for its horrible approach to stewardship of this historic system.
Last week, Menino appointed Rushing to the BPL board in what can only be interpreted as a gesture to branch-closing foes. Still, it’s far from enough. Rushing is one vote on an eight-member board that has so far shown little indication that they understand the depth of the opposition to their momentously poor decisions of last spring.
Let’s be clear: Residents here welcome a dialogue with the BPL about how the services at branches across the city — including Lower Mills— might change in the future. But such a process can only begin in earnest if these same officials who tried to hoodwink us before start fresh. That begins with a clear public statement that these meetings will not be about how to close our library branch.
The BPL board should expedite a vote to rescind its earlier decision to shut down Lower Mills and the other three branches. Or, Mayor Menino should issue a statement that accomplishes the same. Only then can we start to talk about the future.