A meeting at the Lower Mills library on Monday evening could well decide the fate of that branch and, ultimately, branches throughout Dorchester and across the city at large. It is now time for all people who feel — as we do — that libraries are a critical civic asset to show up and make their voices heard.
Library officials have scheduled two sets of meetings, starting this weekend. One set of seven meetings — dubbed “strategic planning” sessions by the BPL brass — starts on Saturday with a kick-off event at the Copley Square central library. Then, on Monday, a second-tier set of four meetings— all to take place at branches that are scheduled to close — begins with a gathering at the Lower Mills branch at 6:30 p.m.
There are promising signals from the Menino administration this week that, for the first time, they are prepared to discuss a scenario in which the Lower Mills branch will stay open through at least the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Thanks to a hearing two weeks ago chaired by Dorchester Councillor Charles Yancey, we know that this is a fiscally reasonable resolution. This neighborhood needs to send a clear message on Monday evening that —in fact— that is the only acceptable outcome.
City officials say that they are coming to Lower Mills first — and with a different agenda than those for the other BPL meetings— because they know that they have a lot of explaining to do. The BPL’s process, and the premature decision last April by its board to eliminate Lower Mills as a branch, have prompted outrage in this neighborhood and for good reason. Strong advocacy from grassroots civic leaders and elected officials in both the State House and City Hall led to a reprieve from Mayor Tom Menino last June. Otherwise, Lower Mills and three branches in Brighton, East Boston and South Boston would already be closed.
While Monday’s meeting may be an attempt to restore a working dialogue with the people of Dorchester and Mattapan who value the Lower Mills branch, President Ryan and her board would do well to come prepared with more than just mea culpas. They should make a commitment from the start to reverse their flawed vote of April and put all branch libraries on equal footing for the duration of the still-unfolding BPL Compass planning process.
Residents here are prepared to have a cordial, constructive dialogue with Ms. Ryan and the Menino administration about citywide reforms to the BPL system. But no one should be asked to engage in a back-and-forth about the future of this library system with an execution date looming over their heads. Ryan and her board need to act swiftly and forthrightly to assure the public that all residents will be equal partners in that endeavor. That can only be accomplished in this instance by reversing their decision of April and then returning to the community for a more comprehensive discussion of how to move forward.
– Bill Forry