Whither our councillors and our libraries?

In these hard times, it’s up to us, Dorchester’s residents and to our city councillors to save the Lower Mills Library and services at all our branches. We need to count on our two Dorchester Councillors, Maureen Feeney and Charles Yancey, and our four at-large councillors, Stephen Murphy, John Connolly, Ayanna Pressley, and Felix Arroyo to stand with us.

If each of these six politicians fights for the Lower Mills Library and services to all libraries, and if enough Dorchester residents add their donations and time, then the libraries will be saved. The newspaper says it costs $231,000 a year to keep the Lower Mills Library open.

Anyone who spends time at a library sees that it’s a really a multi-service center: It’s an after-school program vital to the education of our youth as they find books to read and material to write their homework assignments. It’s an unemployment assistance center for those without computers checking on-line for jobs to apply for.
It’s a senior center for the elderly who don’t have cars and need places to go to. It’s a kind of community college for adults who can grow by finding books, articles, and on-line resources. It’s even a day homeless shelter for the down and out to find a warm place to sit down and nourish their own interests in books, newspapers, and computers.

I know all too well from the work I’m involved in – a community organizer working with organizations to save funding for youth violence prevention programs and teen jobs programs – how tough the state and city budget issues are.  State revenue is way down because of the recession. Big budget cuts were made last year that are hurting our communities. More state and city cuts will come from the upcoming state budget decisions unless legislators raise new revenues, which they will not likely do during an election year. 

I know any of us would find it hard to make some of the budget decisions that Mayor Menino, the City Councillors, the Governor, and our legislators must make, but there is a way forward.
The city budget is very large and I still feel there could be a way to find the money to save the libraries if that’s a priority, although that would mean other city services would be a little less available.

Think about it: When a supermarket pushes a cause, the check-out person asks each person if they will donate to such and such cause. What if from now on each time someone took out a book or CD from the library, they were asked if they wanted to contribute to the Friends of the Boston Public Library? I bet many tens of thousands of children and adults would donate from pennies to tens of dollars.

I think we need to look at a multi-faceted strategy to saving the libraries:

1. Ask and allow residents to step up with donations to save the libraries, both the four slated to close and all the services at all the other libraries.

2. Consider cutting some other parts of the city budget by some figure like 1/10 of 1 percent to save our libraries, knowing this is not without its pain, too.

3. Make our requests to our legislators for fewer budget cuts that might then increase local aid to cities and towns and their libraries and support new tax revenue proposals needed to make this possible.

4. Ask the Boston Public Library administration to disclose if there are any cost savings from what we pay that help residents in other communities in our regional library system that should be made or picked up in part by these other library systems.

While police, fire and schools are the most important public services, libraries come right after them in importance, and they are the most cherished of all. There will be a great loss if the Lower Mills Library and the others are closed and library services at all libraries decreased. 

Residents of Dorchester, please step up with your letters and calls to our City Councillors asking them to fight for us and come up with your donations to keep our libraries open.

Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident