Letter from BPL president to Boston lawmakers

A letter from Boston Public Library president Amy Ryan to lawmakers, sent the same day a dozen House members filed amendments attempting to prevent branch closures.

April 16, 2010

Dear Boston Legislators:

Thank you for your correspondence of April 7, 2010 regarding the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) budget process for Fiscal Year 11. Answers to your specific questions are below. But let me address the thrust of your letter and bring some additional information to your attention:

The $1.6 million cut in state funding has been taken from state and regional services, and BPL system-wide support including reference and research services, interlibrary loan and administrative support such as IT, cataloging and processing of materials

The FY11 funding gap is more than double that cut, $3.3 million, and is due to both reductions in other funding sources and increasing fixed costs, notably collective bargaining agreements. Library employees negotiated with the City for a one-year wage freeze in FY10 as part of the City’s effort to mitigate an $89 million dollar decrease in state local aid. This agreement prevented layoffs in FY10, but requires FY11 salary levels to meet contractual step increases.

Our budget decisions were made after a thoughtful and deliberative process with transparency and public input. This process included four community meetings, four trustees meetings (always open and public) dedicated to the budget, and an online meeting. Budget documents have been posted on bpl.org/budget.

In the course of this process, it became clear that the number of branches exceeded BPL’s capacity for success; public use measures were applied along with operational and geographical measures; a decision was made to keep 22 branches open at existing hours and close four. And while it is always difficult to support closing a local library, keeping all branches open would have weakened core library functions and resulted in a lower quality library system for the citizens of Boston.

Services will be identified that are valued by these neighborhoods that could potentially be offered through partnerships and other community resources.

In short, propping up the status quo in this changing world is not working for today’s services or in to the future. Instead, our budget decisions have positioned the Boston Public Library for financial stability and sustainability long into the future.

The BPL Financial Picture

On April 9, the BPL Board of Trustees approved a $38.9 million for the upcoming fiscal year which has been submitted to the City of Boston for approval, effective July 1, 2010. Difficult choices were necessary. Today’s financial challenges are the result of back-to-back years of sharply reduced revenues. FY11 funding of $39 million is projected to be $9 million less than two years ago. Overall funding for Fiscal Year 2009 was approximately $48 million; funding for FY10 is approximately $41 million.

The City of Boston has recently level-funded the BPL for FY11 at $29.7 million

State funding in FY11 is anticipated to drop by $1.6 million, a 40% decrease from FY10

In FY09 State funding sources totaled $8.9 million; in FY10: $4 million; and anticipated in FY11: $2.4 million

FY11 projected funding gap of $3.3 million includes reduced revenues, coverage of deferred collective bargaining costs, personnel increases, technology requirements and critical needs.

Background on the BPL FY11 Proposed Budget

This year’s budget begins to position the BPL for financial stability and sustainability, while providing a system-wide approach to continuing to deliver services to people of all ages and from all walks of life. FY11 budget planning started with examining non-personnel expenses, cutting operating costs wherever possible. Energy conservation measures will also reduce utility costs system-wide.

Once all non-personnel reductions had been made, further reductions were still required to meet the budget gap. A system-wide approach was taken with proposed reductions in the areas of the Branches, Copley Square Central Library, and administrative and library support operations.

Branches: The proposed budget includes keeping twenty-two branches of the Boston Public Library open with their current hours, and closing four branches: Faneuil (Brighton), Lower Mills (Dorchester), Orient Heights (East Boston), and Washington Village (South Boston). Services will be identified that are valued by these neighborhoods that could potentially be offered at locations in the neighborhoods through partnerships and other community resources. Examples include early literacy programs, homework help, book discussion groups and book clubs for children and teens. Up to 25 positions are expected to be eliminated.

Copley Square Central Library: The proposed budget includes reducing the number of public service points from 20 to 14; closing Sundays before Monday holidays and the Sundays following Christmas Day and New Year’s Day ; and the unification of complementary subject departments. Up to 38 positions are expected to be eliminated.

Administrative and System-wide Support: The proposed budget reduces/eliminates contracts (vehicles, HVAC, window cleaning, fax/typewriter maintenance); reduces staff development and training; reduces programming support; reduces facilities and maintenance system-wide; and consolidates administrative support activities. Up to 31 positions are expected to be eliminated.

In response to your specific questions:

Question 1: If cuts were absorbed entirely by statewide and regional services, exactly what services would be cut and to what extent?

The anticipated reduction in State funding for FY11 is $1.6 million. Areas funded in the past with Library of Last Recourse and Regional funding have been eliminated or significantly reduced. The BPL services made available across the Commonwealth are also services available to, and used by, residents of the City of Boston. FY11 reductions, totaling approximately $1.6M, include:

Elimination of the Boston Regional Administrative Office, including positions, supplies, services and contracts

Elimination of statewide delivery contract

Reduction in interlibrary loan services, including elimination of Positions

Reduction of reference and research librarians and support staff through consolidation of departments

Reduction of support services and staff in areas including IT, facilities, and other administrative support

Reduction in staff associated with the processing and cataloging of books, CDs, and DVDs

Closure of 5 Sundays before Monday holidays and the Sundays following Christmas Day and New Year’s Day

Question 2: What is the line-by-line accounting of how the cuts you have proposed fill the $3.6M budget gap? For instance, what savings would be generated by a cut of 38 full-time equivalent positions at the Central Library?

Reductions are being proposed in three areas: system-wide and administrative support, the Central library in Copley Square, and in neighborhood branch services. Up to 31 positions will be eliminated in system-wide and administrative support, totaling approximately $1.1M. Up to 38 positions will be eliminated in the Central library, totaling approximately $1.3M. Up to 21 positions will be eliminated from four closed branches, totaling approximately $900K. The balance of the reductions will be realized from other non-personnel costs (eliminating contracts, reducing the vehicle fleet, utility conservation measures, etc) for a savings of approximately $200K.

Question 3: What is the estimated cost to the BPL of closing a branch library (e.g., transferring books, securing the building, terminating modifying contracts)?

Approximate cost of moving physical assets is estimated to be $15,000 to $20,000 based on costs for recent capital projects.

Question 4: What level of increased state funding would guarantee that all libraries remain open?

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.

Please feel free to contact me with any suggestions or questions.

Amy Ryan