Responding to pressure by Boston city councillors, hounded by their constituents upset about proposed closings of four libraries, the Boston Public Library's trustees have agreed to another public meeting to discuss keeping these branches open if the money for it can be found. It will be held Monday, June 21, at 3:00 PM, in the Orientation Room at the McKim Building in the Copley Library. The public is invited. A number of residents, city councillors and state representatives, have asked the trustees and BPL president Amy Ryan on several different occasions whether libraries would remain in operation if state and city budget cuts, cited as the reason for closings and layoffs, would be reversed. The non-committal answers by BPL leadership led some to believe that the economic downturn, blamed for the proposed closings, was used as a convenient cover for a long-existing plan to shrink the BPL system of 26 branches by a third or less, thereby limiting public debate.
An interview with Mayor Menino by the Boston Globe editorial board in 2006, for example, long before the current financial pressures were felt, revealed that the mayor at that time already stated that "we have too many branches." The mayor appoints all nine trustees. His budget chief, Lisa Signori, is in control of both the BPL annual budget and, since 2008, its trust accounts. The trust accounts, as well as the BPL Foundation's account, usually meant to enrich the library beyond its operational budget allocated by the city, have been used in the past to pay for operational expenses, including a housing allowance of $20,000 for BPL president Ryan last year, and $500,000 in operational expenses for Dudley Library in 2004.
During a budget hearing before the City Council earlier this month, Councillor Felix Arroyo asked president Ryan again whether she would accept city or state funds to keep open the four libraries voted by the trustees to be closed (Faneuil, Orient Heights, Washington Village and Lower Mills). Saying she did not have the authority to decide, Ryan agreed to ask BPL trustees chair, Jeffrey Rudman, for an answer. The June 21st public meeting at Copley Library will focus on that question.