The long-awaited June 3rd library budget hearing before the City Council's Ways and Means Committee saw an overflow audience of library supporters who pleaded with, and occasionally begged, city councillors to stand firm against BPL's proposed library closings and layoffs. Testimony continued late into the thunder-stormy Thursday night while a few late-night guards stood at the doors of the otherwise desolate City Hall building. Seven votes are needed to send the library budget, as proposed, back to the Mayor's Office. The budget deadline is June 30th. The first budget votes will take place next week. "My heart is beating in my throat," said one Brighton resident. "We're people losing jobs, livelihoods, dreams, stories." A Latino resident of Orient Heights, her voice quavering, spoke words barely discernible as they came over the struggling sound system, but solid bets could be placed she wasn't asking to have her library closed. A Fields Corner resident, whose library will remain open, told the councillors, "I am here, instead of reading bedtime stories at home, because I see an injustice. I don't know a magic fix for the numbers but you do your job finding the money. You close a library and you'll open a jail."
And so it went. Passionate words about the need to safeguard public spaces; why Internet technology, touted by the BPL's leadership as the solution to the cost of maintaining library buildings, can't take the place of the 'everyday one-on-one' that happens in libraries; that people in East Boston can't afford the tunnel fees to get to another library; how the city council should "help residents navigate" a public process to strengthen and protect libraries. Recently sworn-in US citizens said "libraries is where we become Americans."
The librarian of the to-be-closed Washington Village branch, the smallest in the system, carved out of two apartments in a public housing project, stood at the microphone in an elegant bright-red dress and said, "I am here to give voice to those in my library that have none. They have no Friends group, they don't blog, they have no I-phone, no Smart Phone. They ask us librarians for help with forms, papers. They want to know how to get a free cell phone," she said. "" It makes much more sense to close libraries in wealthy neighborhoods, where they have that technology at home, instead of those that don't."
A representative of the medical community, referring to a health-impact statement signed by 17 medical professionals, testified that closing libraries would have an adverse impact on public health because it would decrease access to health information, increase social isolation, and interfere with literacy skills.
City Councillor Charles Yancey, whose late mother was an ardent library advocate after whom the community room in the new Mattapan Library was named, stated unequivocally that he would not support library closings. "It's insane in light of the violence in the city," he said. Yancey recalled the 1984 closing of the Eggleston Library, which he forced re-opened under the Ray Flynn administration. "That was my first victory" on the council, he said. Answering his own question where the funds will come from, Yancey said "we'll use some of the reserves."
Yancey was joined in his opinion by City Councillor Mark Ciommo, of Brighton, where an outraged group of voters is fighting the shuttering of the Faneuil branch. Ciommo, Yancey and Councillor Maureen Feeney were at the hearing until the end, as was Amy Ryan, BPL president. When Ciommo pledged he would "work with you to find the money" to keep libraries open, Ms. Ryan did not respond with enthusiasm.