In a bizarre turn of events that reveals a recent change in the role of Boston Public Library trustees, BPL president Amy Ryan told the Boston City Council's Ways and Means Committee last Thursday that the BPL's trustees were not engaged in fundraising, even though the trustees voted to close four library branches and lay off as many as 100 members of its staff, ostensibly for financial reasons. Councillors were told that fundraising is in the hands of the BPL Foundation. (The Foundation last year wrote a $20,000 check for Ryan's personal use, approved by the trustees, to cover a "one-time supplemental housing allowance," part of a relocation package that already included nine months of free housing.) This change in trustee responsibility was echoed by subsequent comments during the same council hearing when a member of the public testified that Mayor Menino had told her "it is not the responsibility of the trustees to raise funds."
As little as two years ago when several BPL trustees were actively engaged in fundraising, however. Two of them, former State Senate President William Bulger and Rep. Angelo M. Scaccia (Hyde Park), raised millions of dollars for the BPL's building and cultural restorations, and programming at branch libraries. Bulger and Scaccia left the board in 2008 in protest when BPL president Bernard Margolis was forced out by Mayor Menino. Their positions were left vacant until last month when one new trustee was appointed. (Another trustee, Berthe M. Gaines, occupies a seat on the nine-member board without an effective vote because she is too frail to attend the meetings.)
Another unfortunate result of the lack of trustee fundraising responsibilities has been the absence of a voice for the BPL and its neighborhood libraries at the state and Congressional levels. At the city budget level, moreover, none of the trustees during their public meetings protested severe budget cuts imposed by the city's budget chief, Lisa Signori, or lobbied to overturn them.
Mayor Menino, who makes all the appointments to the board, selects each trustee, who consequentially is responsible only to him. None are vetted in a competitive public hearing process for their ability to either advocate on behalf of, engage the public in, or to enrich the Boston Public Library. None are confirmed by either the City Council or a body of library professionals and/or neighborhood library advocates directly affected by library governance.
The lack of fundraising by BPL trustees and its leadership to stave off library closings and layoffs stands in sharp contrast to the efforts of other library systems also under siege by the economic downturn, notably the New York Public Library. NYPL leadership has raised an aggressive campaign to prevent closures and layoffs, seeking contributions to cover a $37 million budget hole, writing letters to politicians, and making people laugh at the
Boston city councillors on and off the record expressed frustration with the current governance at the BPL, suggesting a change is needed. At-large Councillor Felix Arroyo called for a restructured board that requires raising money for the library, while City Council President Mike Ross called for a new board of fundraisers. Both councillors echoed a February 2010 editorial by the Boston Globe, which called for a "better board" of trustees and "more private funds" to give the public confidence that everything has been done to mitigate the losses.