Boston Globe Editorial Takes on BPL Over Cuts in Saturday Hours at Local Libraries and Poor Treatment of its Friends Groups

In a commendable editorial especially heartwarming to library volunteers such as FOSEL, the Boston Globe's editorial page today called on the Menino administration and the BPL to restore Saturday hours at the branches and be more of a friend to library Friends groups. BPL administrators this week postponed resuming branch library Saturday hours to October 16 from September 1. In addition, the BPL began to enforce a policy quietly adopted in 2006 to charge anyone, including library Friends groups raising money for local branches, $280 for the use of its (publicly funded) facilities when the library is officially closed. In Boston's neighborhoods, where local libraries are closed most evenings and weekends, this fee penalizes local Friends and other volunteer community groups and eliminates a convenient, safe and free meeting space already paid for by the public dollar.

After a summer respite from  the unpleasant Big Library Battle earlier this year, and faint hope that the ferocity of the push-back against branch closings might have sensitized BPL's leadership  to the passionate support for neighborhood libraries, there appears to be no such transformation. BPL president, Amy Ryan, and  the BPL's board of trustees are blithely continuing to treat the 26 local libraries as the forgettable stepchildren in the provinces while bestowing generous weekend and evening hours on the Copley Library downtown, considered more prestigious.

Taxpayer, charitable and trust funds collected for  Boston's public libraries keep Copley Library open Monday through Thursday from 9 to 9, Saturdays 9 to 5 and most Sundays. But neighborhood libraries, where most Bostonians live, work and pay taxes for among other things public libraries, remain shuttered most evenings during the year, and on summer weekends when children are of school and library services and programs are needed most. FOSEL volunteers tending the tree gardens in front of the South End library during the summer, for example, regularly witness, and occasionally are confronted by,  disappointed and frustrated library users standing in front of locked library doors, books in hand, children in tow.

Last week, local libraries were informed that staffing problems would prevent Saturday hours until the middle of October. Moreover, said the BPL, if Friends groups wanted to proceed with already-scheduled events for this or any other Saturday until October 16, they would have to pay the BPL a fee of $280 for the cost of  using the library when it's officially closed. The Connolly Branch Friends group in Jamaica Plain, volunteers all, which had scheduled a book sale for today to benefit the library, would have had to pay the BPL administrators the fee out of the sale's proceeds. As book sales go, this may amount to a quarter or a third of the total raised. The South End library's book sale proceeds, for example, seldom exceed $700.

The BPL waived the fee for Connolly at the last minute on Friday, but the $280 policy remains in place.

Friends groups "provide neighborhood branches with with everything from working sound systems to juice and crackers for story hour in the children's room," the Globe pointed out. "Burdening such groups with administrative fees --as was narrowly avoided in the Connolly case-- is no way to treat a friend."