Should Library Friends Groups Have to Pay the BPL a $280 Fee to Use Branch Buildings for Fundraisers and Community Events?

In Saturday's editorial, the Boston Globe criticized the BPL for demanding an almost $300 administrative fee from the Friends of the Connolly Library which planned to hold its book sale at the library while the building was closed. The proceeds of the sale were to benefit the library's programs. Calling it "no way to treat a friend," the editors called on the BPL to be wary of alienating library Friends groups who provide the branches with many things the BPL does not. The $280 fee policy was "conceived and negotiated" with the BPL in 2006 by David Vieira, the president of the CityWide Friends of the Boston Public Library (CWFBPL), an organization friendly enough with the BPL's administrators to have a link on the BPL web site. (No other local Friends group, including the Friends of the South End Library, is provided with such a link.) Although CWFBPL's mission is to support Friends citywide, Mr. Vieira's record is spotty: he consistently called for the closing of several branches long before the BPL trustees did, including Washington Village and Uphams Corner, apparently without checking with those local libraries first. Nor did Mr. Vieira check with library Friends groups about the $280 fee they would be charged for their fundraisers and events at the branches. The BPL trustees approved the fee in 2006. Since local libraries are open only one evening a week, and never on Sundays, or Saturdays during the summer, finding free and safe space for meetings and events is a challenge for neighborhood associations and Friends groups. At the South End Library, meetings of its neighborhood groups can take months to schedule and, if canceled, to reschedule. Book groups, authors' series, library Friends meetings all have to jostle to sign up for the one night a week the library space is available. Library fundraisers rarely raise more than $700, moreover, so a $280 bite for facility's use hurts. As a result of the fee, the Jamaica Plain branch's Friends group may have held its last fundraiser this year: the annual event, a standing-room only concert of Celtic music and culture by the Gloucester Hornpipe and Clog Society, nets $650 on average, according to Don Haber, co-chair of the JP Friends. Over the nearly dozen years GHCS has performed at the JP branch, some $7,000 was collected for patrons' free museum and zoo passes, reading programs, required books for summer reading and library furniture. The musicians, passionate JP library supporters, played for free and volunteers took care of the rest. The library's facilities were used without charge. "We can't afford to pay for the space," wrote David Rosen, founder of the music group, in an email to BPL's Neighborhood Services Manager Christine Schonhart last year, asking her to waive the fee. Schonhart, declined, responding that if each of the 26 local branches asked for only three waivers each year, it "adds up to $21,000--an amount that could save someone's job, purchase new materials or computers, or provide email repairs and upgrades to our facilitie," she added. JP Friends had no luck asking the BPL trustees to reverse the charge either: chair of the board Jeffrey Rudman dismissed their complaint at the July 2009 trustees meeting, saying he did not want to micromanage "such small amounts" and that he stood by the trustees' decision to charge the fee. Eventually, it was waived for the 2010 Celtic concert in March, but from here on, it will be

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assessed, likely ending the popular fundraiser for the JP branch.