Boston's City and State Officials, Feeling the Heat from Library Advocates, Express Growing Frustration With BPL Executives

In what can best be described as a sea change from as little as a year ago when talking about the importance of libraries would quickly produce a blank stare and a fast escape to a more rewarding corner of the room, Boston's public libraries have become an item for city and state representatives. They show up at meetings and hearings about libraries. Phone calls to library advocates are returned. Emails are read. Eye contact is maintained. Empathy and support for libraries is expressed. More significantly perhaps, much of the goodwill and "let's give them the benefit of the doubt" tradition that is generally espoused by elected officials for those appointed by the executive branch of both city and state has, in the case of the Boston Public Library, gone up in smoke. This may not be a good thing for the appointed, as the elected need to get re-elected and, in Boston, will quickly make chopped liver with the appointed, should that be necessary to advance their cause. We may not be there yet, but is there any state or city legislator even standing up for the executives at the Boston Public Library? Not at the October 4 City Council Post-Audit hearing about the BPL budget, where nearly all city councillors or their aides showed up, and not at the October 13 meeting where the Boston delegation to the state legislature listened to testimony by library advocates, union representatives and People of Boston Branches, a coalition of  Friends groups.

Last March, for example, when City Council President Mike Ross queried BPL President Amy Ryan about the economic difficulties faced by the library, he stated politely that "I don't want to micro-manage you, or interfere with our skills and talents to run your own organization." At the most recent library budget hearing before the city council on October 12, however, Ross demanded to know why there has been no response from the Mayor's Office to a city council home rule petition to restructure the BPL's board of trustees and make the process "more relevant to these times." "We have been ignored by the administration and the petition has not been signed," said Ross. "I would like your thoughts on this. The library was built by the philanthropy of our ancestors, it was the envy of our country, and we need to do this again," he added. "The library survived the Great Depression, the Civil War. We need new thoughts, a new board, better funding, new governance. Tell me what you think?"

He received no answer.

Both South End councillors, Chuck Turner and Bill Linehan sat through most of the meeting, paying close attention, as were at-large councillors Ayanna Pressley, Mike Connolly and Felix Arroyo.  Councillor Felix Arroyo said he wanted to make sure the BPL created a "public process" for library patrons to engage in about the library's future. "Neither the unions nor the city council were informed about the delay in libraries being open on Saturdays during the fall," he pointed out. "I am deeply troubled by it. Maybe we could have found a solution. But now it becomes 'see, they don't want our voice to be heard.'"