What a difference a year can make! Before February 2010, Boston's library Friends groups rarely saw one another, except at City Council budget hearings where a few of the most vocal Friends tinkered at the edges of the library budget by pleading for lesser cuts, higher appropriations or new capital funds to rebuild their libraries. Now, a plethora of Friends groups is organizing itself to speak with as loud and united a voice as possible to counter the anticipated next assault by the City of Boston on its already severely weakened, though once grand, municipal library system. At the latest meeting, held February 16 at the Copley Library for board members and presidents of Friends groups, 30 representatives showed up, including five members of the Friends of the South End Library. The big item on the agenda was articulating a preemptive response to the BPL's proposed budget, which will be aired at a Special Meeting of the BPL Trustees on Thursday, February 24 at 8:30 AM at the Copley Library, to which the public is invited.
Participants agreed to write an open letter to the BPL trustees, with copies to all city and state legislators, insisting trustees raise funds to stabilize the library system. In addition, the letter asks that any proposed cuts to the BPL budget be applied across the system, not to individual branches at the expense of others. "The pain needs to be shared," said Don Haber, co-chair of the Jamaica Plains Friends. "Once a branch closes, it'll never re-opens, even in better times."
The mover and shaker behind the effort to coalesce is Brandon Abbs, president of the Eggleston Friends, and founder of People of Boston for Better Libraries (PBBL). Formerly the People for Boston Branches, the informal association of library advocates quickly formed last year to fight off the proposed closings of up to a third of BPL branches.
The actual numbers of the proposed FY2012 BPL budget are a mystery, which is rather unusual for this time in the budget cycle. Previously (FY 2008, FY 2009, FY 2010), numbers for the BPL operational and capital budgets were crunched in December and made available to the trustees in their public meetings in January. At December's Trustee meeting at the Roslindale branch, the city's budget envoy, Meredith Weenick, stated emphatically that figures would be distributed by December 25. However, at the next BPL trustees meeting, held in January at the Brighton branch, no meaningful figures were publicized for either operational or capital budgets. The City's proposed allocation, which was $30.4 million in FY2010, was described as TBD (to be determined), as were almost a dozen items in the BPL capital budget, including the construction allocation for the proposed new East Boston library, a project close to the heart of trustee Paul LaCamera.
During the March 2010 vote to close four neighborhood libraries, including the East Boston library, LaCamera refused to cast his in favor of the motion. BPL President Amy Ryan was called out during the vote by a phone call from Mayor Menino who, she conveyed to the trustees when she returned, would make funds available to start building a new library in East Boston. LaCamera still did not agree to the closure vote, casting his as neutral.