After more than a year's effort to counter public anger over threatened library closures and cutbacks, two of the newer appointments to the Library Board, State Representative Byrton Rushing and former WBUR General Manager Paul LaCamera, have begun laying the groundwork for a major library overhaul and the restructuring of the fundraising arm for the Boston Public Library. Trustee Rushing agreed this month to head the Strategic Planning Committee of the BPL's so-called Compass project, a once-feeble but now more solid effort to engage the public in envisioning the library's future, while trustee LaCamera's search committee is down to the final phase of finding someone to lead the limping Boston Public Library Foundation. Together with recent efforts by the Library Board to make the institution more transparent and responsive to Friends' groups, employees and the public at large, it appears a new and better day may finally be dawning at the the BPL, once the envy of the nation as its first public library, now among the weakest of modern metropolitan library systems. It will be a hard slog, and many things can go wrong. But the quality of involvement by trustees Rushing and LaCamera on the critical fundraising and strategic planning committees may spell the difference between success and failure: top-notch fundraising can't be done without a top-notch strategic plan, and vice versa.If LaCamera's development background at both Channel 5 and WBUR can link up fortuitously with the strategically skilled Rushing's profound understanding of and commitment to the role of public libraries in a democracy, many good things could become possible. That sort of power and savvy is about what it will take to overhaul the BPL, an institution steeped in unfortunate and unnecessarily hostile relationships between management, unions and employees as well as long-standing resource inequity between the Central Library in the Back Bay (20,000 residents) and its 26 branches in the 'hoods,' where the remaining 580,ooo or so Bostonians live.
"The support of the mayor is critical," agreed LaCamera in response to a question from the audience during a March 8 trustees meeting at the Charlestown Branch Library. Asked for an update by another library patron from Roslindale, LaCamera explained that raising serious money requires a team of highly trained professionals with very specific skills who, in the case of the BPL, have to build an organization from the ground up. The Foundation has been without a head since its (volunteer) president left last year. According to Dan Currie, a library advocate from Dorchester who attended a subsequent BPL budget meeting on March 16, trustee LaCamera reiterated at that time again that while "serious efforts" were underway regarding fundraising and staffing the BPL Foundation, there would be no "magic bullet," and that there would be "two or three years of effort" before a reinvigorated foundation might be able to create a "meaningful" fundraising impact.
Trustee Rushing presented an upbeat vision to produce a strategic plan by the last trustees meeting of 2011 "if we all stay involved." He added, "and I mean all the stakeholders at any level of the city." Rep. Rushing reminded the audience he had "a day job," but that Michael Colford, the Research Services and Information Technology director at the Compass project, would be in charge to organize the (high-paced) schedule of public meetings on strategic planning, to be made available on the BPL web site sometime this week. Holding up a colorful copy of the new Seattle Public Library Strategic Plan, Colford said this was one of several the committee would study. Previously, considering other US libraries' innovations and plans was looked upon askance by the BPL, and usually disimissed without much ado..
Colford said in a subsequent conversation that the public would be involved in at least three ways: at 3 or 4 to-be-scheduled committee meetings; at the bi-monthly public trustee meetings where the committee will report to the trustees and the public will have time to comment; and at 4 to 6 to-be-scheduled public meetings where updates will be provided and comments solicited. Colford would also "look into" re-activating a public-comment section on the BPL’s Compass site where suggestions, relevant library reports on strategic planning and related materials could be posted.