What Do the MA Board of Library Commissioners and the Legislature's Library Caucus Have to Do with the Boston Public Library? Answer: More Than You Think...

In 2008, when two powerful Beacon Hill legislators resigned as trustees of the Boston Public Library, Mayor Thomas Menino did not replace them with other state legislators. The former trustees,  then-Senate President William Bulger and Rep. Angelo Scaccia, had previously funneled tens of millions of capital and operational dollars annually into the BPL to, among other projects, restore the Copley Library.  After their resignation, in protest of Mayor Menino's refusal to renew the contract for then-BPL president Bernard Margolis, there were no BPL trustees around on Beacon Hill to protect state allocations to Boston's libraries. At a time of severe economic stress, the state's portion to Boston's library budget was reduced from $8.4 million in 2008 to $2.4 million in 2010. This came on top of  several years of harsh city budget cuts to the BPL, not opposed publicly at the time by the remaining BPL trustees. Still, in 2008 it was generally believed by Boston library patrons that their local branch would be open when they awoke the next morning. How could it not be? But in 2010, BPL's  trustees and its president Amy Ryan proposed closing ten of the 26 local libraries and Boston's state legislators had to step back into the BPL fray, spurred on by their otherwise peaceful constituents who had turned into enraged local library supporters. The 24-member Boston Delegation to the Legislature passed a 2011 budget amendment threatening to cut the state's $2.4 million contribution to the BPL unless the City of Boston, as they put it, "funds and maintains operations for all branch libraries in service as of January 1, 2010." As a result, all the BPL branches remained open, albeit with reduced staff, despite the economic downturn.

Rediscovered awareness of voters' support for libraries' is reflected in the growing number of  state legislators who have become members of the Library Legislative Caucus. Founded in 2008 by former State Rep. Mark Falzone (D-Saugus), the Caucus is now headed by Rep. Kate Hogan (D-Stow), a strong library advocate elected in 2009. In her Maiden Speech to the Legislature in 2010, she described her mother's apartment looking just like a branch of the local library, and her mother as "the best-read person she's ever met" thanks to he public library. "Aid to public libraries is local aid," Hogan told her colleagues." The Library Caucus membership among House and Senate members has nearly doubled  from the 40 it started out with since Hogan became its chair, according to Scott Kjellberg, Rep. Hogan's legislative aide.

"The Library Caucus is helpful," said Cynthia Roach, Head of Library Advisory and Development for the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. The MBLC works on state aid to libraries, mostly in an advisory capacity with minor enforcement power centered in its state-funded library-construction programs. When asked about public awareness of the state's role in libraries recently, Roach acknowledged "we're in much better shape now."

Among the Library Caucus's early supporters is South End Rep. Byron Rushing, also the Second Assistant Majority Leader in the Legislature. Appointed to the BPL Library Board by Mayor Menino in 2010, shortly after he publicly denounced the BPL's lack of advocacy at the Legislature, Rushing has begun to re-lubricate the rails between the Legislature and the BPL. In March of this year, Rushing helped bring together the BPL's trustees and executives with MBLC's director Robert Maier and Library Legislative Caucus Chair Hogan at the Copley Library for a breakfast meeting; a previous get-together had already taken place at the Legislature in November 2011.

In April, Rushing reported that  44 legislators signed up for BPL library cards at a State House library event, "part of the effort to inform my colleagues that any resident of Massachusetts can apply for a card in the BPL," Rushing said. Following a language change engineered in the fiscal 2012 state budget by Rep. Hogan, the newly formed Library for the Commonwealth (formerly the Library of Last Recourse) expanded services and allowed all state residents to be eligible for a BPL library card, according to Hogan’s office.

The improving relationship between the state and the BPL strengthens the hand of an additional player in city of Boston's library system which, in its trustee appointments and budget allocation, depends almost entirely on the good, or not so good, graces of  the mayor of Boston. When the 2012/2013 state budget was approved last month, operating money for libraries was increased "slightly" from the level-funding provided the previous year, said Roach, of the MBLC. A position for a second state library construction specialist has been fully funded this year (the MBLC plays an important role in the construction and renovation of Commonwealth libraries) and money for a program for the visually impaired, Talking Books, was increased by three percent to $2.4 million. In addition, said Roach, the MBLC hopes to convince Governor Deval Patrick to approve a new bond bill for $150 million worth of library construction during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, something that would benefit, among other projects, the East Boston Library, now in progress. A previous library bond bill, for $100 million, will cover only the costs of the first seven libraries on the to-be-constructed list.

At this point, The East Boston Library's number on the list is...14.