Two display panels describing the Johnson Building Improvement Project and asking for public comment seem to have hit a raw nerve last week. On Monday, paper-covered panels were filled with hundreds of observations and criticisms, handwritten and on post-it notes, mostly negative, but with many suggestions for improvements. On Wednesday, they were replaced with fresh sheets of paper which, by the end of the day, had covered half of the available space again.
Years of budget cutbacks to the public library system; a weak and disorganized constellation of BPL lobbyists at the local, state and federal level; and a poisonous relationship between the previous library president and the current mayor have left the 1970s addition to the McKim Building in a state of disrepair. And an easy target for the frustrated public which left the following messages: "Fix glitches in the on-line catalogue." "What happened to the arm chairs?" "Turn down the heat in the Johnson Building: it's always too hot." "More books, fewer computers." "Fix and clean the bathrooms." "A friendlier staff: I'm surprised when someone is helpful." "Better toilet paper." "Friendlier security guards." "An area where I can use my laptop when it's plugged in." "Add more local papers and archives to data base." "From the atrium, graphics to show where the call numbers are." "Be more informed and welcoming to visitors." "Staff none too friendly." "AP tutors." "Bring back newspapers." "Magazines that circulate please." "Bring back the reading room." "Scrap paper at catalogue tables." "Install bike racks at the entrance...lots of them." "Fix the sidewalk so it's not a tripping hazard." "Create an outdoor plaza with benches and planters." "Open the library to the street." "Get better books, not just bestsellers." "Bathrooms are disgusting." "More light." "A targeted quiet space." "A store to sell library books." "Pay fines on-line." "Hang a huge sparkling mobile in the central atrium." "Phone-charging stations." " More windows." "Take down the barriers." "Kiosk for entrepreneurs and local artists to promote, sell, give work and info." "Meeting space for small non-profits." "Boards like these should be up all the time." "Take down the barriers." "Resources for the homeless." "Bring back the periodicals room." "Clean, clean clean." "Keep the restaurant open Saturdays." "Keep the restaurant open until after lectures at night." A second-floor bathroom." "Coffee shop" "More selection in teen room." "Teen room should be hip." "Teen room should be easy to find." "Teen room should have computers." "Humanize." Have people who can alphabetize books." "Remove dirty carpet." "Have employees who want to be here: others would love their jobs." "Why do staff seem so unfriendly: are you treating them well?" "Get on the ball stocking shelves with terrific new writers." "More color." "Get the maps of Boston off the ground." "Make cards, souvenirs, bags, history of library books available." "Mice." "No multi-language signage but multi-language children's books: disgraceful." "More selection in teen room." "Teen room should be hip." "Teen room should be easy to find." "Teen room should have computers." "Humanize." Have people who can alphabetize books."
And then there was this one: "Boards like this should be up all the time."
The current effort to revamp the down-trodden Johnson Building into a modern, exciting, light-filled space that welcomes library users and visitors instead of aggravating them is led by an outside six-member local Community Advisory Committee, BPL staff headed by president Amy Ryan, and the architectural firm of Rawn Associates, designers of the Mattapan, East Boston and Cambridge Public Library, among other places. Part of the project includes the consideration of leasing some of the one-million-square-feet building to "library-mission-compatible commercial space." A consulting group, Byrne/McKinney, is working on that aspect.
The CAC meetings for the Johnson Improvement Project are open to the public. The next one will be held on Wednesday, May 8 at 8:30 AM in the Johnson Building's Lower Level Conference Room 5. Check the BPL web site under News and Events. Scroll down to Strategic Planning for further information and dates, OR go to the FOSEL web site under Community News, which carries several previous posts about this exciting but challenging project.