Community News

You Are Invited to Join the Arts/Emerson Play Reading Book Club: Read Three Plays, Talk About Them With Emerson Artists, See the Performances Live on Stage: First Play is "Mala" by Melinda Lopez

Melinda Lopez, playwright of "Mala"
Melinda Lopez, playwright of "Mala"

The Friends of the South End Library has agreed to fund an exciting initiative by South End staff librarians Anne Smart and Matt Krug, which invites local residents to join the ArtsEmersonPlay Reading Book Club. Participants will read, discuss, and analyze three plays before seeing them live on stage. Emerson College will provide scripts, facilitators and even refreshments (always a good thing). Conversations with the theatre artists will take place at the Paramount Theater in downtown Boston. The program has been available through the BPL's Dudley Library branch for three years and is highly recommended by its librarian, Alan Knight.

The first reading is of the world-premiere production by ArtsEmerson of Mala by Melinda Lopez. She has been described by WBUR as one "of Boston's most important writers"and is currently a Mellon playwright-in-residence at the Huntington Theatre Company.Mala runs from October 27 to November 20. The second play in the series is The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a 1996 black comedy by Martin McDonagh, a celebrated Irish playwright. It was nominated for numerous Tony awards, and will be on stage February 8 through 19. The third play candidate is still under discussion.

Martin McDonagh, playwright of The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Martin McDonagh, playwright of The Beauty Queen of Leenane

The Play Reading Book Club is one of several initiatives sponsored by ArtsEmerson's Seats Lab project to promote theater literacy throughout the city.  It is facilitated by trained teaching artists in the Emerson College Master in Theater education program. The purpose of the program is to expose as many people as possible to the theater and the experience of theater going.

To reserve your place, please contact Anne Smart or Matt Krug by email at asmart@bpl.org or mkrug@bpl.org, or by phone at 617 536-8241. Or just stop by at the library. The program is free to all. Tickets will be at a reduced rate. The limit is 30 participants. 

Bucking a Poor Performance by a Search Firm, BPL Trustees Chose Interim President David Leonard as President, Serendipitously Picking Someone Who May Have Been the Best Candidate to Begin With

David Leonard, the new BPL president. Courtesy, the  Boston Globe.

David Leonard, the new BPL president. Courtesy, the Boston Globe.

After a public process that included about a dozen citywide "listening sessions" and many hours of work spent by the well-connected 14-member search committee appointed by Mayor Marty Walsh, the Spencer Stuart executive search firm tasked with  finding the best new BPL president can factually claim it delivered. Never mind that David Leonard already was the interim president who nimbly had taken over a year ago from the tilting leadership boat captained by Amy Ryan and her stubborn defender, former Library Board chair, Jeff Rudman. Never mind that one of the two other candidates selected from more than a hundred applications,  Andrea Sáenz, first deputy commissioner at the Chicago Public Library, dropped out on the eve of her public interview "for personal reasons." Or that Spencer Stuart did not vet the other finalist, Jill Bourne, the city librarian of the San Jose (CA) Public Library, well enough to find out that actually moving to Boston would create "personal problems" preventing her from relocating. Or that, after Bourne was unanimously chosen for the job by the nine BPL trustees over Leonard, the city of San Jose would do all it could to keep their popular library director in town, including giving her a salary increase that could not be matched by Boston's wage rules. Apparently, Spencer Stuart's contract with the BPL was not paid for by taxpayers' funds. Martha Stewart would have called that "a good thing."

Jill Bourne, city librarian of the San Jose (CA) Public Library, the day of her interview at the Copley Library

Jill Bourne, city librarian of the San Jose (CA) Public Library, the day of her interview at the Copley Library

Leonard, a longtime South End resident who took on the interim  presidency at one of the lowest points in the BPL's relationships with its branches, staff and Friends groups, has by many accounts been "a breath of fresh air." He's been more accessible than the previous leadership, and was already well-versed in the operations side of the BPL, where he started as chief technology officer in 2009. He has overseen the $78 million renovation of the Johnson Building, due to open on Saturday, July 9, as well as  branch improvement projects, including the ongoing construction of the Jamaica Plain branch, expected to be completed in 2017. Reports from the BPL fundraising scene hold that he seems comfortable and effective in that setting, having recently obtained several private grants for library projects. He mentioned during his candidate's interview that his partner works in the philanthropic arena, as well. Leonard's  reports to the public meetings of BPL trustees in the last year have been informative, comprehensive and well organized (FOSEL attends most of them). In his seven years at the BPL, Leonard has also served as both the acting director of administration & finance and separately as acting chief financial officer. He recently began a PhD program in Library Information Science at Simmons College.

Andrea Saenz, first deputy commissioner at the Chicago Public Library

Andrea Saenz, first deputy commissioner at the Chicago Public Library

During his presentation to the Library Board in May, Leonard described himself as an immigrant from Dublin, Ireland, an only child and the first one among his cousins to attend college. As a young gay man, before Ireland's Reconciliation and economic boom, he experienced firsthand the power a library's safe space holds for someone like him who is "trying to work out who you are." Developing non-municipal funding sources for the BPL and collaborating productively with the community, staff and  various other public groups are among his top goals, he said. In response to Library Board members' questions, Leonard cited the lack of appropriate processes at the BPL and inattention to environmental concerns as contributing to the calamitous events of 2015.  He said he learned, especially in regard to procedures, how little had actually been written down. This does not lend itself to accountability or knowledge transfer and is "ironic" in a library, he commented. Diversity in programming and in staffing was another subject the trustees broached: Leonard said that issues of race, diversity and inclusion had not been tackled "systematically" at the BPL but that "conversations and corrective measures around diversity will soon begin."

It must have been awkward for the Library Board to have to ask a candidate they did not vote for as their first choice to please take the job after all, but Leonard was as gracious in defeat as in victory. When the trustees selected Jill Bourne over him, he called it "a great choice." When they turned to him after Bourne declined to accept the top post, Leonard said he was "thrilled, humbled and honored"  to become the library's new president.

Summer Arrived in Library Park with Musician David Polansky Entertaining a Happy Crowd of Kids Singing Songs about Spiders, Rabbits and Buses Going 'Round and 'Round

The South End has only six percent open space which may be why its parks are so treasured, even when the pavement is cracked and the weeds at times more prominent than plantings. Summer arrived in Library Park today when the first of a series of children's events planned by the South End library staff kicked off with a much-appreciated return by musician David Polansky.

The performance is one of the many sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library. It was attended by some forty children accompanied by parents, nannies and teachers, and elicited enthusiastic sing-along responses and curious investigations by young Southenders of instruments, stuffed animals used to illustrate songs, and other props.

Other programs for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers coming up are: 

*Sing and Dance Along with Little Groove, a Boston-based Music and Art Enrichment group, Mondays, June 20, July 18 and August 15 at 10:30 AM

*English-Spanish Story Time with Pine Village Preschool, a Boston Parents Paper Family Favorite Language Immersion program with songs, stories and crafts, Wednesdays June 15, August 17, September 21 at 10:30 AM.

*Jouvet Shortell and Spanish in Motion for pre-schoolers, Wednesdays, July 13, July 20 and July 27 at 10:30 AM

*A Music Concert for Pre-schoolers with the Community Music Center of Boston in Library Park, Wednesday, August 10 at 10:30 AM

All events are free. For further information, contact the South End library at 617 536-8241 or check their web site, linked here. 

Bowing to Public Demand for a Change in BPL's Top-down Culture, Library Trustees Appoint Jill Bourne as President, a West Coast Librarian Who Values Collaboration and Outreach

jill bourne.png

After a lengthy search process for a new BPL president that for the first time included numerous sessions with the public and staff, the BPL's Library Board choose the candidate they said would represent a change to a more inclusive, collaborative and transparent management culture.BPL's interim-President, David Leonard, and the Director of Libraries of San Jose, CA, Jill Bourne, each made their case on Saturday, May 21 in front of the nine BPL trustees and a surprisingly large audience of members of Friends groups, library employees and patrons. The two were the only ones left standing out of an initial group of 200; a third candidate opted out at the last minute. While the trustees repeatedly praised Leonard during his presentation for the outstanding job he had done stabilizing the BPL after last summer's raucous disintegration of the previous BPL leadership, it was clear from some of their questions during the interview, and comments after both candidates had spoken, that the "outsider" would win out over the "insider."

Jill Bourne after her public interview in a conversation with Search Chair John Palfrey, seen from the back

Jill Bourne after her public interview in a conversation with Search Chair John Palfrey, seen from the back

Trustee questions about Leonard's take on "lessons learned" from all that went wrong when he worked under the last BPL president, Amy Ryan, were an early indicator of what one trustee  described as the "incumbency penalty" that would be hard to overcome, despite Leonard's strong and, at times, moving presentation. In her interview, Bourne focused on the many ways in which she said she had worked at increasing library services in poor and immigrant communities in Seattle and San Francisco, expanded library hours and staffing, and created beneficial partnerships with Silicon Valley tech companies in the city of San Jose which, she explained, did not have a strong tradition of philanthropy. In choosing the outsider over the insider in less than twenty minutes, the Library Board cast aside the obvious advantages Leonard would have brought, having held senior positions for more than nine years at the BPL in administration, finance, technology and project management. "We are at an inflection point," commented trustee Carol Fulpe, who added that Bourne represented "a new way of thinking" and "a breath of fresh air." "I believe it won't take Jill long to start working," assured trustee Byron Rushing.

Bourne gained the bulk of her librarian's experience in the innovative and forward-looking libraries of Seattle and San Francisco. Seattle renovated its entire library system within ten years by means of a $200 million dollar bond issue, called Libraries For All, that voters approved by almost 70 percent in the 1990s. (The average time it takes to plan and renovate one library in Boston is ten years.) The Seattle renovation included a stellar new downtown library and 26 branches redone in whole or in part, including three that combined affordable housing and libraries, according to a report on this project. Bourne worked on a number of them.

Jill Bourne (facing), making the case for her appointment to the BPL trustees in a public hearing

Jill Bourne (facing), making the case for her appointment to the BPL trustees in a public hearing

In San Francisco, the public library was the first in the nation to hire social workers on its staff, in 2009, to assist and manage their large homeless population, a venture that has since expanded to include the formerly homeless, and has been featured on PBS. A moving and path-breaking photo exhibit of homeless patrons at the San Francisco downtown library, moreover, called Acknowledged, also described the many ways in which those showcased in the exhibit had become homeless. One of them was a descendant of President Abe Lincoln. In 2015,Acknowledged moved to the MLK library in San Jose, where Jill Bourne was in charge as its director.

Do You Have Any Audio Recordings, Tape Decks, CDs, Records or Tapes to Donate to Library Staffer Matt Krug? He Needs Them for Audio Collages and Sound Art Projects...

SE library staffer Matt Krug, striking an experimental pose
SE library staffer Matt Krug, striking an experimental pose

The BPL has some amazing staff members, including at the South End library, where music aficionado Matt Krug, formerly from the East Boston branch, is dedicated to, among other things, creating Sound Art. He uses anything that is already recorded, including conversations, to make "sound loops" for the electronic music he likes to create. He cites composers John Cage and David Tudor as some of his muses, and the musical group Kluster. He needs your help: Please donate any audio recordings you might have laying about, and tape decks, too. They will not be returned.

Experimental music is a personal hobby of Krug's, which dates from when he was a child, and recorded everything all the time. He also had a radio show called Live At Dinner Tonight. "You have to get out of the realm of traditional music" to enjoy the experimental side, says Krug, who enhances the sound loops he makes with key board or bass, even though he is not a trained musician.

Krug organizes the themed movie series on Fridays for the South End library, and he is planning to hold a sale of records and CDs in Library park sometime soon. Stay tuned.

Poet and Master Teacher Barbara Helfgott Hyett Will Offer an Eight-week Poetry Workshop for Adults Aged 55 or Older on Monday Mornings at the South End Library, Starting April 4

helfgott 2
helfgott 2

Poetry is coming to the South End branch in April, with an eight-week program taught by Barbara Helfgott Hyatt. The award-winning poet, professor and public lecturer will be at the South End library on eight Monday mornings, starting April 4, to teach poetry to both beginning and experienced poet colleagues aged 55 and over. Sponsored by the BPL and a National Leadership Grant from the US Department of Museums and Libraries, the AARP, and other organizations interested in supporting and benefitting  America's seniors, the program is limited to 15 people, and free to all. The workshops run from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM, and will show participants how to review the elements of a poem, the many forms a poem can take, and the various ways of editing a poem. The students will read, write and share their poetry every week. According to the poet's web site, Helfgott Hyatt has published five poetry collections, including In Evidence: Poems of the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps, which was selected Booklist's Editor's Choice. Other collections, including The Tracks We Leave: Poems on Endangered Wildlife of North America and Rift were widely reviewed. Her poems and essays have appeared in dozens of magazines including the New Republic, the Nation, the Hudson Review, the Massachusetts Review, Agni, Ploughshares, the Women's Review of Books, and in over 30 anthologies. She is the recipient of two Massachusetts Artists Fellowships in Poetry, the New England Poetry Club's Gertrude Warren Prize, the Herman Melville Commemorative Poetry Prize, Fellowships at Yaddo, the Wurlitzer Foundation, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and many other prizes and grants, including a Brother John Fellowship for Excellence in the Arts, awarded by the Boston Foundation in 2009.

Helfgott Hyett has taught English at the Teachers as Scholars program at Harvard, MIT, Trinity College, and Boston University, where she won the Sproat Award for Excellence in Teaching English. As a poet-in the-schools, she has served over 200 communities and was artist-in-residence at the MFA and the Fuller Art Museums. She is currently the director of PoemWorks, the Workshop for Publishing Poets, in Brookline, MA, which was named “One of the Best Workshops in Boston” by the Boston Globe.

A Sign of the Times: Overdose Prevention Training, How to Administer Narcan, and the Details of How to Call 3-1-1 Will Be Explained at the South End Library on Tuesday, March 22, 6:30 PM

Volunteers at the Roslindale branch of the BPL practicing overdose prevention and Narcan use

Volunteers at the Roslindale branch of the BPL practicing overdose prevention and Narcan use

The South End branch of the BPL will host an overdose  prevention seminar on Tuesday, March 22nd, at 6:30 PM. Berto Sanchez, manager of the Boston Public Health Commission's Addictions Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Support Services Services, will be there with his team to explain how to identify signs of an overdose and  how to administer Narcan. Along with the overdose prevention training, the team will address details about calling 3-1-1 for needle pick-up and any other questions that may come up.  Over the past year or two, needles have been found inside the library's restrooms, sometimes inside the pages of a book, in Library Park and in the surrounding neighborhood. Anne Smart, head librarian, who organized the seminar, has had to acquire needle-disposal boxes for the branch.

Berro Sanchez illustrates a point

Berro Sanchez illustrates a point

Overdose prevention training began earlier this year when a member of the BPL's Roslindale library staff approached State Representative Liz Malia, who chairs the Legislature's Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, to see if she could help bring overdose-prevention training to the library. She could, the staff was told and, with the additional sponsorship of State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez and Boston City Councilor Tim McCarthy, that session was held last February 11 at the Roslindale branch of the BPL, an event covered by the Roslindale Transcript.

The South End Library is fully handicapped accessible. Seating is limited. The event is free. We offer refreshments.

FOSEL's Annual Meeting Will Present a New Slate of Board Candidates for You --Yes You-- to Elect on Tuesday, February 2 at 6:30 PM: Meet Your Library's Advocates and Enjoy the Refreshments

Poster design by Mary Owens

Poster design by Mary Owens

On February, 9, at 6:30 PM, the Friends of the South End Library (FOSEL) will hold its Annual Meeting and present the audience with an excellent slate of candidates for its voting board. In addition, there is a separate slate of library aficionados who have agreed to be board advisors and use their skills and interests to enhance the library's role in the community. The terms are for one year, but can be renewed.  The audience elects the board, and that means you, so please come and participate. The seven candidates for the voting board each have specific expertise and abilities in the three areas that FOSEL wants to focus on for the next two years, namely library/building maintenance and renovation; library park maintenance and renovation; and programming.The board candidates, alphabetically listed, are:

Marilyn Davillier (programming), a licensed, clinical social worker who wants to start a South End Parenting Forum at the library, with her husband, Ed Tronick, a noted researcher in child development and parenting

Ed Hostetter (building/park), actively involved in the South End as a Garden Steward for Southwest Corridor Park and a GED math tutor at USES. His background includes teaching, building and psychiatric nursing. Ed looks forward to becoming involved in the library at the nearby corner on his street – with a curiosity about what meaningful contributions/services a library might deliver to our complex diverse neighborhood in these changing & challenging times

Jeanne Pelletier (building), an attorney and longtime neighborhood activist for the Hurley School, Hayes Park, the South End Historic Society, and the South End library who is currently overseeing the restoration of the historic Ayer Mansion, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany

Michelle Laboy (park/building), an architect, planner and urban engineer who created the LightWells in Library Park; she teaches at Northeastern

Marleen Nienhuis (everything), founder of FOSEL, who has recently rejoined the board as clerk/secretary and writes the library updates for the FOSEL web site

Mari Passananti (programming), author of The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken and The K Street Affair. She recruits authors for The South End Writes, and writes the introductions for the speakers who come to talk at the library

Barbara Sommerfeld (everything) has been the outstanding treasurer of FOSEL and has graciously agreed to do more of the same. She has an MBA from Northeastern, worked for non-profits, and currently tutors at St. Stephens. She has lived in the South End for 45 years.

The advisory-board members, alphabetically listed, are:

Adam Castiglioni (programming), who was the clerk/secretary for six years, during which time he recruited several speakers and used social media to publicize FOSEL events

Kim Clark (everything), an avid library user whose specialty is marketing and promotion for business and non-profits

Susanna Coit (programming) is in her final semester of the archives program at Simmons' School of Library and Information Science. She studied Afro-American Studies and Special Education at Smith College. She wants to encourage the relationship between the South End Library and the community through social media and events/programming. As a frequent user of library resources, Susanna is looking forward to supporting the South End Library's role and efforts in the neighborhood, where she has lived since 2008.

Marian Ellwood (programming/building), a scientist specializing in regulatory affairs, who loves the library

Stephen Fox (building/park), the chair of the South End Forum who has been a longtime advocate for the South End library and its park

Jacqueline McRath (programming), who has written about the arts for the Bay State Banner. She is an advocate for African-American artists and poets,  chairs the Teresa India-Young Scholarship Committee for fiber arts, and organizes fiber-arts exhibits at USES, like the current one, on exhibit till the end of February.

Mary Owens (programming), the graphic designer who has created all the beautiful posters for the South End Writes author series at the library, as well as the designs for the FOSEL tote bags, and the library signage on Tremont Street

Curtis Seborowski (building), who has been president of FOSEL since October 2014, and spearheaded the project for new library signage

Lois Russell (programming), a former journalist, is a fiber artist and basket maker whose sculptural work appears in national exhibitions and publications.  The former president of the National Basketry Organization, she currently serves on the boards of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston and Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Simmons College and Stanford University. Lois is interested in developing arts and public-health programming for the library, in collaboration with other board members.

Licia Sky (programming), a singer-songwriter who professionally runs experiential-movement workshops and would like to start poetry open-mic readings at the library

Anne Smart has worked for the BPL for 25 years and has been the head librarian at the South End branch for 20 years. She holds a Masters of Library Science from the University of North Texas, and grew up on the South Shore.

Karen Watson (building) is currently working on a project to develop exciting window installations at the library that tap into the South End library's creative community with library-themed displays.

At the South End Library Next Friday, December 20, from 10 AM till Noon: How to Enroll for Health Insurance Under the Affordable Care Act

The wonderful staff from the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) will come to the South End Library next Friday, December 20, to answer any questions you might have about the Affordable Care Act as it will apply in Massachusetts. Not only that, the multilingual staff  will help you enroll. For free, if necessary, or at a low cost, if you qualify. The public forum is free to all. For additional information, call the BPHC at 617 534-5050.

A Reminder to Donate a Little or a Lot to the Best Institution in Your Neighborhood: the South End Branch of the Boston Public Library

Fosel appeal 2

Fosel appeal 2

A few weeks ago, the Friends of the South End Library (FOSEL) sent out a mailing to local residents asking for financial support. Your response has been heart-warming and is much appreciated. Just in case you were not on the current list, and feel rejected or left behind, here is a copy of the appeal letter for you to ponder and respond to. The funds we collect from you will help FOSEL to pay for its programs as well as  physical improvements in the library itself. These range far and wide, from the flowering perennial gardens around the trees on Tremont Street facing the library to the reupholstery and refurbishing of the branch's seating area and library counter. The programs include our authors' series, soon entering its fourth year, The South End Writes, which brings South End and not-so-South End luminaries to your library. Last summer, we drew on South End's local jazz-and-blues heritage to bring fabulous bands to Library Park; this will continue next summer. Thanks to FOSEL, the library is now fully handicapped accessible.

New improvement projects and programs are in the planning stage, awaiting additional funds to make them come true. This is where we turn to you. Please send your donation to the address listed on the letter to the left. Or use our PayPal account. All contributions are fully tax-deductible in the year they are made. All the money will come back to you in programs, events, and a refurbished and welcoming library and park. Every donation of $50 or more will entitle you to one of FOSEL's beautiful book bags. You can pick up the red or the green one with a receipt for your contribution at the branch. FOSEL thanks you for your continued generosity.

Local Realty Group Organizes Public-School Assignment Forum, Tuesday, November 12, with Proceeds to Benefit the South End Library

Do Your School Assignment Homework Forum, November 12
Do Your School Assignment Homework Forum, November 12

Raising funds for our local library branch is usually accomplished by an annual mail solicitation put together by the Friends of the South End Library (FOSEL), or by FOSEL making a special request from a generous donor here or there who loves libraries. As an unexpected and  happy addition to this admittedly ho-hum fundraising arsenal, a local realty firm, the Steve Cohen Team of Keller Williams Realty, has now organized  a community event in which panelists hope to explain a complicated new assignment system to public-school parents for a $10 admission ticket, the proceeds of which will benefit the South End branch library.  In an informative article on school assignment in the Boston Globe this week,  an education advocate was quoted as saying that it’s "not the easiest system to understand."

The November 12 event intends to help elementary-school parents  wade through the new process that began this month for the coming school year of 2014. Topics are new tools being made available for school-choice research and what is being done to improve the quality of public-school education. Panelists include local education and government representatives like Mark Kenen, Executive Director of the MA Charter Public Schools Association; Bill Linehan, Boston City Councilor, Distirct 2; Lee McGuire, Chief Communications Officer, Boston Public Schools; Mary Tamer, Member, School Choice Advisory Committee; Ann Walsh, Chief of Staff for John Connolly; and Josh Weis, Hurley School & Boston Latin Parent, an expert on New Choice & Assignment Policy.

South End culinary lights, Myers & Chang, will provide refreshments. It starts at 5:30 PM at the South End's Ben Franklin Institute of Technology located 41 Berkeley Street. For further info and registration,  click here.

T

Tortuous Road to a Better East Boston Library Leads to Sparkling New Facility that Offers Fewer Books (from 66,000 to 18,000) and Leaves Its WPA Murals of Sailing Ships Awaiting Restoration

BPL Trustee Paul LaCamera

BPL Trustee Paul LaCamera

It's probably safe to say that, if not for BPL Trustee Paul LaCamera, the beautiful new East Boston branch library  opening November 2 on Bremen Street would never have been built. Just like a previous plan for a new East Boston library, completed at considerable expense in 2008 and aging quickly on a dusty library shelf, was not going to be built.

LaCamera, formerly the General Manager for WBUR, who grew up in East Boston, took a stand at a BPL trustee meeting in 2010 when he refused to agree to shutter one of the two East Boston branches before a new facility would replace it. In a last-ditch effort to get LaCamera's consent to close a total of four libraries --and a unanimous vote-- before an enraged audience watching the proceedings in Copley Library, Mayor Menino, in a phone call to BPL president Amy Ryan, promised he would include funds for a new East Boston Library in his next capital budget. But LaCamera still abstained. Immediately after the other BPL trustees agreed 5 to 1 to close the four branches, including East Boston's Orient Heights. However, they passed an additional amendment that the next new library would be built in East Boston. And...here it is.

The graceful $17.25 million new East Boston library was designed by the same firm,

The new East Boston Library, by Rawn Architects

The new East Boston Library, by Rawn Architects

Rawn Architects, now working on the renovation of the Copley Library's Johnson building. The firm was the architect as well for libraries in Mattapan and downtown Cambridge, among other places. The East Boston branch has more than twice the space of the two libraries it replaces, Orient Heights and Meridian Street, but far fewer books, about 18,000 instead of 66,000, a bone of contention for neighborhood groups who assert that, in East Boston, expensive electronic devices are not likely to replace books for a largely poor community.

Ships Through the Ages East Boston Library Murals by Edward King

Ships Through the Ages East Boston Library Murals by Edward King

Another bone of contention are some 15 Works Progress Administration (WPA) murals of 19th-Century whalers and clippers, painted by Rockport artist Frederick Leonard King in the 1930s. They all used to hang in the now-closed Meridian branch but only four will be on display in the new library. The Ships Through the AgesSeries requires major restoration to the estimated tune of $150,000, an amount the Friends of the East Boston Library hopes to raise, according to an excellent report on the subject earlier this fall on WBUR, linked here. Their goal is to hang all the paintings, restored, in the new branch one day, so the series will evoke the nautical past of the East Boston neighborhood, where once these very ships were built.

BPL Executives and Community Advisors Express Excitement about Johnson Building's Proposed New Design but Face Uncertainty over Incoming Mayor's Commitment to the Renovation Project

Mock-up of Johnson building's Boylston St redesigned entrance

Mock-up of Johnson building's Boylston St redesigned entrance

The long-overdue Johnson building renovation effort seemed on a roll: Mayor Thomas Menino allocated more than $14 million in what turned out to be his final capital budget for a much-anticipated facelift to the Copley Library's cavernous Johnson building on Boylston Street. Real estate interests were salivating at the prospect of  some of the library's street-level acreage being turned into retail space --as yet undetermined in focus but pledged to be 'compatible' with the library's mission. A prominent architectural firm, William Rawn Associates, was hired for the construction of Phase 2, to start in December. An engaged and lively group of local citizens, the Community Advisory Committee, met numerous times to come up with the best possible redesign to revive the moribund city block on Boylston Street where the library is located. This summer,  the BPL and its trustees made a strong presentation before the Boston Landmarks Commission for permission to remove the granite chastity belt of plinths that now encircles the building on three sides, condemning the entire block and the library to a state of perpetual chill. All good and well. The question is, with Mayor Menino leaving office in a few months, what will the new mayor, John Connolly or Marty Walsh,  think of it all?

Second Floor Johnson Building facing Boylston St, Children's Room on left; Teen Space on right

Second Floor Johnson Building facing Boylston St, Children's Room on left; Teen Space on right

The governance structure of the BPL makes the mayor of Boston The Big Decider in the library universe. One of the side effects of this autocratic set-up is that the trustees do not have their own political or financial power base from which to defend the interests of the BPL as they diverge from the mayor's. He appoints the nine trustees, who serve at his pleasure; they are not vetted or approved by either the city council or another public entity.  The trustees hire the BPL president, keeping a close eye on the mayor's wishes; five years into the job, the current president, Amy Ryan, is likely to face contract renewal. Finally, whatever residual financial autonomy the BPL once had was wiped out in 2008 when the roughly 200 library trust funds, totaling close to $60 million, were moved from the BPL president's control to the mayor's budget office, despite vehement protestations by then-BPL president Bernard Margolis.  Therefore, in theory, the Johnson building project could grind to a halt for lack of support by the new mayor, or even his mere desire to want to review the entire project and its premise before moving forward or sideways.

Proposed Fiction Section, alongside Exeter St, with stairs leading to Mezzanine

Proposed Fiction Section, alongside Exeter St, with stairs leading to Mezzanine

That would be too bad, as became evident at the Community Advisory Committee's meeting on October 18,  when Rawn Associates presented a mock-up proposal of a vibrant new Johnson building artfully connected to the McKim building with initial designs to become visually integrated with the street scape on Boylston Street.  The nine quadrants that form the basic design of the Johnson building are opened up to light flowing in from the enormous windows on the first and second floors, with easily navigated and color-guided pathways to browsing areas, circulation, fiction sections and Bostonia collections, as well as 21st-century spaces for teenagers, children and tots on floor two. Sets of bathrooms on the second floor alone make the entire renovation worthwhile: no bathrooms exist there now. Many details remain to be worked out, among them what art work or fountain or installation to place in the center of Deferrari Hall, the enormous lobby behind the current Soviet-style lobby on Boylston Street that dwarfs the information desk in the center of it, where  a forelorn staffer or two bravely dispense directions to bathroom and book.

The integrated street scape/library entrance on Boylston Street is still mostly a concept to be fully developed and finalized in subsequent phases of the renovation project. An immediate complication is the unfortunate location of the portable public restroom in front of the BPL, part of a large city contract that is said to bring revenue into city coffers as it injects tackiness into the library site. City representatives at the Friday meeting said it was the most popular street bathroom in Boston, exceeded in usage only by the one located in City Hall Plaza. "In that case, perhaps City Hall Plaza could use a second one next to it," was the tart response from Community Advisory Board member Meg Mainzer-Cohen, also the executive director of the Back Bay  Neighborhood Association.

The next Community Advisory Committee meeting, open to the public, will be held January 15, at 9 AM, in the Commonwealth Salon of the BPL. This meeting will focus on the exterior, landscaping and partnership spaces. For more information on the Johnson building project, click here.

Mayoral Candidates Connolly and Walsh Both Support New Downtown/Chinatown Branch, High Standards for BPL Trustees, Expanded Hours and Stabilizing BPL Funding

Rep. Marty Walsh

Rep. Marty Walsh

Both mayoral candidates, Rep. Marty Walsh and At-large City Councillor John Connolly, have re-affirmed their commitment to a vibrant Boston Public Library system which they most recently displayed in the 2010 fight to keep Mayor Menino from closing up to ten branches. While each differs from the other in approach and expansiveness on the questions raised, Connolly and Walsh equally support re-building a new downtown library to replace the Chinatown library closed more than five decades ago; setting standards of library expertise and relevant experience for the BPL trustees who govern the public library; expanding branch library hours; and finding ways to stabilize funding for the BPL. Below are the questions posed by FOSEL and the answers of each John Connolly and Marty Walsh underneath, in bold italics.  

LIBRARY HOURS: the 25 branch libraries, which service the vast majority of 625,00 Bostonians, are closed most evenings, evenings, Sundays and, in summer, Saturdays as well. The Copley Library, however, within walking distance of the 20,000 residents of the Back Bay, is open four nights a week, Saturdays and, except in the summer,  Sundays.  In other words, most of Boston’s residents and their families whose taxes pay for the BPL, can’t use their local library when they are off work. As mayor, will you make sure all libraries in the system are open nights and weekends to reflect the specific need for local access?

At-large City Councillor John Connolly

At-large City Councillor John Connolly

WALSH: The Boston Public Library is a cornerstone of my vision for the future of Boston, in the sense that it represents access, information, and the potential for lifelong learning and community building.  The library represents the best of Boston’s history and its recognition of the value of education at all levels. I would support expanded hours to ensure that more people can use the library at their convenience. I also believe that this will allow the library to consider flex-time for its staff, which I believe will support a workforce that needs flexibility for child care and other needs. I would take into account public surveys and the library’s own statistics about use to ensure that staff and other resources are allocated to best use.

CONNOLLY: While I recognize that we have to manage our resources carefully, I would love to see libraries open seven days a week. I think the key is for libraries to be centers of learning and community that are well connected to other institutions so that we can ensure their vitality for generations to come. Today, when a smartphone can put a world of information at our fingertips in a way that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago, it's vital that we re-imagine the role of our libraries. With all of that readily available information comes a powerful opportunity for libraries to help people make sense of it. Libraries can be places where people not only consume content, but create it; where people not only gain knowledge, but apply it. I see libraries as community institutions of the utmost importance. I want to have a community learning model in every neighborhood, where we're connecting our libraries with our schools and community centers. I know that one of the principles outlined in Compass, the BPL’s 2012 strategic plan, calls for libraries to be centers of knowledge through enhanced collaboration with schools, institutions, and the private sector, and I think that’s how we need to think about the future of libraries. My vision is that libraries thrive through connections to other institutions.

*****

LIBRARY GOVERNANCE: there are no required standards of professional library expertise or library advocacy to be appointed to the nine-member BPL board of trustees. There are no term limits. There is no requirement to show up at public meetings (and some trustees seldom do). There is no public vetting process for library trustees, nor a public confirmation process to make sure the public gets the best library advocates possible to meet the library’s needs. Board seats do not reflect specific library interests, either, as is the case elsewhere: for example, the interests of branch libraries differ from those of the Copley Library;  young adults have different needs than seniors; book acquisition specialists have different concerns than book or art conservators. As mayor, would you set standards for library trustees and their performance, and consider appointing those who would be qualified advocates for specific library and neighborhood concerns?

WALSH: I would strongly support a revision of standards for the BPL Board of Trustees. Accountability and transparency are key in all areas of policy for my administration. Just as I intend to seek the most highly qualified Superintendent of Schools and Chief of Police, I feel that every city department should be guided and led by people who have experience in the field, are aware of best practices, and have a vision of how to improve and support the departments they are in charge of.

CONNOLLY: I want diverse trustees who represent the whole city, who believe passionately in the future of the BPL, and who are committed to fulfilling their trustee role to the best of their ability. I will work with you to make sure we have a process for identifying and selecting the best candidates we can find.

*****

LIBRARY CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS: Which local libraries get renovated, or where new ones are built, is governed by mysterious forces. There is no transparent long-term capital plan, nor  is a specific public process in place, by which libraries are upgraded equitably, or  new ones built where needed, or handicapped-accessibility ensured.  As mayor, will you institute a transparent and fair capital plan to upgrade all BPL libraries equitably where needed, or build new ones, as part of a public process?

WALSH: The foundation of a Walsh Administration will be ethics and transparency, including financial disclosure.  Just as many schools are in need of capital improvement, the library branches in our neighborhoods, which support after-school learning and programming, need to be maintained at the highest standards with access to up-to-date technology, and safe and healthy buildings. Long-term capital improvements in both areas are critical needs, and ones that we would address as part of a comprehensive review of city property.

CONNOLLY: A capital plan for the libraries, developed with community engagement, would help us to prioritize the most critical projects and ensure that all neighborhoods have access to high quality facilities. In general, careful community planning should play a greater role in the future of our city. For example, I have long advocated for a comprehensive facilities plan for the Boston Public Schools.

*****

BUILDING NEW LIBRARIES: Downtown Crossing is increasing its residential footprint. It is also a transportation hub where many young adults from all over the city hang out with little to do. As such, they can become easy targets for unfair and unnecessary criminalization by law enforcement. Nearby Chinatown, moreover, lost its library decades ago. As mayor, would you consider building an architecturally exciting downtown library with an outstanding young-adult department and a strong Asian profile that also replaces the long-lost Chinatown branch?

WALSH: Yes. A revitalized downtown area is where we see the most potential for growth as people return to living in the city in the next decades. Providing the kinds of resources which support families and empty-nesters who live here would definitely include library services. In addition, Marty feels that each library branch has the possibility of reflecting the richness of its neighborhood and its cultural diversity. The Walsh Administration will support and support all Bostonians.

CONNOLLY: I have long supported a new library for Chinatown, and as mayor I will work to get one built. In the meantime, however, we need a solution that helps meet the community’s immediate needs. I support funding a fulltime librarian to keep a reading room open in Chinatown until a permanent downtown library can be opened.

*****

THE BPL FOUNDATION: the BPL fundraising arm was created to repair the McKim building almost two decades ago, and will target its future campaign on the long-overdue Johnson Building renovation. It does not focus on branch libraries, however, or their local Friends groups’ capital-improvement issues. But branches could use the Foundation’s help. The East Boston library, for example, has14 iconic WPA paintings that will cost $150,000 to restore before they can be installed in the new East Boston library. Their tiny Friends group is left on its own to raise the funds for it.As mayor, would you direct the BPL Foundation to expand its mission and assist local Friends groups who want to preserve cultural and historic landmarks of importance to their neighborhood libraries?

WALSH: Yes. The Boston Public Library is comprised of many parts, and its neighborhood branches are a key component of library services. Just as I intend to bring municipal services to “little city halls” throughout Boston’s neighborhoods, library services are not confined to the main branch at Copley. The Library and the City should be proud that the first branch library in the country was opened in East Boston in 1870, and we are about to open a new branch in that neighborhood. Many of the branch buildings have architectural or historical significance, and should be restored. Others are in need of considerable repair and should be upgraded or replaced. The BPL Foundation should leverage support for the library to be part of this vision of the Library’s future, and I would direct them to do so.

CONNOLLY: It is critically important to support our neighborhood libraries, so this proposal make sense to me. But in order not to turn this into a zerosum game, as mayor I will reach out to private and philanthropic partners to ask for their support in expanding the resources available to the Foundation.

*****

LIBRARY TRUST FUNDS: these are meant to enrich the public library beyond capital and operational allocations from the city’s General Fund, not to substitute for it. But in the case of the disputed Kirstein Business branch closing in 2009, two Kirstein trust funds that paid for the maintenance of that building and its collection, are now used to offset operational expenses at the Copley Library. How? Trustees approved moving the business collection out of the Kirstein’s own beautiful building and into the dank basement of the Copley Library.  The emptied Kirstein library building, located on prime real estate downtown, moreover, is used by the city for office space, at no obvious benefit to the BPL. As mayor, how will you ensure that library trust funds are used for library enrichment only, not to offset operational or General Fund expenses?

WALSH: Generous individuals who wish to support the library should feel confident that their legacy will be safely and respectfully administered by the library. While it is possible that original intentions can become no longer viable, all efforts should be exhausted prior to breaking a trust.  I feel that if Library Trustees have been carefully vetted and the process is public and transparent, there would be much less likelihood of such a process being a cause for misunderstanding and anger. Further, the Library should consider social entrepreneurship and increased fundraising efforts to offset the decrease in state and federal funding that many non-profit organizations are facing in the current fiscal climate. As Mayor, I intend to review all city property and resources to ensure the best allocation of resources throughout all the departments.

CONNOLLY: The closing of the Kirstein branch was a real disappointment for many residents who visited the library regularly. It’s important that we do our very best to honor the wishes of the trusts’ donors. Through sound budgeting and efficient management, we have got to make sure we have adequate funding for the BPL’s operations.

*****

STABILIZING LIBRARY FUNDING:Between 2008 and 2010 no one from the BPL or the city advocated for Boston’s library funding at the Legislature, so state funding declined. Trustees, moreover, who are appointed exclusively by the mayor, tend to not oppose mayoral proposals to cut the library budget, or fight for library budget increases, adding to the financial decline of the BPL. Would you support a dedicated tax for public libraries as part of the property tax, or come up with another fiscal instrument, to ensure a long-term strategy to  stabilize and expand the BPL budget to meet the exponential growth in demand for library services and community space? 

WALSH: Before considering additional taxes for the library, I would like to review the current budget of the library and ensure that it is operating in a fiscally responsible manner. Since ensuring a high quality education is key to my administration, I would not foresee considering cuts to library services. Just as I have pledged to provide universal pre-K education to all 4 year olds, I intend to make sure that libraries are open and available in all the neighborhoods to support this. While it is valuable to have lobbying services for the library, the people of Boston are the most powerful lobbyists themselves. When there was the threat of cuts to the library, they made their voices heard. I stood firm in the legislature to support the neighborhood branches, and I would do so even more firmly as Mayor. I would look forward to working with Library Administration and the Trustees to ensure a healthy and long-term plan for the expansion and success of the entire BPL system.

CONNOLLY: If we re-envision libraries as centers of knowledge and community linked to schools, colleges, and other institutions in our neighborhoods, then I believe we can ensure a strong future for the BPL. Recognizing that there are many important priorities competing for taxpayer dollars, I am committed to working with you on strategies for ensuring that libraries have adequate, stable, long-term funding in place.

Which of the Mayoral Candidates Will Give Bostonians the Best Public Library System: Candidate Rep. Marty Walsh Responds

Mayoral Candidate Rep. Marty Walsh
Mayoral Candidate Rep. Marty Walsh

One of the two candidates for mayor of Boston, Rep. Marty Walsh, has responded quickly and fully to the seven public-library questions posed by FOSEL two days ago. Below are the original questions, with the answers provided by Joyce Linehan, policy director for the Walsh campaign, in bold italics. As soon as we hear from At-large Councillor John Connolly, we will post his comments, as well. And your questions will receive the same attention, too.

*****

LIBRARY HOURS: the 25 branch libraries, which service the vast majority of  625,000 Bostonians, are closed most evenings, Sundays and, in summer, Saturdays as well. The Copley Library, however, within walking distance of the 20,000 residents of the Back Bay, is open four nights a week, Saturdays and, except in the summer,  Sundays.  In other words, most of Boston’s residents and their families whose taxes pay for the BPL, can’t use their local library when they are off work. As mayor, will you make sure all libraries in the system are open nights and weekends to reflect the specific need for local access?WALSH: The Boston Public Library is a cornerstone of my vision for the future of Boston, in the sense that it represents access, information, and the potential for lifelong learning and community building.  The library represents the best of Boston’s history and its recognition of the value of education at all levels. I would support expanded hours to ensure that more people can use the library at their convenience. I also believe that this will allow the library to consider flex-time for its staff, which I believe will support a workforce that needs flexibility for child care and other needs. I would take into account public surveys and the library’s own statistics about use to ensure that staff and other resources are allocated to best use.

*****

LIBRARY GOVERNANCE: there are no required standards of professional library expertise or library advocacy to be appointed to the nine-member BPL board of trustees. There are no term limits. There is no requirement to show up at public meetings (and some trustees seldom do). There is no public vetting process for library trustees, nor a public confirmation process to make sure the public gets the best library advocates possible to meet the library’s needs. Board seats do not reflect specific library interests, either, as is the case elsewhere: for example, the interests of branch libraries differ from those of the Copley Library;  young adults have different needs than seniors; book acquisition specialists have different concerns than book or art conservators. As mayor, would you set standards for library trustees and their performance, and consider appointing those who would be qualified advocates for specific library and neighborhood concerns?WALSH: I would strongly support a revision of standards for the BPL Board of Trustees. Accountability and transparency are key in all areas of policy for my administration. Just as I intend to seek the most highly qualified Superintendent of Schools and Chief of Police, I feel that every city department should be guided and led by people who have experience in the field, are aware of best practices, and have a vision of how to improve and support the departments they are in charge of.

*****

LIBRARY CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS: Which local libraries get renovated, or where new ones are built, is governed by mysterious forces. There is no transparent long-term capital plan, nor  is a specific public process in place, by which libraries are upgraded equitably, or  new ones built where needed, or handicapped-accessibility ensured.  As mayor, will you institute a transparent and fair capital plan to upgrade all BPL libraries equitably where needed, or build new ones, as part of a public process?WALSH: The foundation of a Walsh Administration will be ethics and transparency, including financial disclosure.  Just as many schools are in need of capital improvement, the library branches in our neighborhoods, which support after-school learning and programming, need to be maintained at the highest standards with access to up-to-date technology, and safe and healthy buildings. Long-term capital improvements in both areas are critical needs, and ones that we would address as part of a comprehensive review of city property.

*****

BUILDING NEW LIBRARIES: Downtown Crossing is increasing its residential footprint. It is also a transportation hub where many young adults from all over the city hang out with little to do. As such, they can become easy targets for unfair and unnecessary criminalization by law enforcement. Nearby Chinatown, moreover, lost its library decades ago. As mayor, would you consider building an architecturally exciting downtown library with an outstanding young-adult department and a strong Asian profile that also replaces the long-lost Chinatown branch?WALSH: Yes. A revitalized downtown area is where we see the most potential for growth as people return to living in the city in the next decades. Providing the kinds of resources which support families and empty-nesters who live here would definitely include library services. In addition, Marty feels that each library branch has the possibility of reflecting the richness of its neighborhood and its cultural diversity. The Walsh Administration will support and support all Bostonians.

*****

THE BPL FOUNDATION: the BPL fundraising arm was created to repair the McKim building almost two decades ago, and will target its future campaign on the long-overdue Johnson Building renovation. It does not focus on branch libraries, however, or their local Friends groups’ capital-improvement issues. But branches could use the Foundation’s help. The East Boston library, for example, has14 iconic WPA paintings that will cost $150,000 to restore before they can be installed in the new East Boston library. Their tiny Friends group is left on its own to raise the funds for it.As mayor, would you direct the BPL Foundation to expand its mission and assist local Friends groups who want to preserve cultural and historic landmarks of importance to their neighborhood libraries?WALSH: Yes. The Boston Public Library is comprised of many parts, and its neighborhood branches are a key component of library services. Just as I intend to bring municipal services to “little city halls” throughout Boston’s neighborhoods, library services are not confined to the main branch at Copley. The Library and the City should be proud that the first branch library in the country was opened in East Boston in 1870, and we are about to open a new branch in that neighborhood. Many of the branch buildings have architectural or historical significance, and should be restored. Others are in need of considerable repair and should be upgraded or replaced. The BPL Foundation should leverage support for the library to be part of this vision of the Library’s future, and I would direct them to do so.

*****

LIBRARY TRUST FUNDS: these are meant to enrich the public library beyond capital and operational allocations from the city’s General Fund, not to substitute for it. But in the case of the disputed Kirstein Business branch closing in 2009, two Kirstein trust funds that paid for the maintenance of that building and its collection, are now used to offset operational expenses at the Copley Library. How? Trustees approved moving the business collection out of the Kirstein’s own beautiful building and into the dank basement of the Copley Library.  The emptied Kirstein library building, located on prime real estate downtown, moreover, is used by the city for office space, at no obvious benefit to the BPL. As mayor, how will you ensure that library trust funds are used for library enrichment only, not to offset operational or General Fund expenses? WALSH: Generous individuals who wish to support the library should feel confident that their legacy will be safely and respectfully administered by the library. While it is possible that original intentions can become no longer viable, all efforts should be exhausted prior to breaking a trust.  I feel that if Library Trustees have been carefully vetted and the process is public and transparent, there would be much less likelihood of such a process being a cause for misunderstanding and anger. Further, the Library should consider social entrepreneurship and increased fundraising efforts to offset the decrease in state and federal funding that many non-profit organizations are facing in the current fiscal climate. As Mayor, I intend to review all city property and resources to ensure the best allocation of resources throughout all the departments.

*****

STABILIZING LIBRARY FUNDING:Between 2008 and 2010 no one from the BPL or the city advocated for Boston’s library funding at the Legislature, so state funding declined. Trustees, moreover, who are appointed exclusively by the mayor, tend to not oppose mayoral proposals to cut the library budget, or fight for library budget increases, adding to the financial decline of the BPL. Would you support a dedicated tax for public libraries as part of the property tax, or come up with another fiscal instrument, to ensure a long-term strategy to  stabilize and expand the BPL budget to meet the exponential growth in demand for library services and community space? WALSH: Before considering additional taxes for the library, I would like to review the current budget of the library and ensure that it is operating in a fiscally responsible manner. Since ensuring a high quality education is key to my administration, I would not foresee considering cuts to library services. Just as I have pledged to provide universal pre-K education to all 4 year olds, I intend to make sure that libraries are open and available in all the neighborhoods to support this. While it is valuable to have lobbying services for the library, the people of Boston are the most powerful lobbyists themselves. When there was the threat of cuts to the library, they made their voices heard. I stood firm in the legislature to support the neighborhood branches, and I would do so even more firmly as Mayor. I would look forward to working with Library Administration and the Trustees to ensure a healthy and long-term plan for the expansion and success of the entire BPL system.

Which of the Mayoral Candidates Will Give Bostonians the Best Public Library System? Seven Public-Library Questions for the Mayoral Candidates: What Are Yours?

Boston is fortunate to have two contenders in the mayoral race who denounced  the branch library closings proposed by Mayor Menino in 2010. 

Mayoral Candidate John Connolly
Mayoral Candidate John Connolly

John Connolly spoke out against the proposal to shutter up to a third of the BPL’s branches when he was at-large city councillor. And Marty Walsh, as state representative of the 13th District, was part of the Boston delegation that threatened to cut millions in state funding to the BPL should any branch libraries be closed. And none were closed. However, the BPL is still a weak system, battered by decades of neglect, opaque decision-making, under-funding, and a leadership structure that is largely dependent on the good graces of  the mayor of Boston. So here are  seven questions for John Connolly and Marty Walsh, the answers to which may help you decide who could be the BPL’s knight in shining armor and give Bostonians the stellar library system they deserve.

LIBRARY HOURS: the 25 branch libraries, which service the vast majority of  625,000 Bostonians, are closed most evenings, Sundays and, in summer, Saturdays as well. The Copley Library, however, within walking distance of the 20,000 residents of the Back Bay, is open four nights a week, Saturdays and, except in the summer,  Sundays.  In other words, most of Boston's residents and their families whose taxes pay for the BPL, can't use their local library when they are off work. As mayor, will you make sure all libraries in the system are open nights and weekends to reflect the specific need for local access?

Mayoral Candidate Marty Walsh
Mayoral Candidate Marty Walsh

LIBRARY GOVERNANCE: BPL trustees can approve budgets, hire or fire BPL presidents, close libraries or keep them open. Yet, there are no required standards of professional library expertise or library advocacy  to be appointed to the nine-member BPL board of trustees. There are no term limits. There is no requirement to show up at public meetings (and some trustees seldom do). There is no public vetting process for library trustees, nor a public confirmation process to make sure the library gets the best advocates possible to meet the public's needs. Board seats do not reflect specific library interests, either, as is the case elsewhere: for example, the interests of branch libraries differ from those of the Copley Library;  young adults have different needs than seniors; book acquisition specialists have different concerns than book or art conservators. As mayor, would you set standards for library trustees and their performance, and consider appointing those who would be qualified advocates for specific library and neighborhood concerns?

LIBRARY CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS: Which local libraries get renovated, or where new ones are built, is governed by mysterious forces. There is no transparent long-term capital plan, nor  is a specific public process in place, by which libraries are upgraded equitably, or  new ones built where needed, or handicapped-accessibility ensured.  As mayor, will you institute a transparent and fair capital plan to upgrade all BPL libraries equitably where needed, or build new ones, as part of a public process?

BUILDING NEW LIBRARIES: Downtown Crossing is increasing its residential footprint. It is also a transportation hub where many young adults from all over the city hang out with little to do. As such, they can become easy targets for unfair and unneccesary criminalization by law enforcement. Nearby Chinatown, moreover, lost its library decades ago. As mayor, would you consider building an architecturally exciting downtown library with an outstanding young-adult department and a strong Asian profile that also replaces the long-lost Chinatown branch?

THE BPL FOUNDATION

: the BPL fundraising arm was created to repair the McKim building almost two decades ago, and will target its future campaign on the long-overdue Johnson Building renovation. It does not focus on branch libraries, however, or their local Friends groups' capital-improvement issues. But branches could use the Foundation's help. The East Boston Meridian library branch, for example, has

14 iconic WPA

paintings that will cost $150,000 to restore before they can be installed in the new East Boston library. Their tiny Friends group is left on its own to raise the funds for it.

As mayor, would you direct the BPL Foundation to expand its mission and assist local Friends groups who want to preserve cultural and historic landmarks of importance to their neighborhood libraries?

LIBRARY TRUST FUNDSthese are meant to enrich the public library beyond capital and operational allocations from the city's General Fund, not to substitute for it. But in the case of the disputed Kirstein Business branch closing in 2009, two Kirstein trust funds that paid for the maintenance of that building and its collection, are now used to offset operational expenses at the Copley Library. How? Trustees approved moving the business collection out of the Kirstein's own beautiful building and into the dank basement of the Copley Library.  The emptied Kirstein library building, located on prime real estate downtown, moreover, is used by the city for office space, at no obvious benefit to the BPL. As mayor, how will you ensure that library trust funds are used for library enrichment only, not to offset operational or General Fund expenses?

STABILIZING LIBRARY FUNDING:Between 2008 and 2010 no one from the BPL or the city advocated for Boston's library funding at the Legislature, so state funding declined. Trustees, moreover, who are appointed exclusively by the mayor, tend to not oppose mayoral proposals to cut the library budget, or fight for library budget increases, which further destabilizes the financial picture at the BPL. Would you support a dedicated tax for public libraries as part of the property tax, or come up with another fiscal instrument, to ensure a long-term strategy to  stabilize and expand the BPL budget to meet the exponential growth in demand for library services and community space? 

BPL Trustees Vote to Accept More Than Half a Million in Gifts to Library System, Including a $6,700 Donation by FOSEL to Make the SE Branch Fully Handicapped Accessible

At their most recent public meeting at the Adams Street Library in Dorchester, the BPL trustees voted to accept $503, 078.96 worth of donations during the 2013 fiscal year from different sources, including the MA Library Commissioners' Board ($147,350), Harvard University ($5,900), library patrons and many library Friends groups. Among them was a gift of $6,700 raised by FOSEL to make the South End branch fully handicapped accessible. FOSEL's was the next-to-largest gift to the BPL in the fiscal year, exceeded only by a donation from the Citywide Friends of the BPL for more than $28,000 for a variety of goals, including museum passes and audio-visual equipment.

Head librarian Anne Smart and FOSEL board member Glyn Polson at newly refurbished library counter; library clerk Deborah Madrey is behind the counter.

Head librarian Anne Smart and FOSEL board member Glyn Polson at newly refurbished library counter; library clerk Deborah Madrey is behind the counter.

The official gifts to the BPL are only part of the story of local contributions to neighborhood libraries, suggesting a fertile source for fundraising should the BPL Foundation suddenly wake up and decide to partner withbranch libraries on matters of concern to neighborhood patrons. For example, a previous FOSEL board member paid more than $7,000 to have the library's oak tables restored several years ago, something that was never entered in the BPL's Gifts Received book. FOSEL also installed and maintains plantings in the tree pits around the library to the tune of thousands of dollars. FOSEL had the rugs cleaned. We refurbished the very popular seating area for yet more thousands. We purchased a lectern, book displays and computer tables, among other items. (We have asked the BPL several times to replace the broken pavement in front of the library, thus far without results. We also requested the five oaks in Library Park be trimmed, as their dead limbs and branches present a danger to park users. So far, no results.)

Most recently, FOSEL paid for a complete refurbishing of the South End branch's library counter. The wooden surface not only looked old and worn but also caused splinters in the hands of the staff  when checking books in and out. The red vinyl upholstery facing the patrons was faded and torn, with the foam backing hanging out. Thanks to the excellent work  of local contractor Jack Crane and long-time South End upholsterer John Egan, the counters are gleaming and smooth, the upholstery beautifully installed, and  the staff is thrilled. FOSEL spent about $3,000 for the project, funds raised from you, our neighbors and supporters. A special thanks to long-time library volunteer Virginia Eskin, who brought the deteriorated counter to our attention and pushed us to get it done.

Finally: a Self-Checkout Machine Will Come to the South End Library Soon, to Be Combined with Patrons' Shelves for "Holds"

Self-checkout for Kids in the Minneapolis-Hennepin County Library System

Self-checkout for Kids in the Minneapolis-Hennepin County Library System

Self-checkout machines will be coming to the BPL's branches at last, and to the South End branch specifically, within the next few months. "We'd hoped to have one installed by July," reported Christine Schonhart, BPL's Director of Branch Library Services, "but the bidding process stalled because the machine that was offered didn't work with our new Integrated Library System." Schonhart hopes a compatible self-checkout can be installed this fall, and to combine it with a 'self-hold' shelf where patrons can pick up the materials they ordered on-line. Among other advantages, a 'self-hold' area increases patrons' personal privacy about what materials they check out.  The news about the acquisition of self-service equipment is part of the BPL's recent Branch Facilities Review, which focuses on the extent to which the branches are equipped to provide library services.

Why it took so long for the BPL to get up to speed with self-service technology can be attributed, in part, to the cost of the machines and the persistent under-funding of the public library system in Boston. Many other cities endowed their libraries with self-checkouts years ago, freeing up staff to do more high-octane tasks. The arrival of Amy Ryan as president of the BPL in 2008 may have pushed the issue to the fore since her previous employer, the Minneapolis-Hennepin County Library system, had self-checkouts in all its locations, including pint-sized versions in the Children's Departments, where the littlest generation learned self-checkout as they learned to pull favorite books off the shelf.

Two BPL trustees, current chair Jeff Rudman, and former trustee  A. Raymond Tye --who passed away in 2010,-- generously paid for the first few BPL self-checkout machines from their personal funds a couple of  years ago. These  self-checkout machines are located in the Johnson building's entrance hall, sometimes hard to notice in the cavernous space that makes up that  part of the downtown library, a problem that will hopefully be remedied soon with BPL plans to renovate the Johnson Building. At the time, the trustees were told each machine would cost about $25,000 but the price tag ranges anywhere from $20,000 to more than one million dollars, according to industry information. This YouTube video link explains how to use them.

The BPL  self-checkouts in the Johnson Building, too, are combined with a self-hold area where library users can pick up the library treasure they ordered. Self-checkout systems that enable patrons to pick up their own holds during regular library hours are among the most popular self-service offerings, according to a 2010 article on self-service options inLibrary Journal. The article also mentioned that shifting tasks to users freed up staff to do other responsibilities, including a chronic backup from growing circulation.

Library Pop Quiz: Which of Five Activities Took Place at the South End Branch Last Tuesday, July 9?

Written and reported by Ruth Rothstein, FOSEL board member  

POP QUIZ!

Quick, take out a sheet of paper and number one through five. Which of these activities were taking place Tuesday night July 9 at the South End Library?

A Library Park crowd for Pat Loomis on July 9

A Library Park crowd for Pat Loomis on July 9

1. A Jazz concert featuring a well-known local jazz band

2. A Shakespeare reading from an upcoming production of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

3. An Art Opening Reception of new paintings, old masters’ style

4. A meeting of local politicos strategizing for the upcoming city-wide elections that includes a once-in-two-decades mayoral race

5. All of the Above!

Did you get an A? Yes, all of these activities were taking place under one roof of the BPL’s South End branch Tuesday evening on Tremont Street, each one free and accessible to the public: the Pat Loomis jazz concert took place in the library’s park next door; Zen O’Connor’s art exhibit was on display on the first floor; Judith Klau’s talk about Two Gentlemen of Verona settled in the upstairs community room; and the politicos’ Ward 4 Democratic meeting featuring Rep. Byron Rushing and at-large City Council candidate Michelle Wu, among other luminaries, brainstormed in the Children’s Room.

“A plethora of riches,” said Helaine Simmons of East Springfield Street.

“Something for everyone,” Margie Cohen of West Brookline Street observed.

“Every corner, crack and cranny, there was something going on,“ cracked  library regular John Jones of West Newton Street.

Whether your cultural tastes skew towards music, theater, art or politics, that night of July 9 the South End library offered residents a taste of all of these: and you didn’t have to leave the neighborhood. Once again, our local library proves itself an invaluable resource for all. As this month continues, on Tuesday, July 16th artist Zen O'Conor will give a gallery talk illuminating his work. The next FOSEL-sponsored jazz concert with Zeke Martin and Oracle is scheduled for 6:30 the evening of July 23rd. Don’t miss out, be sure to include the SE Library in your summer plans.