Eight to 10 neighborhood libraries could close as part of a drastic overhaul of the Boston Public Library proposed today in an effort to bridge a $3.6 million budget gap, due in large part to a steep drop in state funding.
The plan unveiled this morning at a special board of trustees meeting would seek to strengthen the remaining 16 to 18 branches by adding staff, computers, books, CDs, DVDs, and other resources. The move would eliminate up to 35 staff positions and increase travel for residents between libraries.
A second option to close the budget shortfall would leave all 26 neighborhood branches open but drastically slash hours in 18 locations by 50 to 85 percent. While eight large branches would keep the same hours, smaller branches would only open one to three days a week. The result would be roughly 600 hours less public library access a week, according to library president Amy E. Ryan, who outlined the dire choices.
"As we think about the shortfall, there is a sense of urgency," Ryan told a meeting packed with more than 80 people. "The status quo can't work. We cannot sustain the system as it is currently configured."
Other potential cuts outlined this morning include eliminating 38 positions at the main library branch in Copley Square by consolidating subject departments; reducing the number of service points where users meet face-to-face with staff from 20 to 14; closing five Sundays a year on holiday weekends; and further reducing hours in the children's, teens, and fine arts departments.
Other proposed cuts target behind-the-scenes administrative areas where another 31 positions would be eliminated. The impact would affect interlibrary loan services; reference and research; staff development, technical support; and the cleaning of buildings and other facilities. In total, the proposed cuts would eliminate up to 104 full-time positions in a library that currently has a staff of about 480.
The trustees did not vote on the proposals and vowed to have a public process over the next six to eight weeks as decisions are made. The trustees who did voice their opinions this morning offered more support for closing targeted branches as opposed to slashing hours and substantially undermining the system as a whole.
"There are two very bad options on the table," said trustee Paul A. LaCamera. "No one could ever be excited about closing a branch library, but the second option" would terribly weaken the entire system.
Trustee Donna M. DePrisco agreed that the plan to slash hours would be "so convoluted and confusing. Is it Monday? Is it Tuesday? Is it open? Is it closed? No, it would never work."
As the library faces the budget gap, officials are rethinking how they deliver services and are exploring the surging popularity of their electronic offerings, from the website to downloadable audio books. "It is possible today that we are over-bricked, over-mortared, and under-wired," said Jeffery B. Rudman, chairman of the board of trustees.
The board listened to comments from more than 10 audience members, whose comments varied widely. Some urged officials to find the money other places. One commenter, Marleen Nienhuis, urged the entire board of trustees to resign because she said they had failed by letting things get to this point. David Vieira, president of the City-Wide Friends of the Boston Public Library, introduced himself by saying he was about to make what might be an unpopular statement.
"There are some branches that probably need to close," Vieira said. "Some of them are functionally obsolete."
But Vieira implored the trustees to limit the closing to three or four branches because eight to 10 "would be devastating."
But Koletta Kaspar of Brighton begged the board not to close any branches because each is "like a little satellite nation" or cultural center. "I urge you to find the $3.6 million somewhere else," Kasper said.
Mary Ann Nelson from Mission Hill also spoke strongly against closing branches. "The library is the only city-owned building where you do not need a purpose to walk in," Nelson said, urging trustees to find creative solutions such as charging a modest membership fee to those
who could afford it.
"You have 300,000 library card holders," Nelson said. "You charge each of them $10 and right there you have $3 million. Some people might not be able to afford it, but many of us would gladly pay $20."
The potential shortfall stems in large part from a proposed 73 percent cut in state funding. State assistance for Bostonís libraries has dropped from $8.9 million in 2009 to a proposed $2.4 million in 2011, the Globe reports this morning.
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