Mayor Thomas M. Menino made it clear today that the Boston Public Library intends to shutter some of its 26 neighborhood branches to consolidate resources and meet the changing needs of a digital world, saying the "days of the old encyclopedia are long gone."
In a speech to 500 business and civic leaders, Menino urged people to look beyond the budget and buildings and think about "transforming" the nation's oldest municipally funded library system for the 21st century. The library is facing a $3.6 million budget shortfall and administrators have proposed closing eight to 10 branches and laying off nearly a quarter of its staff.
"It's clear the system as currently constructed is stretched too thin," Menino said at the annual luncheon of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. "We need to close some buildings that are not offering the highest quality service to the residents of Boston."
With his comments, the mayor seemed to reject an alternative proposal for the library that would leave all branches intact but drastically slash hours, forcing some locations to open only a few days a week. Library administrators are in the process analyzing a range of statistics about each branch. Next week, library president Amy E. Ryan is scheduled to outline criteria to the Board of Trustees that could be used to target branches for closure.
"I know this can feel heartbreaking to neighbors who identify with these places," Menino says today. "But buildings don't define us -- our connections to each other do. The public library was born in Boston, and we must lead its rebirth, too."
Menino today also proposed closing some of the city's 46 community centers and pools over the next few years as part an effort to strengthen the entire system. He did not mention specific locations, but vowed that a community center would remain open "in every neighborhood."
"But as we look ahead, we may have to consolidate some under-utilized facilities so we can deploy more people in direct service positions and mentoring roles to our children," Menino says.
In the speech, Menino also talked about launching an energy management office to cut the city's consumption. And he mentioned two plans that are sure to spark fights with the unions. The first would combine the myriad call centers at city agencies into one location, putting hotlines for parks, transportation, inspectional services, and more under one umbrella at the phone number 635-4500.
The second proposal would consolidate emergency dispatch centers that are currently split among the police, fire, and emergency medical services. The move has been mentioned before.
"I'm not sure how many fifth-term mayors would take on these difficult things, but perhaps it's only the fifth-term mayors who could," Menino says. "I don't want us to squander this unique opportunity to serve people better than ever."
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