Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
The Boston Public Library Board of Trustees this morning approved a plan to close four neighborhood branches as part of an effort to eliminate a $3.3 million budget shortfall.
The plan would shutter the Faneuil branch in Brighton's Oak Square, along with Lower Mills in Dorchester, Orient Heights in East Boston, and Washington Village in South Boston's Old Colony Housing Development. The trustees also approved a plan to slash up to 69 jobs at the main library in Copley Square and in administrative offices.
Before the votes, dozens of people spoke at a public meeting of the board, many expressing anger and resignation as they described the value of libraries and urged trustees to keep all branches open. Nick Collins spoke specifically about the Washington Village branch and warned that the trustees were "turning their backs" on children in the city with the greatest need. John McGrath told the board that, "if you close one library, you are going to have to open a prison."
But Elizabeth Boveroux thanked administrators for their work and reminded the crowd of the difficulty of the decisions, evoking the word "free"carved on the façade of the Copley Square library
"Money counts," Boveroux said. "The money is not free even if it says so on the door."
Boston Public Library President Amy E. Ryan recommended the budget cuts to "preserve as many branches as possible." Under the plan, hours at the remaining 22 branches will remain the same and library officials will be able to fill what have been described as critical vacancies. To lessen the blow in neighborhoods where branches will close, administrators plan to launch a program to move services "beyond the walls," sending librarians into community centers and senior centers for story hours, book clubs, and homework help.
The budget-cutting plan passed on a 5-0 vote, with one abstention. Member Paul LaCamera, who had offered an unsuccessful amendment intended to delay the Orient Heights closure by a year, sat out the vote.
Trustees rejected two other options during the meeting. All three scenarios for the branches presented to the trustees would have eliminated 23 to 25 jobs.
The trustees could have voted to keep all 26 branches open but drastically reduce hours at 18 of them, which would only be open two to three days a week. Patrons would not be able to reserve items for pickup because of staff shortages, and regularly scheduled homework help and summer reading programs would become inconsistent.
The trustees' other option would have been to close seven branches: Faneuil, Lower Mills, Orient Heights, Washington Village, Egleston Square, Jamaica Plain, and Uphams Corner. That plan would then add nighttime and Saturday hours at the remaining 19 locations and expand early literacy programs and partnerships with schools.
The proposals approved today will be sent to Mayor Thomas. M Menino, who will present his budget to the City Council on Wednesday. In a statement, Menino applauded the trustees for making a "difficult but necessary'' decision during what he called a "challenging budget year.''
Menino said he would "accept the board’s branch closure recommendations and the city will soon announce plans for the East Boston, Brighton, Dorchester and South Boston neighborhoods affected by these closures.''
Some councilors have vowed to fight the cuts. Nine of the 13 councilors sent a letter to the library president last week urging her to slow down the process, saying, "We cannot make a decision that will affect the lives of Bostonians for years to come in only a few short months."
"Today is not the end of the process," said at-large City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo. "We will do everything he can to make sure this nightmare does not become real."
Councilor John Tobin vowed to find "solutions" to keep everyone of these branches alive and well."
Click here to see a map of all the locations as well as data on how much they are used.
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