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Library releases data on traffic at branches

Statistics will shape plans for cutbacks

The Boston Public Library main branch in Copley Square is not in danger of closing, but several smaller branches could face the budget’s ax. Other options include keeping all branches open, but drastically cutting their hours of operation. The Boston Public Library main branch in Copley Square is not in danger of closing, but several smaller branches could face the budget’s ax. Other options include keeping all branches open, but drastically cutting their hours of operation. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / April 1, 2010

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A clearer picture emerged yesterday of which Boston library branches may be in danger of closing as the city released a wide range of data for each location, quantifying foot traffic, wireless Internet sessions, and attendance at public programs.

The 15 individual measures, which draw on statistics from 2009, lay out in stark detail which branches are less used, clustered close to other locations, and have inadequate facilities. The data revealed, for example, that almost twice as many people walked in the front door of the West End branch than the North End branch, which is roughly a dozen blocks away.

The numbers also showed that program attendance at the Adams branch pales in comparison with that of nearby locations in Lower Mills and Fields Corner. And it lays bare that computer use at the East Boston branch far exceeds that of its neighborhood companion in Orient Heights.

“It’s extremely well loved, despite the numbers,’’ said Josephine Bruz zese, copresident of the Friends of the Orient Heights branch. “They can say there is just 2.9 miles between the two [branches in East Boston], but you aren’t going to get the mother who is used to walking a few blocks to the library to get on a bus and go 2.9 miles.’’

The measures did not rank the branches, nor designate any locations for closure. The release of the data marked the latest step in a process that could end with as many as eight shuttered libraries in the face of a $3.6 million budget shortfall. Trustees have labeled the nine largest facilities as “lead libraries’’ to anchor a newly configured system, which will keep each of those locations open. That leaves 18 branches at risk of closure after an April 9 vote by the library’s board of trustees.

The data released yesterday “ensures that all stakeholders have access to the same information as we move forward,’’ the library’s president, Amy E. Ryan, said in a statement. “We’ve promised the community an open process and an opportunity for feedback.’’

Several more community meetings are scheduled in the next week, including a moderated online chat at www.bpl.org. On Wednesday, Ryan will present four scenarios to the board of trustees. Under one, all branches would remain open, but hours would be drastically slashed. Another scenario would shut eight branches but keep hours intact. The two other options would close three to five branches and reduce hours accordingly.

Cuts of similar magnitudes have been proposed for the Central Library in Copley Square and for administrative offices. The reductions could result in layoffs of almost a quarter of the library’s staff.

“This isn’t just about the crisis we are in now,’’ said Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “This is about creating a library system that is good for the future and provides quality services at the most convenient hours for the residents of our city.’’

When the trustees vote, it will be a recommendation to Menino, who will include the plan in the budget he is scheduled to present April 14. The budget needs the approval of the City Council, but it does not have the explicit power to add funding to keep open a branch that has been slated for closure.

The nine libraries that will remain open are the main library in Copley Square and locations in Brighton, Codman Square, Dudley, Grove Hall, Honan-Allston, Hyde Park, Mattapan, and West Roxbury. The facilities each have more than 20,000 square feet and boast other benefits, such as the capacity to expand electrical and data networks for more computers. But those amenities are little comfort to patrons who fear they may no longer be able to walk to their local library.

“I think the big picture that people are missing is that we’re not a car culture here,’’ said Guy Messier, 45, who lives a short stroll from the South End branch on Tremont Street. “It’s not as easy as saying, ‘Oh I’ll just drive another mile and park in the parking lot.’ ’’

That could be an even larger issue in East Boston. The Orient Heights branch is more than 8 miles from the nearest lead library.

“We’re located on the other side of the tunnel,’’ Bruzzese said. “That presents a big problem to parents and seniors.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at aryan@globe.com.

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