Boston Public Library trustees will vote Friday on a budget plan that could shut the Faneuil (Brighton), Orient Heights, Dorchester Lower Mills and Washington Village (South Boston) branches in the fiscal year starting July 1. Residents from across the city meet tonight to discuss strategies on blocking the closings, 6:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Paul's, 138 Tremont St.
BPL President Amy Ryan said at a trustee meeting this morning the plan to shut the four branches would let the library system begin "a significant transformation" and let the remaining branches keep their existing hours. Ryan said the BPL would also explore partnerships with community groups to offer new services in the affected neighborhoods and across the city.
She said the possibly doomed branches either have low usage (Dorchester Lower Mills and Washington Village) or outdated buildings that would require extensive renovations. However, she said that with the shut down of Orient Heights, she would call for planning for an entirely new branch to serve all of East Boston. Computers from the ex-branches would be redistributed to the other branches, she said.
Ryan said she would seek to work with community groups to take over at least the Faneuil building.
Ryan said keeping all branches open would require hours at 17 branches to be cut 50 to 80%. Service at nine lead libraries would be unaffected under the plan.
She added another alternative would be to shut seven branches (adding Jamaica Plain, Egleston and Uphams Corner).
In any scenario, up to 25 branch librarian jobs would be lost, she said. With the seven-branch plan, she said, 14 positions could be reallocated to other branches and services. In addition, 69 positions at the Copley central library would be cut, along with services there.
Trustee Paul LaCamera said he was particularly disturbed by the proposal to shut Orient Heights, which he said serves a community fairly distant from the closest remaining branch. Trustee James Carroll proposed that if Orient Heights is shut, the trustees make a commitment that East Boston get a brand new, centrally located branch.
Trustee Evelyn Arana-Ortiz, however, said, the library system needs to concentrate on services for the affected neighborhoods that can be delivered immediately upon the shutdowns, for example, working with nearby community centers on possible library services, rather than something, such as a new building, that could take years.
Carroll said he would rather shut seven branches so that the rest of the system can not only stay afloat but transform themselves into a 21st century organization.
LaCamera said he is willing to take the "painful" vote to shut four branches on Friday, but only with the provision that trustees work with all the peoples and organizations that have volunteered to help the libraries close the gap - let's see if the system could raise enough money over the next three or four months to raise money to keep branches going.
Trustee Donna DePrisco questioned why Lower Mills would be closed before branches in Uphams Corner and Egleston.
Trustee Chairman Jeffrey Rudman said he could not vote to close Uphams Corner and Egleston even if the branches are in worse physical shape. "Uphams Corner and Egleston deal with the most vulnerable people in this city. I would not close them."
He said Lower Mills patrons in most cases would be well served by the Mattapan branch. "Mattapan is a revolution," he said. "The Mattapan branch is what we should be all about."
One resident rose to say he could not believe library trustees were even considering closing branch libraries. Students, he said, have more than enough technology, what they need is more "love of books." He added that closing branches is "an act of intellectual vandalism .... an act of a third-world country in the thrall of the International Monetary Fund."