Many storied academic institutions populate Boston. They constitute a part of its timeless appeal. Libraries are a natural companion to these places of higher learning; they actually have a distinguished history of their own. The Boston Public Library (BPL) was established in 1848. It was the first publicly supported municipal library in the country. Equally, it was the first public library to permit people to borrow books and other materials. The impressive history of the BPL only adds to the upset upon hearing about its current economic woes.
For the last few years, the BPL has watched its state-allocated funds steadily decrease. In the fiscal year of 2008-2009, it received 8.9 million dollars. In the following fiscal year, the state slashed that amount to less than half of the previous year’s sum. For this year, the projected amount of funds to be given does not surpass 2.4 million dollars. To continue to service the public without too many changes, the BPL has had to be creative. Communications Director Gina Perille stated, “We used one-time fixes to cope. For instance, once, we took money set aside for a carpet project and shifted the funds towards the operational budget. What was, at first, simply trimming the fat has become cutting to the bone.”
Even reduced hours did not help. So, on Friday, April 9th, the trustees of the BPL voted to close four of the branch libraries: Faneuil in Brighton, in addition to Lower Mills in Dorchester, Orient Heights in East Boston, and Washington Village in South Boston. There was also talk of further reducing the staff at the main branch. If these decisions were implemented, it could translate into the loss of a quarter of the BPL staff. Gina Perille said, “There is a very real potential for serious human toll.”
Minnesota native and president of the BPL Amy Ryan defends the aforementioned decisions of the board of trustees, saying that such moves would make the organization “more nimble.” Nonetheless, Bostonians have increasingly been showing their displeasure to this plan. Today, due to pressure from the Boston City Council and the public, at least in part, the Menino administration is reevaluating the situation; the BPL’S board of trustees will hold a special meeting at 3pm to review finances once more.
In making the final decision regarding the BPL, it must be remembered that education and culture are not dispensable. They are factors that preserve the tradition and history of this city. As such, an economic downturn should not be an excuse or reason to alter this.