Supporters not ready to close book on libraries

Will push tax increase to help fund branches

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/03/14/supporters_not_ready_to_close_book_on_libraries/

The Friends of the Boston Public Library staged a read-in yesterday at a branch in Roxbury and announced a plan to try to avert library closings by asking voters next year to approve a tax increase to fund the city’s libraries.

The organization’s president, David J. Vieira, told a crowd of about 50 supporters at the Egleston Square library that if city and state officials cannot fully fund Boston’s 26 neighborhood library branches by the end of April, he will launch a Proposition 2 1/2 override initiative with hopes of putting it on next year’s municipal ballot.

If passed by Boston voters, such an initiative would allow the city to override the state-imposed cap on property tax increases, which is currently set at 2.5 percent.

“I think we’ve been mainlining on outside resources for too long,’’ said Vieira, who represents Friends groups citywide. “We’ve got to fund our own resources here. We have to look to the citizens, we have to look to our neighbors, we have to look to ourselves.’’

The Friends are nonprofit groups formed to help city libraries by providing private-sector resources and volunteers.

Amy E. Ryan, president of the Boston Public Library, announced last month that the city may have to close as many as 10 branches because of a $3.6 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Ryan said she wanted to focus resources on the remaining branches to make them better, with more books, computers, and services.

In a statement yesterday, Gina Perille, the Boston Public Library spokeswoman, said library officials are “listening closely’’ to all the ideas and recommendations.

“The gathering today demonstrates the affection and true commitment that the residents of Boston have for neighborhood libraries,’’ the statement said. “The Boston Public Library is enormously appreciative of this show of support.’’

As a petition against closure circulated at the read-in at Egleston Square yesterday, a handful of politicians and volunteers spoke about fighting any library closures and several supporters held up hand-lettered signs saying “Don’t close the book on us!’’

At one point, a parade of two dozen children and adults waving open books and chanting, “Don’t close the doors!’’ wound its way through the small, one-room library that has among the smallest circulation of any in the city.

Councilors Chuck Turner and Felix G. Arroyo urged those gathered to organize their friends and neighbors.

“This is our time, this is our moment,’’ Arroyo said. “Please join me in saying ‘Not one!’ Not Charlestown, not Egleston Square, not the North End, not one.’’

Turner said Mayor Thomas M. Menino could simply take money from the city’s reserve account to keep all the branch libraries open, much like he did last year to help shore up city schools.

“The reason why that isn’t being done, I believe, is that Ms. Ryan and the mayor have a different vision,’’ Turner said. “I think we need to stand up and say, ‘no.’ ’’

Menino’s spokeswoman Dot Joyce said yesterday that the mayor is reevaluating how the city delivers all its services in tough economic times and is seeking to transform the city’s libraries “into a 21st-century system.’’

“In order to do that, we must invest in the programs and services people use the most,’’ Joyce said. “This isn’t just about today, it’s about tomorrow and the next 10 to 20 years.’’

State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz said she believes budget cuts should come from other areas of the library system, such as services that the Boston libraries provide to other areas of the state.

“I am here as a very, very proud supporter of public libraries,’’ said Chang-Díaz, who added that in these tough economic times when other services are being cut, libraries can help people look for jobs and get job training. “Libraries are infrastructure for families to help themselves. This is infrastructure for self-help in our community.’’

Systemwide, the Boston library’s current annual budget is $29.7 million, with about $8.2 million of that coming from outside sources, such as state aid, donations, and trusts. Outside funding has shrunk from $12.3 million in 2008. The overall library budget was cut $1.5 million last year.

State Representative Elizabeth Malia said that whatever the financial picture, “We can’t afford to let go of our libraries.’’

Vieira, while respectful of elected officials’ support, said that if they had done their jobs, the libraries would already be funded and not be under threat of closure.

“None of this should have happened,’’ he said. We should not be here today.’’

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.

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