Menino: Library transformation ‘is a real plan’

April 30, 2010
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Closure savings to cover shortfalls next year

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino offered some of his most extensive comments in months about his controversial vision for the future of the Boston Public Library (BPL) system at an April 15 press event at city hall.

“Libraries have changed over the years, we don’t have encyclopedias anymore,” Menino said at the meeting.

The transformation plan—an effort underway to reorganize the library system, which includes losing some branch libraries and developing new programs—“is a real plan that will give people the opportunity to come to our libraries and use them,” he said.

Meanwhile, the BPL’s 2011 budget shows few signs of movement toward the “transformation” of the library system Menino and BPL officials have repeatedly alluded to as they moved to close branch libraries in recent months.

Most of the savings realized by the branch closures will be taken up by new administrative costs in the coming year. But in an e-mail to the Gazette, BPL spokesperson Gina Perille laid out the beginnings of a possible roadmap for the system “transformation.”

“The budget proposal for the coming year sets the library up to save money, stabilize and begin to move forward,” she said. But BPL plans in the coming year to run pilot programs in neighborhoods where libraries have closed to test out new services it might want to offer outside of physical branch libraries, she said.

While the system will have “fewer physical assets, we will have stronger services,” Lisa Signori, head of the city Department of Administration and Finance, said at the April 15 meeting.

On April 9 the BPL Board of Trustees voted to close four branch libraries. If that decision stands, it could save the system about $900,000 in the coming year, Perille said. [See related article.]

Two of the three “programs” in the BPL’s operating budget, Community Library Services and Research Library Services, will be shrinking in the fiscal year 2011 budget. The Library Administration program budget will rise by about $840,000.

The hike in the administrative budget is largely due to deferred wage increases. It is also an attempt to preserves some of the programming threatened by a sharp decrease in state funding in recent years—from about $9 million two years ago to about $2.5 million proposed for next year.

“The wage deferral negotiated by the library’s two unions to help solve the [2010] budget gap is now coming due. In addition, anticipated reductions in state funding necessitated the shifts of costs formerly paid for by state funds to be paid for by city funds [next year], thereby increasing the Library Administration line,” Perille said.

“It’s not easy…Tough political decisions have to be made,” Menino said of the decision to close branches.

BPL is also planning to spend about $1.5 million in capital funding to revamp the BPL’s computer system, including $50,000 to develop an new “interactive” library catalogue. “With the new interactive library catalog, library users will be able to track the books they love or the books they have read by making lists, writing reviews, and rating material” and interact with other library users through a social networking system, Perille said.

Federal stimulus funding will support a new “mobile computing classroom that will “…quite literally, be able to travel around the City of Boston,” Perille said. The classroom will be used for computer training taught in English and Spanish, she said.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, the print version of this article incorrectly suggested BPL’s planned interactive library catalogue would cost $1.5 million.

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