Proposal to increase Boston Public Library board gets Council’s OK

Beth Treffeisen

Special to the Gazette


In an effort to diversify the Boston Public Library leadership and funding sources, the City Council voted unanimously to pass a home rule petition proposed by Mayor Martin Walsh to expand the number of BPL board trustees from nine up to 15.


At a City Council hearing on July 12, Councilor Michael Flaherty said that this effort would help strengthen the institution and provide more citywide support to the libraries.


The home rule petition will now go on to the State House for further review and eventual vote.


“This new expansion of the board will offer even greater capacity for community representation and much needed fundraising support,” said David Leonard, president of the Boston Public Library, in a statement.


He continued, “We want to bring more people to the table to build on our strong history and lead us through the twenty-first century as one of the great Boston cultural institutions serving, continuing to serve residents of Boston and Massachusetts, as well as visitors from around the world, in person and online.”


At the City Council hearing held on July 10, Leonard said that over the course of last year he has been working closely with the Mayor’s Office over a couple of strategic matters, including increasing community outreach to bringing more fundraising and public/ private partnerships to the table.


“The key aspect of both of those goals is having increased representation on the Board of Trustees,” said Leonard.


The BPL Board of Trustees recently set up a Committee of Governance and Development, which will work towards these matters in a former way moving forward.


The Board of Trustees establishes policies and sets the strategic goals of the library. The board oversees the general operating and administrative policies, and acts as an agent of public trust governing the library.


In addition, BPL Board of Trustees works together with the library president to carry out responsibilities that involve governance and policy-making, financial and development oversight, and the work of strategic planning.


In the Home Rule Petitions new draft, the language clarifies that the new trustees will have the same length terms of five years as existing members.

“We are all in favor because it is better to have more trustees than less,” said Gretchen Grozier the co-chair of Friends of the Jamaica Plain Branch. “It would be nice to have a couple spots dedicated to advocates and Friend groups in the branches.”


Right now, Grozier said, there isn’t a lot of leadership from people from the branches.


“Some of the trustees have been to the Jamaica Plain library, but probably not most,” said Grozier. “It would be nice if they included people from the neighborhoods who see what is going on from day to day now that they have space.”


She continued, “But if having more people is to just get more money, I would say it would be better to get that through a foundation or different entity.”


At the hearing, Councilor Flaherty asked for clarification on why the language states up to 15 opposed to having a total of 15.


“It’s more that it gives us the flexibility,” said Leonard, who pointed out that there are a lot of procedural requirements and fulfillments that applicants need to go through before being appointed.


“It is not necessarily our vision that we would jump straight to 15, but this would give us the legislative structure to go there,” said Leonard.


All nine current sports are filled. The newest appointee includes Priscilla Douglas, an executive coach, author and speaker, who was sworn in on June 27 at City Hall. Douglas fills the vacancy of Carol Fulp, who departed the board, this past February.


Leonard said that it remains an important goal that board retains representative of the residents of the City of Boston.


In addition, Leonard thanked the City Council for including investments in the branch libraries as part of the capital budget, stating, “It is one of the largest investments seen in branch libraries that [the BPL] has seen in a long time.”


“We love our libraries,” said Councilor Flaherty at the hearing. “As you saw first hand going through the budget process both our at district and at-large colleagues are in support of the great work you’re doing and also the roles the libraries play in all of our communities.”


He continued, “Some libraries are in better shape than others and we’ve had a push with those throughout the capital [budget] but none the less we continue to root for our libraries with you at the helm.”

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