Patrons resist turning page with library move

Tim Higgins (above) visited the Kirstein Business Branch yesterday. The branch, which is behind the Old City Hall, is being moved to Boston's main library in Copley Square to save money. Tim Higgins (above) visited the Kirstein Business Branch yesterday. The branch, which is behind the Old City Hall, is being moved to Boston's main library in Copley Square to save money. (David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff)
By Vivian Nereim
Globe Correspondent / June 25, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

Every day for 20 years, Graham Brown has traveled from his home in Jamaica Plain to visit the Kirstein Business Branch of the Boston Public Library. Here at the library’s Financial District location, he said, is information people can’t find anywhere else.

On Tuesday, when the building closes its doors for the last time, the ritual will end.

“It would be a shame to let this place go,’’ the 87-year-old man said, noting that he’s been “bothering the mayor’’ to keep it from closing.

In March, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said that the city would move the branch to save money, despite the fact that it has a $6 million trust fund. The collection will relocate to the Central Library in Copley Square over the summer, where it will have expanded hours and more space, said Boston Public Library spokeswoman Gina Perille.

“It just makes more sense to have it in the main branch,’’ said Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce.

But to the library’s most loyal patrons, that doesn’t matter. Catharine Arnston of the West End said she is forming an organization to fight to keep the branch open.

“It’s a real jewel,’’ she said. If it moves, “it will be lost.’’

The collection, which includes business journals, industry reports, and other business-related materials, has existed as a separate library in a tiny alley behind the Old City Hall for 79 years.

Arnston said she believes moving the collection is a violation of the Friends of the Kirstein Business Branch trust fund, set up to pay for the operation of the library. If moving the collection did violate the trust, state law dictates that the city would need to seek permission from the Probate Court of the attorney general’s office.

Joyce said city officials considered doing so but determined there was no violation of the trust. Documents indicate that the money must be used for the library’s services, “not the actual building in which they are housed,’’ she said.

Jill Butterworth, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts attorney general, said that the office is “aware of the issue at the library’’ but declined to elaborate.

The most prominent donation to the Kirstein fund was made in 1997, when Thomas R. Drey, a retired schoolteacher who had used the Kirstein library to research stocks and make his fortune, gave his $6.8 million estate to the library. Perille said the remaining $6 million in the trust will move with the library.

Yesterday, Kirstein librarians told a reporter they were not allowed to speak about the collection’s move, which will displace at least one librarian to another branch. Letters from upset patrons were posted on a library bulletin board until earlier this month, when the librarians said they were asked to remove them.

For all the Palladian grandeur of the building’s facade, there is a quiet charm in the balcony nooks and dark wood shelves, and Kirstein regulars are mourning the loss of the space.

“It’s tragic,’’ said Mary L. Cole, of Norwell, who discovered the library when she was founding a software company in the 1980s. “I love this place.’’

Rafael Luciano, of Cambridge, said he didn’t know the branch existed until three weeks ago. “The atmosphere is completely different’’ from the Central Library, he said. “It’s much more conducive to business.’’ He said the library’s resources are a boon for small-business owners, who can’t afford to hire lawyers or consultants.

“I’m disappointed,’’ said Michael, who identified himself as a civil servant and declined to give his last name. He said he was not sure where he will go now. “I might join the Athenaeum’’ he said, noting that membership in the private library, unlike at the Kirstein, comes at a price.

Vivian Nereim can be reached at