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South End Library patrons help guide the BPL's compass

Posted by Cara Bayles  October 28, 2010 09:57 AM

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(By Cara Bayles,

South End Library patrons wrote suggestions for the system's strategic plan on Wednesday night.

Boston Public Library trustees visited the South End branch On Wednesday night to ask members what the library's goals should be for the next 10 years.

Before it voted to close four branches in April, the board knew the library needed guidance. Last September, it launched a lengthy public process to build what's essentially a mission statement.

"The next ten years promise to be a decade of transition for the BPL in light of changing demographics and an increasing demand for existing and potential services," library president Amy Ryan wrote in a proposal last year announcing the compass project.

"That was a long time ago," trustee James Carroll said Wednesday night, when confronted with the project's original goals. "The fiscal realities have changed."

But Carroll added the changes the library has seen, including the potential closure of four branches, will help the compass process, which, in turn could help guide the board to save the branches.

"That passionate declaration of love for the library is exactly what we want to capitalize on here," said Carroll, who writes an opinion column for the Globe.

The Compass Committee, composed of trustees, academics and community leaders, have completed the first phase of the project, and drafted seven guiding principles for the library, with vague promises to make the library a "customer driven institution" and a place for "researchers and lifelong learners."

Now, as the process shifts to Phase II, a period of public feedback on the principles begin. At the South End meeting, patrons wandered the room, sticking Post-It notes to large sheets of paper, with suggestions and criticisms for each category.

Glyn Polson, of the Friends of the South End Library, said accessibility was a concern, since the South End branch has a pull door that necessitates assistance for people in wheelchairs.

"Four or five of these principles talk about access and yet, we don't have a handicap-accessible facility," he said.

Other comments included critiques of the board's fiscal responsibility, censure of the system's fixation on technology at the expense of print, and a note that declared that the compass boiled down to "too much jargon."

"Mission statements usually only make sense to the people who write them," Rep. Byron Rushing, who represents the South End and is the newest trustee on the board, admitted after the meeting. "But they guide the details. … The hard part is going to be figuring out what we are going to do in the next five years to meet these goals. Once we get consensus on the principles, we can get back to looking at how to do that."

Rushing was appointed to the board in September, after publicly criticizing the trustees' "awful" relationship with the state legislature in June. A state lawmaker had not sat on the board since Rep. Angelo Scaccia retired in 2009.

The library only has enough money to keep all the branches open for three quarters of this fiscal year, and Lower Mills, Orient Heights, Oak Square and Washington Village are still hanging in the balance. The library will need $375,000 to keep those branches open between March and July of 2011.

Rushing said after the meeting that he thinks the legislature wants to help the library with funding, but that lawmakers need to see proof that patrons are invested in their branches, and that the library has a plan.

"I want to be able to work on the plan faster so that we can fit branches into the plan. We shouldn't be talking about closing them or investing in them without a strategic plan," he said.

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