Many constituents have contacted my office over the past few weeks, concerned about the possibility that branch libraries throughout the city might close. And rightly so. Our branch libraries are not just centers of learning, though that alone would be plenty of reason to protect them; they are centers of community, of self-help during dire economic times, of refuge for our young people, and of equal access for all. The possibility of losing up to 10 of them across Boston is a prospect that should be chilling to us all.
Because so many have contacted my office on this issue, I wanted to make my position on the libraries clear and let residents know what work is being undertaken at the state level to prevent branch closures.
First, some background: The $3.6 million budget gap that the BPL Board of Trustees has announced it’s facing includes a projected $1.6 million cut in state aid. That aid comes from three categories in the state budget: so-called “library of last recourse” funding; state aid to regional libraries; and state aid to public libraries.
I was proud to fight for state funding to public libraries last year, and I will continue to do so this year. However, even if we lose the projected $1.6 million, I am not convinced that the large-scale closure of branches or reduction in hours is a necessary response. That’s because the largest chunks of the projected loss in state aid are in the first two of the categories mentioned above — neither of which goes to fund branch libraries. Instead, those categories are for services that the BPL provides to residents statewide and regionally.
My position is that any library cuts should be proportional to the areas where the largest losses in state funding are projected to occur — that is, in statewide and regional services, rather than the branches. State House colleagues and I have asked the BPL President and Trustees to seriously explore this option. While it’s true that many statewide and regional services — such as online resources —benefit Boston residents, I believe fairness demands the BPL prioritize branches over these services this fiscal year. Cuts to the branches should not be used to subsidize the regional library system and the BPL as the “library of last recourse.”
Beyond this year, a longer-term plan must be developed for how we invest and prioritize resources in our library system. The BPL is currently seeking feedback from the community before developing both near- and long-term budgetary plans, and it’s critical that people stay involved in that process. An open and transparent process is good for everyone.
Without question, the fiscal environment we’re in as a nation demands changes and cutbacks. But priorities must be set in a way that least impacts the most vulnerable in our city and the most essential of our public infrastructure. Branch libraries play a crucial and meaningful role in the daily lives of Boston residents; we must do all we can to preserve these public spaces.
State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz represents the Second Suffolk District, which includes all or parts of the neighborhoods of Back Bay, Bay Village, Beacon Hill, Chinatown, Dorchester, Fenway, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Mission Hill, Roxbury, and the South End.