If you were around the City of Boston recently you would have heard the din and seen the discontent over the closure of four Boston Public Library branches. The BPL trustees voted to close the branches in order to narrow a nearly $4 million budget gap.
There is no easy option when it comes to library budgetary shortfalls. Spreading out the burden is the common cry, reducing hours across library systems, unpaid leaves for staff, closing one extra day each week.
Yet as many Americans come to grips with the “new normal,” where the discretionary spending title may be saddled to books, libraries remain a vital part of our intellectual fabric. Which points out the struggle of increasing use against declining funding.
The BPL trustees voted to close three branches, yet their own numbers show business is up. The business of lending books, music and movies, the modern hybrid of public libraries continues to grow. According to published reports, BPL borrowed items is up 31%. And roughly 50% of Boston residents actively use their BPL card.
Yet the BPL will be forced to close three locations, as well as cut back personnel at all other branches, including the flagship location in Copley Square.
So while business is up, revenue is not.
In the city of Quincy, on Boston’s southern border, library branches will remain open, but hours and days will be cut. And library book buying will diminish as well.
Considering many squeeze time out of every moment, to work and run errands, and live a productive life, sometimes the weekend is the only opportunity to get to the library. In Quincy, the main library branch will remain closed on Sundays, with no service on Saturday through the summer.
The smaller branches will also see hours and positions cut. Over the past 18 months, the Quincy book purchasing line item has been cut by over $115,000, leaving the system at the budgetary line to continue receiving state aid. Quincy asked for and received a waiver from state required funding levels. However, another community south of Boston requested a waiver due to cuts, but found themselves on the losing end.
In the municipality of Hull, budget cuts were so deep that the state agency in charge of libraries denied their waiver request, resulting in the community library losing its accreditation. What this means is Hull libraries cannot borrow books from other communities.
Budgetary woes for these vitally important public institutions isn’t confined to Massachusetts. In New York City, their monetary short falls are enormous and could result in the largest cuts in that system’s history.
In order to meet the budgetary shortfall, New York officials are proposing closure of 10 branches, cutting over 700 staff and of course reduction of hours at the remaining branches.
To provide some perspective, the amount proposed cut by the New York library system is nearly $37 million. The Boston Public Library system entire budget for FY’11 is $38 million.
Times are so tough in NYC, they’ve called in the Ghostbusters to raise awareness of the potential cuts.
Now if we could just collect the $300,000 in overdue book fees owed by George Washington, who took out a NYPL book 240 years to just return this month!