Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Boston Book Bummer

Looks like Boston Mayor Tom Menino and hired gun Amy Ryan will anger the most residents since Bill Buckner's ball bobble. He brought her in to head the library system and really to wear the black hood of closure and firing.

Today, the drama went as scripted. Months ago, the consensus was that they'd shut branches and slash hours...oh, and of course dump staff. The report and proposal arrived this morning. The basics are in the Globe and a breakdown at Universal Hub.

Even with a bit of smoke and mirrors with three options, this will anger a wide spectrum of voters and even kids. It's difficult to imagine another budget and service area that could have done as badly.

By coincidence, Councilor John Tobin had his JP office hours this morning (Ula Café) and held forth. He was still reverberating from the public meeting on libraries the previous evening at the Curley School. He said about 200 were there, anticipating that one or both JP branches would close...and not accepting of that.

Today's Herald quotes him as saying there had to be other ways to deal with libraries. He cites numerous well paid staff, including Ryan at $175,000, he said, " “I want them to look at other areas where they can cut out waste. Automatically they say, 'We have to close 10 libraries.' It’s insanity."

The insanity may really be in assuming the public will accept losing their branches in the name of yielding to the terrible economy. This morning, Tobin noted that it's not just book lovers who would take the hit of branch closings or severely limited hours.

As the original advocate of free wireless internet access throughout the city, he keeps that in mind. Tobin says that many Bostonians can't afford even the modest fees of budget access plans, much less the computer and printer they'd need. "It's not in their top 20 list after they pay their rent and food bills."

Yet for all those Bostonians, libraries are the only computer access they have. That's adults looking for jobs as well as information and youth doing their school assignments. "All our libraries are wireless," said Tobin, "and to me this is almost a civil rights issue. The internet is the modern telephone." He sees library closures as slamming the middle class and poor.

Tobin added that Ryan is not a singular villain here. As he put it, "Everything is micromanaged from the other side of the fifth floor (Menino's office)." He added that the mayor had long looked to such closures as part of his budget-balancing plans.

For Tobin though, it's too much. He concluded, "I'm just not going to vote for the budget if they close one library."

It remains to be seen how many councilors would join him and how many are hearing loud screams from constituents already. We do know the budget requires a supermajority — 9 of the 13 councilors. On paper at least, that's where their only real power rests.

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KG522 said...

What is Tobin raving about? Everyone knows the library is in this situation due to massive state budget cuts to libraries - $6 million plus, I believe. Menino has actually built new libraries in Mattapan and Allston and upgraded others, and Tobin thinks he wants to cut them?

Maybe we're looking for a little press action, as opposed to any serious public policy. Figures.

Unknown said...

Who knows what Menino wants? Probably some of his flunkies are telling him this is the way to the 21st century.

Menino will be remembered for very little when he is done being mayor. Maybe he thinks closing the digital divide will be his legacy. Anybody who knows how stupidly this city operates can tell you that these libraries will close, these people will be laid off, and none of the airy plans for the future will amount to anything.