Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Which Allston-Brighton Public Library is Most Likely to be Closed?

The Trustees of the Boston Public Library are compiling data in order to determine up to ten branch libraries to close in order to address a budget shortfall of $3.6 million.

Three of the 26 branch libraries are located in Allston-Brighton; statistically speaking, one of those three is therefore facing closure.

Which one?

On one level, it would be politically disastrous to close the Honan-Allston Public Library in North Allston, since it is named after the deceased brother of current State Representative Kevin Honan. The Brighton Branch Library near Brighton Center would seem an unlikely target, too, since it is currently undergoing renovations -- if it were to close, the money already spent would be tossed down the toilet.

That leaves the Faneuil Branch Library in Oak Square [pictured at right].

How do the data on the branch libraries compare to this superficial assessment? The trustees have stated that they will be guided in their decision-making by data about each of the branch libraries, in addition to other important qualities such as connection to other community centers:
Library administrators will rank the 26 neighborhood branches by foot traffic, computer use, and how many Web surfers use laptops to log on to Wi-Fi networks. They will count how many programs are offered at each location and tally the number of people who attend storytime and English classes.
Below are a few sets of data on the Allston-Brighton branch libraries that were taken from a compilation on the BPL website. Statistics date from fiscal year 2007, which allows for a direct comparison among the branches (since the Brighton branch was closed for renovations in early 2009). I am impressed by the methodological data collection that BPL has undertaken, and the ease with which a member of the public can access the information from the internet. If only all government agencies were like this!

Based on these indicators -- many of which the BPL trustees said they would be using in arriving at their decision -- it would appear that the Faneuil branch library is the most likely to be closed. In fact, the Faneuil branch ranked last in all but one indicator.

The Presentation School Foundation has already initiated a campaign in order to drum up support for the Fanueil library and lobby the city to keep it open. Based on these data, however, the PSF's work is cut out for them.

Most Recent Renovation or Construction (i.e., Most Modern Facilities)
  1. Brighton: built 1969, renovated 2010
  2. Honan Allston: built 2001
  3. Faneuil: built 1931
Size of Collection (in volumes):
  1. Brighton: 76,900
  2. Honan Allston: 74,000
  3. Faneuil: 47,200
Size of Facility (in square feet of floor space):
  1. Brighton: 22,400
  2. Honan Allston: 20,000
  3. Faneuil: 7,600
Items Circulated:
  1. Brighton: 120,710
  2. Honan Allston: 118,117
  3. Faneuil: 93,043
Number of Volumes Used by the Public:
  1. Honan Allston: 14,540
  2. Brighton: 9,841
  3. Faneuil: 2,902
Meeting Room?
  1. Brighton, Honan Allston: yes
  2. Faneuil: no
On-Site Parking Spaces:
  1. Honan Allston: 20
  2. Brighton: shared lot (with courthouse)
  3. Faneuil: none
Public Computers:
  1. Honan Allston: 17
  2. Brighton: 14
  3. Faneuil: 12
Number of Visitors:
  1. Honan Allston: 82,895
  2. Brighton: 77,857
  3. Faneuil: 61,568
Number of Class Visits:
  1. Honan Allston: 101
  2. Brighton: 58
  3. Faneuil: 53
Number of Library-Sponsored Programs Within Boston Public Schools:
  1. Honan Allston: 25
  2. Brighton: 4
  3. Faneuil: none
Number of Students Requesting Library Assistance:
  1. Brighton: 701
  2. Honan Allston: 254
  3. Faneuil: 198
Use of Meeting Rooms by Public Organizations:
  1. Honan Allston: 98
  2. Faneuil: 83
  3. Brighton: 27
Number of People Seeking "Orientation and Instruction":
  1. Honan Allston: 1,736
  2. Brighton: 981
  3. Faneuil: 720
Number of People Receiving "Literacy Training and Assistance":
  1. Brighton: 199
  2. Honan Allston: 116
  3. Faneuil: 10
One statistic appears inaccurate to me: the number of class visits at the Brighton branch. The reason is that nearby Winship Elementary School has no on-site library, yet during a visit to the school earlier this year I was told that they have a regular program to visit the Brighton branch library as a substitute. Four classroom visits per year therefore appears inaccurate.

Another issue that is bound to be raised is that the Faneuil branch would be a nearby resource for a future community center at the former Presentation School in Oak Square; that future connection will not be reflected in assessments of past connections.

A final issue which appears contradictory is that the Faneuil branch had its meeting rooms used more often by public organizations than the Brighton branch, yet BPL documentation lists the Faneuil branch as having no meeting rooms. (I assume that the "meeting room" that is being referred to in the Faneuil branch is the small stage in the children's book wing -- which cannot be used separately from the rest of the room.)

Lacking from these indicators is a measurement of the number of "community centers" connected to each branch library. How exactly this term is defined may determine which branch comes out on top.

Another indicator missing from these is how "central" the branch is to the neighborhood or the public. That's a hard thing to quantify, although it probably already appears in the statistics for the numbers of visitors (gate count) and the circulation statistics.

Finally, the number of children's events (book readings, magic shows, etc.) is not summarized in the information on the BPL website. Based on my experience, I suspect that the Brighton branch will come last in this category -- but there should be a more quantitative measure available on it, too.

Let me add my own architectural category:

Most Interesting Architecture:
  1. Honan Allston: Beautiful building inside and out. A real treat to visit.
  2. Faneuil: Cool Art Deco exterior (only building of that style in Allston-Brighton). Awful and cramped interior that makes you forget its beautiful exterior.
  3. Brighton: Horrendous Stalin-esque exterior (which, in 1969, replaced a beautiful building!). Unknown interior (until renovations are complete).


Fibro Witch said...

I think since they are in the middle of renovation in Brighton Center it is the one that will close. The building can be reconfigured to just about any operation. It would make a good building for a bank, or medium size store. CVS is moving down to market street, another drug store could take the library property.

Brighton Center has less and less political pull as year round residents move out, and students or people who don't plan on living in the area for a long time move in.

JohnT said...

I agree. Who decided to spend money on a building that was never properly built? As far as not closing the Honan library because of politics would be a mistake. Its fate should decided on its merit.

PJpost said...

Since you enjoy stats so much, I've invented one for you. By dividing the circulation by sq. feet of the library we can determine the branch's efficeincy. The circ. relative to the branch's size

Brighton 5.38
Honan 5.90
Faneuil 12.24

In this context, Faneuil is the clear winner with more circulation at a lower cost.

As far as your subjective judgment of Faneuil's interior...well we love it and that's what counts.

Michael Pahre said...

PJ: thanks for the "circulation per square foot" metric!

It doesn't matter whether or not I like statistics (like these). The BPL trustees said that, in their decision-making process, they would be guided by these kinds of statistics. Blame them!