Thursday, April 22, 2010

Do Library Supporters Have the Right Target in Their Sights?

The Trustees of the Boston Public Library voted earlier this month to close four of the 26 branch public libraries in the city, including the Faneuil Branch Library in Brighton's Oak Square.

Library supporters are outraged and looking to reverse that decision -- whether through additional state funding, with an attached rider that would require all the branches to remain open, or additional city funding.

Those who want the branches to remain open have top two targets for their criticism: BPL President Amy Ryan, who drew up the closing plan, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who voiced his strong support for it.

Are they targeting the right people?

The answer to this question lies first in figuring out why BPL is in a funding crunch.

Menino spokesperson Dot Joyce noted that the city this year "level-funded libraries."

Budget documents on the BPL website show that the City of Boston has decreased its payments much less: from $31.2 million in FY09 to $29.7 million in FY10 and $29.4 million in FY11. That's a decrease of $1.8 million over two years, or a cut of 6%. (Note that Joyce is not quite correct in saying that the city has "level-funded libraries.")

Now let's look at the state funding side of the BPL budget.

Brighton state Representative Michael Moran is especially outraged at Menino and has co-sponsored a bill in the state House of Representatives that would restore some state funding.

Note that verb: "restore."

In the same time period that the city has cut its funding to BPL by a little bit, the state has cut heavily its own contribution to BPL: from $8.9 million in FY09 to $4.0 million in FY10 and $2.4 million in FY11. That's a decrease of $6.5 million over two years, or a cut of 73% in state funding for BPL.

The funding shortfall in BPL's budget can nearly all be traced to a decline in state funding, not a decline in city funding.

Should Brighton protesters target Mayor Menino to tell him to restore funding for the libraries to keep the Faneuil Branch Library open? That strategy appears misguided, since it is not the city that has drastically cut their funding for the libraries.

Instead, Brighton residents might find their outrage better directed at members of the state legislature who voted to decrease state spending on BPL by 73% over the past two years.

Since state representatives Moran and Kevin Honan both voted for the budget bill that included decreased funding for BPL in the FY10, shouldn't the outraged residents of Brighton be holding them accountable? (Senator Steven Tolman probably also voted for the same cuts, but I can't find a roll call vote from 6/19/09.)

Shouldn't the the outraged citizens of Brighton be demanding that Reps. Moran and Honan and Sen. Tolman restore the state's funding to BPL from $2.4 million to the FY09 level of $8.9 million?

Methinks the public's anger towards Menino is misplaced on this issue since it is the state legislature who created BPL's funding sinkhole.

And members of the public who are angry at the possible closing of the Faneuil Branch Library should hold Moran, Honan, and Tolman responsible for their June 19, 2009 votes on the FY10 budget.


CharlieV said...

Mike- In the past we've mostly agreed on issues, but on this one, my good friend, we have distinctly different opinions-- I thought the easiest way for me to comment was to copy in my response to today's Globe editorial, which sadly takes sort of the same line you do:

"It's sad to see that the Globe has ceased to give a damn about city neighborhoods- I don't disagree about more state funding for libraries across the state (which my understanding is that these same state reps who indeed DO CARE about those of us affected by the possible library closures are indeed working on), but THANK GOD that these reps actually DO CARE about what their constituents wish, unlike the Globe, which seems to accept with no questions asked the BPL's mantra of a "difficult decision after a careful realistic study".... which is BS.

This so-called "careful and realistic study" ignored the actual reality of what almost ALL of the public input was into the BPL's budget process-- that if we indeed do have to temporarily live with less funds, we all would rather SHARE the pain of reduced hours system-wide, rather than severely impacting a few neighborhoods for the benefit of everyone else. BUT THESE COMMENTS WERE BLATANTLY IGNORED- making it clear that this sham of a process was predetermined.

Even if we had to live with some closures, which I don't agree with, the BPL ignored most of their very own criteria in these closures. I'll be direct and state the fact that I am one of those fighting the closures, especially that affecting the Faneuil Branch-- and let me use that as an example-- if you had to close libraries, using the criteria the BPL supposedly was using, wouldn't you close the libraries that were in the bottom 4 rankings (#'s 23 - 26)? Yet our Faneuil branch was 4th-6th busiest in the system in terms of circulation, 15th in terms of program attendance, approx. 19th in computer usage, etc.-- so HOW THE HELL did the BPL's very own data have any relevance?

Ms. Ryan, and the Globe itself, parroted the "it’s an old, aging facility"-- yet within the past ten years the building had $100,000 spent on a new roof, all of the windows have been replaced, new AC has been installed, etc.


It is disheartening that rather than having the Globe do some true investigative reporting to uncover the realities BEHIND the BPL's budget, it has chosen to sit on its hands."

Brandon said...

Nice comment by CharlieV. In addition this post does not give the whole context of the state budget situation.

Further, Rep. Forry & Moran specifically asked Pres. Ryan how much she needs from the state and she declined to name a figure. She also did not ask the Boston Delegation for any help in getting money when they met earlier in the process. Lastly, there are a number of different amendments to the budget that would increase funding to the library and the library isn't asking anyone to support any of them.

The amendment simply restores the people's choice. The people clearly chose reduced hours, the BPL's own option. If this amendment passes and the BPL chooses to cut an additional $2.4M from the budget instead of implementing ITS OWN option. Then that is just negligent.

Here is information from on the state budget.

# Why has State Funding Declined so Much?

State funding fell most dramatically in FY10. One of the state funding line-items, "The Library of Last Recourse (LLR)", lost an earmark that dropped funding by $4.6M. The statute for this item suggests a funding level of $.50 per Massachusetts citizen (per capita), before FY10 the funding level was $1.17 and the FY10 budget dropped it to the recommended $.50. When library officials say that they no longer have power in the state house, this is the most dramatic example of this lost power. This year funding will be $.42 per capita and next year it is projected to be $.30 per capita, overall a nearly 75% reduction. This money is not meant to fund branch activities (see below).

# What Else Has the State Taken Away?

The other funding loss is the "Boston Regional Library System" line item, a loss of nearly $1M. This funding was given to the BPL because it was an "administrator" of the Boston Regional Library System. The funding is going away because the Massachusetts Board of Library Comissioners is reorganizing the system and consolidating the 6 old regions into one single region with a new administrator. It is not meant to fund branch activities.

# Is This the State's Fault?

The Library of Last Recourse and the Boston Regional Library System funds are not meant to support branch library services. According to the Massachusetts Board of Library Comissioners, the LLR funds are supposed to be used "to provide reference and research services for the Commonwealth in support of the research library at Copley." According to the MBLC, The Regional Library System funds "may be used only to provide services to the member libraries of the regional area including: database licensing, delivery, continuing education, interlibrary loan. In our opinion, the state is not at fault for the loss of neighborhood branches, this is a decision by the trustees and the city to target the branches for cuts.

# If the State is Taking Over the Regional Library System, is this Really a Loss?

In theory, no, this should not be a loss. In reality, it is unclear how much of these costs will be taken over by the state. Pres. Ryan has said that they do not make a distinction between these funds and funds that support branches. However, according to the last city budget glossary available online, the Regional funds work on a reimbursment system. The library must request reimbursment from the state, so these costs should be known. Also, the library's budget has a personnel line item for "Boston Regional Library" that totals $550,000. Thus, $1.6M of the gap is money that should not be affecting the branches.