Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Whats Up with the BPL?

Listening to the Callie Crossley show on WGBH - March 22, 2010 where the discussion is about library use in a recession.

Last year this was written about the BPL new president:
The Boston Globe Library director turns a new page: Economy offers huge challenge
By Nancy Cook Globe Correspondent / March 29, 2009
"...Even with the good will and early accolades, Ryan will face tough decisions. Personnel costs make up 65 percent of the library's budget, so she and the librarians' union have been negotiating a wage freeze to last through September 2010. Even if union members approve it, the library still may have to lay off 44 staffers this spring and leave vacant 20 open positions.

"It has affected the services we provide," says Liz Smith, a librarian at the Hyde Park branch and president of the Communication Workers Association, Local 1333. "You can't provide the same level of service when you don't have people there on a regular basis. That's especially important at the branches in the neighborhoods where you see the same people."

As Ryan looks to trim costs, she says she has also tried to communicate openly with her staff. She sends out a weekly newsletter, circulates memos she receives from City Hall with both good and bad news, and solicits ideas about cutting costs. She says she's received about 1,000 suggestions that range from turning off more lights to opening up a gift shop. She is also halting construction projects, reexamining contracts, moving the Kirstein Business Branch from the financial district into the Copley branch, and rethinking tasks like how the library catalogs books.

Ryan is also big on partnerships between the library and outside organizations such as Bank of America, the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and the Boston Children's Museum that bring performances into libraries or that offer writing or reading workshops. Some of these are not new ideas - her predecessor already had in place a homework assistance program.

Original or not, Ryan says that these types of programs are significant to her. She wrote her master's thesis years ago on the role of libraries in economic downturns, and that topic is particularly relevant now as people looking for new jobs or to go back to school head to libraries for help.

"Libraries make sense of the world," she says. "They're informational. They're a cultural anchor. They're a place for community gathering."

Skip ahead to this year and a statement presented by Amy Ryan on  Tuesday, March 9, 2010. Excerpts with my emphasis, below.  Click on title below for the full report

The Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston Meeting Rabb Lecture Hall  Presentation by Amy E. Ryan, President


The Trustees, staff and I all know and appreciate the importance of the library in your lives. People care deeply about the Boston Public Library. We are in this together. The vision and our discussion today is a continuation of a public process started a few years ago with the neighborhood services initiative, continuing with recent community meetings and the many public comments. This is the next step in a complex decision making process....


We are at a crossroads. This is a moment in time when we have the opportunity to re-shape the BPL for ourselves and for our children and their children. We all know that the world of information continuously transforms itself... We owe it to the people of Boston to re-imagine the BPL into one that truly provides tomorrow’s services today. Essential to that commitment is enhancing our core services: hours, books, story times and programs, computers, research services at Copley and preservation of cultural treasures. Now we must go further. We can’t take a car designed in the 1970s onto today’s information superhighway. Now is the time to challenge ourselves to re-imagine the BPL for a successful future.

VISION Our vision is that the Boston Public Library touches every Bostonian and is transformative in providing system-wide services in three ways: (1) in buildings, (2) online and (3) in the community.

....The Boston Public Libraries are staying in the neighborhoods—still the library you love and have loved since childhood. Only they could be better. But right now, we are struggling to provide the right level of staffing—we are stretched to the point where we have had to close for lunches and dinners due to inadequate staffing, positions remain vacant such as children’s librarians, front line staff and others. The status quo is not working—for the staff or the public.
We can excel if we re-align our services. Our goals for both Copley and the branches are to:
  • Repurpose staff time to increase programming and classes and to form partnerships that have a direct, positive impact on the public.
  • Change library hours across the system to include more evenings, Saturdays and to increase staffing at peak times like after school hours.
  • Create a pool of staff who are program experts linked to services rather than locations for specialized programming like early literacy, computer skills, and book discussions.
  • Increase the number of computers so people don’t have to wait in line to fill out job applications, scholarship forms, write their resumes, view pictures of their grandkids, and on and on.
Our libraries are cultural anchors and learning institutions, and we must ensure that if the sign says Boston Public Library, we have committed the resources for families, adults and kids to find it open, well stocked with books and computers, with stimulating programs and the right level of staffing.
In the Community
Along with serving people in buildings and online, a third way and perhaps the greatest potential for transformation for library staff is to be in the community, meeting people where they are.
We need to redefine the boundaries of library services. Redraw them outside the walls of our buildings through community outreach. Our current staffing model does not allow us the flexibility to visit childcares, senior centers, or community events. We have passed up partnerships due to lack of staffing to support the innovative ideas...


This is just the beginning of building a truly 21st century library as we join with the community to forge ahead. We know this will take time. We can deliver on this vision, given our resources, if we choose to align our funding and staffing in a new way. Now there is a sense of urgency because of the financial challenges. Budget reductions for the upcoming fiscal year will take a serious human toll. This is the second year in a row where funding has necessitated layoffs...

Now I would like to talk about a methodology that measures our services, operations and proximities to other libraries. Before I do, though, we all know that every branch has an individual story, and part of the reason we are considering many data sources is that not one or two types of data tell a true story....Remember, we will also look to members of the public, friends and others to complete the whole picture.... ( my emphasis )