In his State of the City speech Tuesday night, Mayor Martin Walsh spoke about the state of libraries in the City of Boston, and how less than a decade ago, several libraries were slated for closure across the city. In the time since, over $100 million has been invested in various branches, and throughout his time in office, the mayor has supported renovation projects for libraries across the city.
The Copley branch of the Boston Public Library (BPL), known as the Central Library, has undergone significant changes over the years to improve the building and the services it offers Bostonians of all ages. BPL President David Leonard said that the Copley branch has two main projects on its plate right now.
The first is the renovation of the rare books department, thanks to a $15 million investment from Mayor Walsh. The project started last year, Leonard said, and has been a long time in the making. They have been working on design and are about to go in the construction phase in the coming months, he said.
“We’re very, very excited by getting to that stage in the project,” Leonard said. He said they are excited to “deliver a state-of-the-art space for the public to work with and experience our collection” of rare books, as well as “truly meet our preservation obligations” for the rarity of this collection. Over the past few months, the BPL has appeared in front of the Boston Landmarks Commission regarding equipment for this project.
The second project is a master plan update for the McKim Building. This master plan update would pick up where the major restoration work in the 1990s and 2000s left off, Leonard said. Mayor Walsh announced and allocated $400,000 in the budget for this fiscal year, though the project was previewed last year, Leonard added.
“We continue to see a commitment from the Mayor to continue the work in the other branches in the city as well,” Leonard said. Nearby, he added, they are looking for a permanent home for the Chinatown branch, as well as moving from small improvements at the South End branch to hopefully a programming study there as well.
“The Mayor was talking about how important libraries are as part of civic government and being the heart of civic communities,” Leonard said of the Mayor’s speech. “We have seen renovations [at several libraries across the city] that when we refresh buildings, fully renovate, or build new ones, the public comes in droves.”
“There is a need for open, welcoming, dynamic spaces that people can feel are theirs because they are theirs,” he added. He also said that he is “thrilled to have the investment to bring all of our locations up to what you’d expect from a 21st century library.”
Leonard said that it was “great” to have Mayor Walsh highlight and prioritize libraries among the other matters he covered during his address. “It’s great to have the mayor’s support,” he said. Lisa Pollack, Chief of Communications for the BPL, said that the reason the Mayor has such strong support for the libraries is that they offer a “first step” to so many different people, from homework help to workforce development. There’s “something for all ages and stages to get people where they want to be,” she said, which is “very much alive with the priorities of this administration.”