Letters to the Editor

South End Library Services During Closure

Dear Editor, 

The South End has been without a branch library since a flood closed the building in April 2021, and a second flood in February 2022 forced the permanent closure and replacement of the library building. No alarm systems were installed before the first flood, despite a complete renovation of the interior in 2019. And no alarm system was put in place after the first flood, either. As a result, the South End has not had library services since April 2021, and will not have full library services until three + years from now, when a new building is estimated to be opened.

Here is a reflection on the loss of five years of library services to our neighborhood:

a.     By its own numbers, in the first quarter of 2019 the South End branch had 94 programs; it had 20,632 visitors; it had 22,303 items in circulation; there were 738 wireless sessions and 2,845 computer sessions.

b.    Children and day care groups have lost their branch library, including those from Chinatown Access, Ellis Memorial, Castle Square and Pine Village Preschool, as well as from St. Stephens and the Blackstone Community Center.

c.     Children also don’t have access to the SE branch for the Summer Reading Club or the Read Your Way to Fenway contest; Read Boston won’t come by for programs and book distribution; Countdown to Kindergarten won’t be there, either.

d.    A whole cohort of young children miss the rich experience and exposure to a library that builds lifelong learners in the formative years.

e.     Staff cannot provide traditional and modern services, such as reference; readers’ advisory; photocopying; or printing. 

f.     No meeting space for small or large groups, or just a place for people to be. Libraries are free, non-sectarian community centers that offer a safe space, with access to bathrooms, water, and air-conditioning. In the BPL’s 2012 Strategic Plan a branch library’s significance as a Community Gathering Place is the second most important goal listed.

In late 2022, Friends of the South End Library conducted a survey of South End residents to assess the need for temporary library services.  Those results have been widely circulated and highlighted a consistent anchor space for temporary services.  A Working Group of some two dozen South End stakeholders was established in November 2022 to explore temporary library services with BPL leadership. It has been meeting every 1-2 months. Several locations and options have been discussed, most prominently a community space available at 566 Columbus Avenue, the location of the former USES headquarters. In addition, a comfortable, temporary, accessible mobile vehicle was considered, as well as a construction trailer that, like an accessible vehicle mentioned above, could be placed either inside in Library Park or on Tremont Street, at the cost of a few parking spaces, or on the sidewalk next to Library Park.

Despite numerous sessions to seriously explore how to meet the devastating loss to the community of library services, the BPL has just informed the community they will merely offer once-a-week programming at Rutland Street’s USES’s facility, on Thursdays from 10-12:30 starting October 5.

Given the loss of important library services for so many people in the South End, this once per week space does not come anywhere near our expectations or needs.  We need consistent, available, accessible, and adequate library services from now until the new building is opened, minimally 3-4 days per week and hours from 10-2 and 3-6, accommodating children and adults for programs and visits. 

• Important programs and services urgently needed in the South End include:

• Computer access with WIFI

• Children’s story hour

• Tax preparation assistance

• Workforce development programs

• Book club discussions

• Children’s music programs

• Homework help workshops

• Technical help appointments

• ESOL groups

A library of BPL’s stature and reach into the community should always be open to improve and enhance its services. A core principle stated on the BPL website says, “the BPL is a user-centered institution with services that anticipate and respond to neighborhood interests and the changing demographics of the City and Commonwealth.”  This principle does not seem to be guiding the BPL’s approach to the South End Library.

We insist that the BPL’s leadership up its game and provide adequate temporary space and services to the community of a closed library.  This may require a shift in its approach from Capital Projects focused solely on completing 5 major branch projects to a focus of Capital Projects and Temporary Replacement of Library Services. In other words, a citywide plan to build no more than 3 capital library projects and at the same time replace critically needed library services in a temporary location while a branch is closed for reconstruction.  We strongly recommend using the South End Library Branch project to create and implement a citywide template for temporary services during a library’s closure for reconstruction or repair.

Yvette Jarreau

Marleen Nienhuis

Stephen Fox

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