By Sandra Miller
The public library raised about $300 in dropped-off donations as of yesterday. The Friends of the Public Library pledged its kitty of $14,000 collected over the years through used book sales. There’s talk of teaming up with the Fire Department’s March fundraiser.
But that’s not enough. “It’s not a fundraising issue,” said Friends of the Public Library President Henry Dane. “Even if an enormous donation would put the library on its feet, we can’t pay staff through donations. For the library to retain accreditation, it must receive municipal funding. The library needs to have the town’s support. We’re hoping they come through.”
The library’s director, Alan Thibeault, was laid off Tuesday, just hours after he laid off two full-time and nine part-time employees, including janitorial staff. The current pay period ends Friday, which will be their last days at the library.
Thibeault, of Jamaica Plain, came here after resigning his position as librarian at the Boston Herald.
Thibeault said just hours before he was laid off, “I’m grateful for the fact we received $15,000 to continue to operate and not close right away. Nobody wanted to see the library close, in the short term at least.”
The now-former library director said the library loses state certification if it closes, lacks municipal appropriation, whether a percentage of the town’s appropriation goes toward buying materials, and whether they are open at least 42 hours a week.
As of Tuesday, the library decided to stay open 32 hours a week, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays; 12-8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; and closed Saturday-Monday. “I think that’s what we can do, to give the town the best service we can do,” said Thibeault, who is also talking to state library officials about possible solutions. “We’ll know after trying it for a few weeks if we can do this. We might find some grant money, but I don’t think we can do it without the town being able to fund us. That’s my personal feeling. We’re going to do what we can to get through the fiscal year.”
Without certification, which would come in 2010, the library would lose up to $20,000 in state aid, lose the ability to have inter-library loans, and if they break their contract with the NOBLE interlibrary network, they’d lose their databases, ability to track library loans, Internet access. “Without NOBLE, we would be thrown back into the Dark Ages,” said Thibeault.
The library is used by the unemployed and the underemployed, students, disabled people with visual needs such as magnification machines and large-print books. “The core of our constituency, and I think why any government provides services for this, is to help the poorest,” said Thibeault. “At a time like this when people are losing jobs and canceling their Internet service and can’t afford to order books on Amazon or rent movies, they can rent them free of charge. We provide the ability for people to search for jobs and get resume tips, research jobs and the companies they are applying to. We offer tools for all those things.”
The town sympathizes with its patrons, he said.
“The town basically told us that what they want us to do beyond this four-week period is to investigate donations, and the donations have been pouring in. We need to go back and look at the grant and foundation money available to us. We are grateful for the reprieve, but as Councilor Maggio said [Monday] night, you can’t fund public services on donations and you can’t rely on volunteers to fill in.”
“Last November, when [former town manager] Rick White extended the job to me, I asked him and the trustees what the long-term viability of the library was,” he said. “They said they were looking at a reduced budget, but closure was never floated.”
Thibeault started work January 5,with big plans. “I was figuring out the public face of the library, working with circulation people, working with shelving people to look at how things are organized, doing a top-to-bottom review of databases and subscriptions. I came in knowing I needed to reduce costs. That was the climate I came into. I never anticipated this when I came into this,” he said.
On January 28, he handed in his fiscal year 2010 budget with 15 percent cuts. On January 29, he was told they wouldn’t be funded at all. “It gave me a new perspective on things,” he said dryly.
Thibeault has no experience in public libraries, so he was talking to the former Saugus Library director who had to shut down the library for a time. “Her advice? ‘Hang in there,'” she said.
Before the library, Thibeault was a 10-year Army artillery captain, when he decided to bring his family back to Boston and received his library degree at Simmons College.
Little did he know he’d be going to battle for his library. “We’re really fighting for our lives here,” said Thibeault, only minutes before he became a casualty.