Closing the books… updates to Matthew’s post below, here’s Pat’s live-blogging of the meeting, and here’s the Projo’s report.

PROVIDENCE — Five library branches would close by July but the downtown flagship and four other branches would remain open under a plan approved by the Providence Public Library Board of Trustees yesterday.

The plan now goes before the City Council for approval and, under an agreement reached last month, the city must make one of four decisions by June 30, which is the end of the fiscal year: accept the library’s plan; seek to take over the branch libraries itself; assign their stewardship to another entity; or choose to maintain the current library system intact for one year and cover any deficits incurred.

The system, which is run by a private, nonprofit organization, assisted by payments from the city and the state, is anticipating a $1.4-million deficit this fiscal year and projecting a $2-million shortfall in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Mayor David N. Cicilline’s administration supports the plan, but with the caveat that the five branches slated for closing –– Fox Point, Smith Hill, Olneyville, Wanskuck and Washington Park –– return to the city’s possession to be run as neighborhood learning centers for after-school activities, public computer access and meeting space, according to Kas DeCarvalho, the city’s representative on the library board.

It’s still far from clear how things will turn out, and I’d trust absolutely no plan to be final until it actually manifests — today’s actions are but a snippet of a five-plus year conversation/dialogue/screaming match between the City and the PPL. (I had much quicker and tighter mental recall of the details when I was working at the city level, and would defer to the Library Reform Group and Matthew and other activists for advice about where to go from here — Check out Karen’s comment on the RIFuture thread in particular.) But it’s a big move, and it certainly appears that this is the year that things finally, fundamentally change, for better or worse.

2 thoughts on “Closing the books…”

  1. Wesli Dymoke

    First of all, I’m instinctively skeptical of anything ProJo has to say about this. As some of you may recall, The Agenda revealed in 2006 that ProJo, in going into the tank for PPL in their dispute with the City in a lead editorial, failed to disclose that members of their editorial board have close relationships with PPL. (And if you haven’t seen any coverage about this on Channel 6, take a wild guess why.)

    Second, ProJo’s coverage, and most other media accounts, start from a premise that PPL is being honest and forthcoming, when there’s good reason to believe otherwise. Agenda also explained how PPL started concealing their money in an attached Foundation, which is subject to less transparent public disclosure than their own budget. This allows them to claim to be much poorer than they are. There’s no denying that the library system could use more money. But we found that they had more than sufficient money to repair and reopen the Washington Branch — just as one particularly egregious example — while they were claiming they couldn’t afford it. PPL keeps coming back for more money, brandishing threats of branch closures, but won’t agree to increase taxpayer control over how the money is spent.

    The available facts suggest that PPL is hopelessly corrupt and can’t be trusted with this vital community asset. It must either voluntarily divest to a responsible organisation, or be forced to do so. While I personally opposed it before learning all this, I now strongly favour transferring to someone else. But I don’t think the City should do it. Not the least because the City can’t afford it, but also because I don’t believe the City will manage it any better. There are civic organisations that are prepared to take over right now. I’m especially interested in seeing the forthcoming proposal by Friends of the Rochambeau Library to take over and operate the system following full divestiture by PPL, promising to keep every branch open.

  2. joe bernstein

    Dave-this is one issue where we are on the same page(forgive the pun).I made a comment on RIF,and have made a few here previously.I cannot imagine a worse decision in these particular economic times.It will adversely affect kids,the elderly,and those folks who just don’t have the funds to get a computer,an internet provider,or even to buy books. I grew up with the public library as a great learning resource.Nowadays it also provides a respite spot for kids who want to concentrate on their homework without the distractions present in many homes nowadays.
    The city plan sounds good,but I don’t trust the promises made by the Cicilline administration given their track record on such other promises as satellite city hall locations.
    I have often used the Wanskuck Branch and it is an essential neighborhood resource located between two schools-one immediately adjacent,and one a short(2 block) walk away.

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