Jamaica Plain has a reputation, and always has really, of being progressive. Not just a little progressive, way out beyond any other neighborhood in Boston. We could even give the People's Republic of Cambridge a run for its money. We are a community that fights when we see injustice, unfairness and when we know the City should do better. So why isn't everyone up in arms about what has happened with the Jamaica Plain Branch Library?
This building is old and it needs help. There is a cacaphony of injustice occurring and for some reason everyone in JP seems to just be taking it lying down. What gives? The Americans with Disabilities Act is over 20 years old and yet, the members of our community who are in wheelchairs, have mobility issues (or ride in a stroller even) cannot access two floors of the building. And forget about going to the bathroom - those aren't accessible and aren't ADA compliant even if they were.
The wonderful, tireless staff work behind a circulation desk that is among the most cramped working spaces in the City. We patrons request a lot of books, which show up in those great BPL bags. But with upwards of 12 bags a day, there is no room back behind that desk for people. The "office space" is minimal and filled with tons of supplies. But our JP librarians are making it work as best they can, but why (WHY??!!) should they have to?
Lets talk a little bit about the kids. Sometime in the 1960s/1970s in order to make an accessible entrance they cut one in the side of the building. Most traffic comes in that entrance (off the circle on South Street) and walks through the Children's Room. It's not safe or optimal. It's ridiculous. And if you are a Young Adult in JP, well sorry, this branch has no public space for you. It's not asking a lot to provide a good space for teens, is it?
There is no public space if you want to study - which granted, does not happen so much anymore. What does happen a lot is that people want to use the computers - which are sandwiched into a corner and in another totally inadequate configuration.
And, it isn't like the Boston Public Library has no expertise in creating wonderful branches which take into account all the things a 21st century library should be. Take a trip across Walk Hill Street and visit the new Mattapan Branch. The BPL has also done some really great renovations to old buildings to make them 21st century friendly. We have an example at the other side of JP at the Connolly - their auditorium is wonderful. [Shout out to the Friends of the Connolly Branch for an 18 year fight over that renovation!] Why should some neighborhoods get this treatment and not others? Who makes that call? Does it have to be a call?
Some cities, Philadelphia and Seattle are two examples, have raised money and renovated EVERY library branch they have in recent years. JP certainly has impressive statistics that seem to show that we have a lot of folks that use our lovely (lowly) branch. But where is the fire that JP usually displays to make sure the right thing is done?
A community-crafted renovation plan was completed in 2006 and it has just languished. Our kids, teens, mobility-impaired residents, library staff, computer users and every patron who sets foot in the Jamaica Plain Branch deserves to have the experience detailed in that plan - one that re-uses a treasured structure and provides for the best library in Boston. But for some reason JP has decided to alter that famous Dickens book (on the shelf right now) and go with Not-So-Great Expectations.