Why Isn't JP Hopping Mad?

JP is a community that fights when we see injustice. So why isn't everyone up in arms about what has happened with the JP Branch Library?

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 ?

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.

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Gretchen Grozier April 11, 2012 at 08:29 PM
There is an online petition if you wan to email the Mayor and City Councillors http://www.change.org/petitions/renovate-the-jp-branch-library
Bob from JP April 12, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Fact is, in this day and age, libraries are becoming less and less relevant.
Maura April 12, 2012 at 01:42 AM
Also we are very busy arguing about seats at whole foods.
Boz April 12, 2012 at 11:14 AM
Libraries: far from irrelevant. If you actually walk into one, you'll see this. But speaking for myself, I'm not up in arms about renovations because I don't want the BPL board to notice that we in JP are way overserved by libraries in comparison to other neighborhoods. What is it, like a mile between the JP and Connolly branches? And maybe another mile and change from Connolly to Egelston? I love having so many libraries, but I'm afraid if we make a big fuss, they might notice that we have more than our share as compared to the rest of the city.
Gretchen Grozier April 12, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Bob, libraries are definitely relevant. During the last quarter that there are stats for (Oct- Dec 2011) http://www.bpl.org/general/about/usagestats_FY12Q2.pdf nearly 79,000 ebooks were checked out.There were 200,000 computer sessions, 2,733 programs were held attended by 47,000 people. 756,013 visited a BPL branch. Tell the knitters on Thursday nights, the JP Poets on Saturday mornings, the youth who helped with homework every afternoon or the whole bunch of kids who attend story time each week at the JP Branch their library is irrelevant, I dare ya!
Gretchen Grozier April 12, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Boz, this is exactly why I wrote. The Trustees of the BPL set up the branches to allow any person in the City to walk to a branch (that was back when the Trustees actually cared about patrons in the neighborhoods). The JP Branch, Egleston Square and the Connolly are serving different areas of JP/Roxbury and are doing that so well - and that is what is supposed to happen. Here's a report from the 1950s which talks about how to determine how many branches there should be and what those buildings should be like: http://archive.org/details/bostonsbranchlib00bost.
Kosta Demos April 12, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Speak for yourself Bob.
Michael April 12, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Gretchen, If you know who authored the change.org petition, you might see if it's possible to edit its content, specifically the link to the plan PDF. it contains a trailing period, and therefore returns a “Page Not Found”. Simple enough to work around by deleting the errant ‘.’ for those savvy enough to do so, confusion for the rest.
Gretchen Grozier April 12, 2012 at 05:30 PM
thanks MJB, I think we finished it!
gretchen van ness April 12, 2012 at 08:16 PM
The knitters and poets and kindle/nook/fire owners -- what are they doing to help? These are the people who should be hopping mad and responding to this call for action. We are all suffering public library and public school funding fatigue. There is never enough money to do what should be done and no matter how much or well you fight one year, you have to do it all over again the next. What can the creative folks who use the library offer to inspire us to fight on? What new ideas does the new information economy offer? For example, should there be a small tax on e-readers to support libraries, like the tax on cell phones that supports 911 emergency services?
Bob from JP April 12, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Sorry, but that is just common sense. I did not say libraries are IRRELEVANT, but I don't know how you can look at the empirical evidence and conclude that libraries play the same role they did before the advent of the internet, e-books, etc. The question posed is why there hasn't been an uproar about this topic. It is logical to conclude that since less people rely on the library, less people are concerned about it.
Bob from JP April 12, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Again, no one said they were irrelevant. The question, in economic terms, is whether or not the utility garnered from the presence of a library branch matches or exceeds the funds necessary to run it, or in this case, improve it. As library usage declines, that overall utility does as well. Just facts.
Judy Neiswander April 13, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Go, Gretchen!!!
Joan Wood April 16, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Bob Loblaw: Unfortunately that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy of the type promoted by Republican policies. As Republicans (and many Dems, alas) have NO values other than making private money, they do no value any community or public systems. So they let them go to rot, which makes them undesirable and sometimes unusable, and then the Repubs can say "See, no one is using them". It's all part of the death of community that cannabalistic, vulture capitalism creates, where we all become isolated in our condos or suburban entrenchments. The death of libraries = the death of society in any public sense. It is unfortunate that I see this Republican/yuppie mentality has captured Jamaica Plain, a community which was made desirable by progressives who can no longer afford to live there, and which is being re-shaped by those with just too damn much money and no interests beyond it.
Joan Wood April 16, 2012 at 11:41 AM
In case I didn't make my point clearly before, libraries are more than repositories for books, although that is an invaluable function, especially for those with little money. They also provide, however, PUBLIC meeting areas for those who probably would not be able to afford to rent space for book clubs, groups, workshops, whatever. As such, they perform a VITAL role in maintaining some sense of community or public social life in an era where such functions are dying as we all bury ourselves behind condo walls and computers. This death of public life creates economic realities as well, in which public services are not or inadequately funded, by those who decry their "lack of use" because they can afford other means.
Bob from JP April 16, 2012 at 05:54 PM
"The death of libraries = the death of society in any public sense" Let's not go overboard here Joan.... I understand the use of hyperbole but isn't this a bit much? Also, I think the easy way out here is to just blame this on "yuppies" and "republicans" and the like, particularly as these same terrible societal enclaves provide the tax base which funds libraries to begin with. It's all well and good to suggest that funding to libraries should be increased, but who is going to to provide the $$$$? As for the "cannibalistic, vulture capitalism" you decry, sorry, can't help you there. Maybe we should adopt the borderline socialism of Western Europe and see how that ends up. Maybe we'll have 30% unemployment like they have now in Greece, but I bet our library systems will be functioning well!
Bob from JP April 16, 2012 at 08:00 PM
"Republican/yuppie mentality has captured Jamaica Plain, a community which was made desirable by progressives who can no longer afford to live there, and which is being re-shaped by those with just too damn much money and no interests beyond it." How progressive of you to make a statement like that. I'm sure when all the holier than thou progressives moved into JP, the people being displaced had much the same commentary back then. Fortunately, there is no Politburo in place to enforce the wacky sense of who belongs and who doesn't belong in JP that you are espousing. For the sake of the rest of us, let's keep it that way.
Henry Fessman April 17, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Not to be a tattletale, Chris, but "Bob Loblaw" isn't a real name and hasn't been for the months this guy's been using it. It's a character played by Scott Baio on the Fox series Arrested Development. He runs Bob Loblaw's Law Blog.
Chris Helms (Editor) April 17, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Thanks, Henry, I'll contact Bob about that.


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