Library Closings Opposed; Group Plans ‘Read-In’ Today and Hartford Public Library Cuts Looming;

The System’s Board Plans To Close Two Branches, Lay Off 40 To Make Ends Meet

A neighborhood group staged a June 30 “read-in” at the Hartford (CT) Public Library to protest a proposal to close two branches and lay off 40 library employees.

Library Board President Geraldine Sullivan said that the Blue Hills and Mark Twain branches – two of nine neighborhood branches of Hartford Public Library – would be closed on or shortly after July 1, when the new fiscal year begins, and that employees would also be notified of the layoffs, which would take effect 30 days after notification.

Some critics, including the library’s union representative, say the threat of branch closures is a ploy by library officials to extract more money from city hall.

The library will save more than $530,000 in employee and rent costs by closing the two branches, Sullivan said.

The branches were chosen for closure based on criteria that include customers’ ability to get to another branch by mass transit or on foot, whether the branch serves a population with special needs and whether the library owns or leases the space. Both Blue Hills and Mark Twain are leased spaces.

In a letter Thursday to Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez and the city council, Sullivan said that barring any increase in the city’s appropriation, the library would be required to “reduce services system wide in order to close the gap. This will include reducing youth services and adult learner services, as well as the closing of two branches under the criteria presented at the budget hearing May 7, 2008.”

Perez was unavailable for comment Friday, but in a letter sent to the board Thursday he and the council leadership expressed strong opposition to the library board’s plan. Perez suggested that the board consider other options, including an emergency allocation of funds from its $14 million unrestricted endowment, an additional reduction of library hours staggered throughout the system and a reduction of non-core library programming.

Leo Laffitte, a representative of the library’s union AFSCME Local 1716, said Monday he does not believe that chief Librarian Louise Blalock intends to close the branches.

“She intentionally selected those branches because she knows community activists in those neighborhoods would not allow for that to happen.”

The union suspects that Blalock has inflated the number of layoffs and the amount of the budget gap.

“It’s a scare tactic,” Laffitte said.