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Springfield is Booked…

At long last, a settlement between the Springfield Library and Museum Association and the City of Springfield has been reached. From the looks of it, the city is the big winner and the Association does not appear to giving much up.

First and foremost, the Central Library will remain the Central Library…for the foreseeable future. While the city can opt to relocate, they have a twenty-five year lease and, if I’m interpreting the news correctly, have a right to one in perpetuity in five year increments as long as they stay there. For library afficiados like myself, this is key. The Springfield Central Library is to Springfield what the old, yet fully functional, libraries in New York and Boston are to those cities. It does not matter that it is a Carnegie library, rather because it is an awesome building in which to have a library. Lots of the new artsy, modern libraries are cool, but simply do not fit, in my view, what a library should be. It should be majestic and awesome, to match the feeling of gaining knowledge.

The Association will also grant the city the right to take title of the four branch library still owned by SLMA. This is not a huge deal, as they were trying to unload them anyway. However, this will assure that the city can maintain the branches that it has without worrying about leases for another four buildings.

After the Central Library’s news, the best part was totally unexpected. City residents will be able to go to the museums FREE OF CHARGE. Harkening back to the good old days when local banks were numerous and local contributors’ pockets deep, are fully open to the public. In exchange the city is also upping its annual contribution to the Association by $200,000 to $1.3 million. While I would like to see improvements to exhibit, namely in the Science Museum, that can be saved for the city’s flusher times. In any case, as only one piece of good news out of many for the city (see Urban Compass), things may deffinately be looking up.

Incidentally, this entire situation of a City-run library system and ultimately this agreement started and ended with Charles Ryan. He was not mayor at the time that he led a revolt against the truncated library hours following massive state aid cuts. However, it did signal his return to the city’s center stage. With this issue settled, it may seem fitting that this will be his last term as mayor. Just a little musing there. In any case, future generations will remember him for this and not just the Control Board. I’m not saying they’ll be raising any monuments to him in the Quadrangle either, but who knows?

However, the results are tangible. Having a city-run library, though initially opposed by some, including my former librarian grandmother, has had its benefits. Branches are open more, and the library is controlled by the city rather than the Association, which typically favored the museums over the library. The Association for some time was dominated by the suburbs, which had their own libraries. Following the separation, fears arose over the status of the Central Library. However, with the issue settled and part of the Association’s board guaranteed to be Springfield residents, the city and Association might be able to finally get their acts together and remember whom they serve…the community.