Shuttered Hartford Branches Get Second Reprieve

Shuttered Hartford Branches Get Second Reprieve

The Hartford, Connecticut, city council broke into cheers September 9 at the announcement that two state legislators had persuaded the leaders of the state house and senate to give the city library one-time donations of $100,000 apiece from their respective $2-million contingency funds to reopen the Blue Hills and Mark Twain branches as of September 15. “I’m thrilled, I’m thrilled because we seemed to be at an impasse,” Hartford Public Library board President Geraldine Sullivan said in the September 10 Hartford Courant. “This is a way that gives everybody time to reassess how the city wants to fund the library, and at what level, and how we’re going to proceed.”

“It was to me a no-brainer,” House Speaker James Amann (D-Milford) told the Courant of his contribution. “The kind of activities that occur at a library are the things we want to see young people involved in,” state Sen. Eric Coleman (D-Hartford) told the Courant, noting his frustration that library services were cut even as “there were young people on the street shooting at one another.”

Shuttered since July 3, the two libraries had been on the verge of reopening August 25 with an emergency $200,000 restoration to the library budget until Mayor Eddie Perez stopped the funds transfer because the city council had not specified from what budget line the cash-strapped city would get the money. The deadlock escalated when the board proposed a compromise to Perez September 4 that would entail its accepting a $50,000 restoration to the library budget provided that city officials not force HPL to find the other $150,000 in its already-reduced budget. Later that same day, the mayor’s office announced that Hartford had to cut $8 million from its FY2009 budget to make up for declining federal and state support.

The September 4 board meeting also brought trustees the news that Louise Blalock was retiring as director at the end of 2008 after 15 years at the library’s helm. “I’ve had a great run,” Blalock e-mailed American Libraries, emphasizing that the timing was unrelated to the tumultuous year the library has had. “I love a challenge and believe it is always an opportunity,” she added. “I have great faith the library will fulfill its mission; the people want their library.”

As if to prove Blalock’s point, community organizer Terese Walker of the Blue Hills Civic Association told the September 10 Courant, “We need to set something in place with the budget [because] in Hartford, Connecticut, we’re not going to have libraries that are shut down.”

Posted on September 12, 2008. Discuss.