New Boston Public Library Fund Raises $6 Million

The newly created Fund for the Boston Public Library has raised a total of $6.1 million to date in only a few weeks, since Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced its creation on May 29. Library Director David Leonard hopes that the Fund may raise as much as $10 million annually, in addition to the BPL’s annual budget of approximately $49 million.

The newly created Fund for the Boston Public Library (BPL) has raised a total of $6.1 million to date in only a few weeks, since Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced its creation on May 29. Five prominent Boston organizations (Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Barr Foundation, The Boston Foundation, Liberty Mutual Foundation, State Street Foundation, Inc.) and an anonymous donor gave an initial $2.8 million in advance of the announcement. The inaugural gala raised an additional $3.3 million. Library Director David Leonard hopes that the Fund may raise as much as $10 million annually, in addition to the BPL’s annual budget of approximately $49 million. “If you look at everything people want us to do...that’s a budget of about 60 million,” he said in an interview.

The gala, held on June 7th, had over 400 attendees in black tie. Mayor Walsh was awarded the Bates Medal for his contributions to public education, and Boston Poet Laureate Danielle Legros Georges read her poem “Let in the Light,” which she wrote for the reopening of the central library in 2016. The poem takes its title from a phrase in a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1888 when the original cornerstone was laid. All attendees received a keepsake bookmark with a copy of Georges’s poem.

Boston Mayor addressing gala guests
Mayor Walsh addressing Gala attendees
Photograph courtesy of BPL

 

FUND GOALS

The Fund has four primary charges:

  1. Enhancing and expanding programming and outreach at the central and branch libraries
  2. Preservation, restoration, and renovation of the historic McKim building
  3. Development and protection of collections, particularly special and unique collections
  4. Digital innovations and technology

Leonard said the library hopes to expand existing programs, particularly for students such as homework help and after school programs. This focus on education meshes well with the background of Mary Flynn Myers, the new executive director of the Fund. Myers, who started in April, sees the Fund as a way of “reintroducing people to the library they already love and inviting them to participate.”

Myers, who had her first library job at 15, says she eagerly pursued this position and thinks the Fund is starting out on a very solid footing. She was attracted by the cause because it is easy for her to believe in; an important consideration in fundraising. The seed money, in addition to funding the goals of the library, will cover the operational costs of the Fund for at least the next few years. Myers hopes to build a team of four to six individuals who can work in a variety of areas such as an annual campaign, major gifts, planned giving, and special events. They will also be working to create a brand identity, logo, and vision statement for the Fund in the coming year.

 

PART OF A BIGGER PLAN

Another goal of the Fund is to complete the renovation of the historic McKim Building. Begun in the 1990s by the Boston Library Foundation, renovations were never finished. Library staff chose to hold the May 29 press conference in the Arts Hall, which used to hold the Fine Arts Department. The room is currently closed to the public because it is not up to code and badly in need of repair, with peeling paint and old windows. But it is a beautiful room that overlooks the central courtyard, similar in size the Bates Hall, the iconic reading room on the second floor of the library. Both Leonard and Myers hope that the restored areas will just not be displays “under glass,” but dynamic spaces where patrons can interact with the collections in meaningful ways. Given the value of Boston real estate, the amount of untapped potential in the McKim building for events and services is staggering.

composite of Boston Public Library architectural details, Mayor addressing crowd
Top: Arts Hall, photos by Cate Schneiderman; Bottom, Mayor Walsh addresses library audience, photo courtesy of BPL

The City of Boston provides 89 percent of BPL’s budget, with the state supplying only 5–7 percent, and the balance being covered by trusts, revenue from event rentals, and philanthropic efforts. The Fund, said Leonard, will allow BPL to pursue donors on the same level as comparable Boston cultural institutions such as the Institute for Contemporary Art. Its creation is another example of Mayor Walsh’s dedication to BPL. Walsh previously approved funding to complete the restoration of the Johnson Building in 2016 and has committed to an additional $128 million to the library over the next five years. Some $15 million of those funds is earmarked to renovate the Rare Book and Manuscript department, closed since 2015.

The Fund is not intended to supersede local friends groups, but rather as a way to streamline major giving to the library. Leonard said it will simplify communications and allow for more clarity when approaching large donors. In addition, BPL has just entered into a TEM-year agreement with the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, a semi-independent organization housed within the library. In years previous, the Leventhal has operated almost autonomously from the library, but this new agreement charts a more interconnected course for the two organizations. “This is a team,” said Leonard, “it is the people’s library. The path ahead is a true collaborative effort to make this one of the best public libraries in the country.”

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