By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Boston Public Library

Politics and the BPL (II)

Fired Boston Public Library president Bernard Margolis goes after Mayor Tom Menino in today’s lead story in the Boston Globe. And Margolis’ comments are in perfect accord with this week’s Boston Phoenix editorial, which I flagged last Friday.

According to Margolis, the mayor had actually rebuffed his efforts to strengthen the branch libraries — a shortcoming supposedly responsible for Margolis’ ouster — and then turned around and used that as an excuse to get rid of him.

Globe reporter Donovan Slack’s story includes this:

Margolis said he knew in May that his contract would not be renewed, when [Menino chief of staff Judith] Kurland visited him at the library. After taking a tour and perusing 17th-century documents from the Bay Colony, she delivered the news.

“She said, ‘I want to tell you that your contract will not be renewed when it’s up next year,’ ” Margolis said. “She said, ‘If the trustees don’t go along with it, they will be removed.’ “

Kurland confirmed that she had told Margolis his contract would not be renewed, but she denied that she had talked to him about replacing trustees not willing to go along. “What I said was, ‘We do have the votes not to reappoint, if you want us to take a vote on it,’ ” Kurland said.

The only way Menino can make amends for this stunning exercise in political bullying is to bring in a first-class replacement for Margolis. We’ll see.

Politics and the BPL

So what is the real reason that Bernard Margolis is being forced out of his job as president of the Boston Public Library? To read the Boston Globe’s coverage, you’d think Margolis had all but ignored the neighborhood branches over the past 10 years. A Globe editorial endorses that view.

But a Boston Phoenix editorial this week places the blame squarely on Mayor Tom Menino, who reportedly has never liked Margolis, and who has decided to indulge his penchant for stacking his administration with loyalists rather than put up with an independent-thinking visionary.

According to the Phoenix, three BPL trustees held Menino off from acting on his worst instincts over the years — former Globe publisher William Taylor, former Massachusetts Senate and UMass president Bill Bulger and state Rep. Angelo Scaccia. But Taylor is no longer a trustee, Bulger and Scaccia have lost clout, and Menino is now free to do what he pleases.

Here’s the heart of the editorial:

Now that Margolis’s firing is about to be made official, the city is being treated to a campaign of disinformation suggesting that, while Margolis was good for the historic central library in Copley Square, his track record in the branches was lacking. This is rubbish, so out of line with reality that it approaches a big-lie strategy: tell a whopper with enough conviction and frequency and you can get the public to believe it. It will probably work. Also wrested out of context are recycled versions of Margolis’s unwillingness to install Internet filters — except for children — on library computers. Free speech may be uncomfortable at times, but it should never be so in a library.

I covered the filter controversy for the Phoenix back in 1997, shortly after Margolis had arrived, and I was impressed with his sophisticated, sensitive approach. He easily could have sided with Menino and engaged in out-and-out censorship, or taken an absolutist free-speech view and refused to install any filters. Instead, he found intelligent middle ground.

Ten years is a long time to run a major cultural institution such as the BPL. If the trustees replace Margolis with someone of equal stature, but perhaps with a different set of priorities, then no harm will have been done except the damage that’s already been unfairly visited upon Margolis’ reputation.

But the Phoenix editorial makes a convincing case that Margolis is being let go for all the wrong reasons. Those of us who love libraries ought to be concerned.

Photo (cc) by seahills1. Some rights reserved.

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