The Birmingham Public Library Board of Trustees has delayed a proposed vote to shut down four library branches after receiving criticism from city leaders, including Mayor Randall Woodfin.
In a letter to BPL staff sent out Oct. 8, board President Eunice Johnson Rogers said the board would consider shutting down the BPL’s East Ensley, Ensley, North Avondale and Titusville locations during its Oct. 12 meeting.
“Now we are challenged with supporting Mayor Woodfin’s vision of decreasing the number of Birmingham Public Library physical locations,” Rogers wrote. “After careful consideration, the BPL Board of Trustees recommends the permanent closure of the East Ensley, Ensley, North Avondale and Titusville Branch Libraries. All branch libraries identified for closure are located less than three miles from another BPL location.”
Rogers’ letter said staff from those branches would be reassigned to work at the BPL’s Five Points West, Avondale and North Birmingham branches.
“It would be great if we could continue to maintain each branch location, but in this current environment it is just not feasible,” Rogers wrote.
During Oct. 12’s City Council meeting, Council President William Parker said councilors found out about the proposed closures at the same time as staff.
“The first time that we received communication was about 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon,” he said, adding that the board had subsequently opted to remove the proposed closures from its agenda.
Parker assured the public that the vote had been delayed.
Despite being cited in Rogers’ letter, Woodfin said he had not been consulted on the decision and did not support the library closures.
“I haven’t spoken with President Rogers,” he said in a statement. “I have not been afforded the opportunity to share my vision with her or anyone on the library board. I am extremely disappointed in Ms. Rogers’ decision to announce plans to consider closing facilities without pausing to consult me, nor the council nor the residents. Such unilateral action by the library board president jeopardizes confidence in the board tasked with overseeing our libraries. The public expects better, and I expect better. The board has received recommendations from people they’ve hired to assess the library system. They should have an honest conversation with the public and open communications with the council and me rather than Ms. Rogers playing games.”
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Parker suggested that the council would soon appoint new members to the library board.
“There are some things this council can do and was prepared to do before the meeting at 4:30 p.m. today,” he said. “Some of the board members’ [terms] have expired, and some will be expiring fairly soon … We will deal with them accordingly. Overall, there are good people on the board, but I think sometimes they just put the cart before the horse.”