One of the things that makes Representative Byron Rushing’s work for the library a pleasure is the positive feedback he gets from its users. “If you ask people what they don’t like about the library, there’s very, very little that people say. People love libraries. People use words like that,” he says. “In fact, most of the suggestions I hear are to make the library more accessible and keep it as up to date as possible.”
That, of course, takes money, which prompts Byron to reflect on the library’s role as a public institution. “I think one of the things that people take for granted about libraries is one of the most profound things about them, and that’s that they are public institutions,” he says. “We really have very few public institutions—schools, parks—and there are not many public institutions we have that serve so many and such a variety of people.”
“Think about it,” he says. “When you compare libraries to parks, it’s sort of interesting, because in most parks, you can’t go pick the flowers. You’ll get arrested if you go to some parks and say, ‘Oh what wonderful flowers, I’m going to take some home.’ So think about how remarkable it is to be a library, because we let you borrow the books and the DVDs and even computers. What is so remarkable about the libraries is that they are a real example of a public institution and what it means to be a public institution.”
What it all comes down to is chiseled in granite above the doors of the Central Library in Copley Square: Free to all. “You can’t take that sign down,” Byron points out. “And everyone, when they see that, they know what that means. It means that all of the services of the library are available to everybody. And everyone knows to do that costs money. That’s the remarkable thing about a public institution—the public says we are actually willing to pay money in order for it to be available to everybody. We never want to get to a point where a significant amount of tax dollars aren’t going to the library, because that’s a significant part of what makes it public.”
Still, Byron believes that it’s important to find ways to add to the coffers with private funds. Those public dollars need to be supplemented. The library, like other cultural institutions, has the ability to raise money. A great future source of sustainability is the people who use the library for free, who “love the library,” and would welcome an opportunity to give back.
Underlying all of Byron’s activities on behalf of the Boston Public Library is a strong belief in the library’s robust future. “I’m a library user, I love libraries, and I’ve had an ongoing relationship with various branches over the years as I’ve done work in Boston,” he says. “I think that the library has an incredible constituency, which is bigger than its users, because people like libraries even if they buy books. The major resource the library has for sustaining itself is all the people who use it and love it.”