Under pressure over missing art, Boston Public Library chief resigns
Boston Public Library president Amy E. Ryan, who has been under fire since two valuable pieces of art were reported missing in April, announced her resignation Wednesday amid mounting criticism from the Walsh administration.
In a statement, Ryan said she would resign July 3 after eight years to “allow the work of the Boston Public Library to continue without distraction.”
“I love Boston, and I love the Boston Public Library,” Ryan, 64, said in a telephone interview. “I teamed up with the staff and the public and we accomplished a lot of great things.”
The chairman of the library’s board of trustees, Jeffrey B. Rudman, had offered steadfast support for Ryan as controversy grew around the missing artwork. But Ryan found no support at City Hall, where Mayor Martin J. Walsh and his chief of staff, Daniel Koh, became increasingly pointed in their public comments.
During a special meeting of the library’s trustees Wednesday morning, Koh chastised the board for failing to serve as “an independent check” on Ryan and her staff. He questioned how artwork valued at $630,000 “was allowed to go missing for nearly a year without anyone noticing.”
“I, and more importantly the mayor, are gravely concerned about what has happened and are concerned that things are not being taken as seriously as they should be,” Koh told the trustees.
He added, “We also have significant concerns and fears that more may be missing.”
In fact, immediately after the meeting, Ryan told reporters that someone told her in an e-mail that the library’s music curator said several pages were missing from a music manuscript. She declined to give more details, saying her staff was reviewing the allegation and would notify police if it is confirmed.
Later Wednesday, a library spokeswoman provided a copy of the e-mail, dated May 30, which indicated that the music sheets went missing before Ryan’s tenure.
The e-mail indicated pages of several scores of music donated 20 years ago by the family of Boston-area composer William Thomas McKinley were stolen “a few years later.”
Last week, the library also disclosed it received another e-mail, on May 22, from someone who said gold coins that had once been stored in a time capsule in the cornerstone of the McKim building were also missing.
Ryan was adamant when meeting with reporters Wednesday morning that she did not plan to step down, despite harsh comments during the meeting from critics, including one who called for her dismissal. But by late afternoon, she issued a statement announcing her resignation.
“It had been on mind,” Ryan said later in the day, “but I wasn’t ready to resign by announcing it to the press.”
Ryan was paid $193,000 in 2014, according to payroll records.
Walsh said during a brief telephone interview Wednesday that he never asked for Ryan’s resignation and was waiting for the results of an ongoing criminal investigation into the two missing prints, and an internal inventory by the library to determine whether more pieces are missing.
Still, he said he was troubled that Ryan was unaware that her staff knew the artwork was missing for nearly a year before telling her.
“Ultimately it falls on the leader,” Walsh said. “You’re supposed to have faith and trust in the team you have around you.”
The prints — an Albrecht Dürer engraving titled “Adam and Eve,” valued at $600,000, and an etching by Rembrandt, “Self-Portrait With Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre,” valued at up to $30,000, have disappeared from the library’s Copley Square branch.
Ryan was hired during the administration of former mayor Thomas M. Menino. She was lured away from a top library post in Minneapolis, where she had worked for decades.
In his 17 months in office, Walsh and the library president never developed a close relationship.
Before the art controversy, Walsh only met twice with Ryan to specifically discuss the library, according to the mayor’s schedule obtained through the open records law. But, Walsh said that he met with Ryan more frequently to discuss the library budget and other issues, noting that she attended department head meetings.
Rudman, the chairman of the board of trustees, spoke glowingly of Ryan’s accomplishments during Wednesday’s meeting, and after learning of her resignation said, “I’m so sad. She is both a wonderful librarian and a wonderful human being.”
Boston police, the FBI, and the US attorney’s office are looking into the disappearance of the Dürer engraving and the Rembrandt etching, and police launched an investigation on April 29. Police said they are examining the possibility that the prints were stolen by employees.
Yet, they have not ruled out the possibility that they were simply misfiled among the library’s collection of more than 200,000 prints.
Ryan said she was stunned to learn that members of her staff discovered the Dürer was missing in June 2014, but did not notify her until April 10. She said she immediately launched an internal search and when she learned the Rembrandt was missing on April 15, notified the mayor and police commissioner.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Ryan released new details about the disappearance of the prints. She said her staff discovered the Dürer was missing on June 10, 2014, when a group of students came to view it. It had last been seen when another group of students viewed it at the library on April 2, 2014, she said.
Some of the trustees expressed concerns that library employees had not brought the disappearance of the prints to Ryan’s attention, saying it raised questions about the workplace culture at the library.
Ryan and her staff spent much of the meeting Wednesday describing ongoing efforts to enhance security at the library and inventory all of its items. They also rebutted some of the findings in a city-commissioned audit that describes inadequate protection and haphazard storage of prized items at the library.
Ryan said her predecessors over the past several decades aggressively acquired new items for the library’s vast collection, but failed to catalog and inventory them. Now, the library is temporarily halting new acquisitions and restricting public access to some collections as it inventories every item, she said.
During her tenure, Ryan has been credited with increasing visibility of neighborhood branches, boosting special exhibits, digitizing more collections, and being the driving force behind a $78 million renovation of the Johnson building.
“I’ve always been proud to say I’m a librarian,” Ryan said after announcing her resignation, calling it a profession that adds to the quality of life and helps people fulfill their dreams.
As for her next chapter, Ryan said, ”I’m looking forward to sitting in one of those Adirondack chairs in the reading porch in [the new] East Boston [library] and reading a book from the library.”