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Library chairman set to step down

Walsh asked for resignation after furor over artworks’ disappearance

Board Charman Jeffrey B. Rudman (left) and BPL President Amy E. Ryan (right) at a special meeting of Boston Public Library Board of Trustees earlier this month.
Board Charman Jeffrey B. Rudman (left) and BPL President Amy E. Ryan (right) at a special meeting of Boston Public Library Board of Trustees earlier this month.(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)

The furor surrounding the disappearance of valuable artwork from the Boston Public Library claimed another victim Thursday when Jeffrey B. Rudman, chairman of the library's trustees, submitted his resignation at City Hall.

But it was not a voluntary resignation. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, in what Rudman described to trustees as "a relatively brief and entirely cordial conversation," requested that Rudman step down. The move followed library president Amy E. Ryan's announcement last week that she, like Rudman, will leave July 3.

A statement from Walsh's press office recounted the exchange between the men: "During their meeting today, Mayor Walsh discussed wanting to go in a different direction with the BPL and the board. Jeff Rudman then offered his resignation and the mayor accepted."

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In an initial e-mail to trustees, Rudman wrote Thursday that Walsh "wants more of his own people on that board." Hours later, after news of the resignation began circulating, Rudman wrote another e-mail to them.

"I did not mean to suggest that the mayor was driven by any desire to put his own people on the board," Rudman said. "I think he wants a 'new direction' and, to the extent that we can be useful to working with the mayor, that would be just fine by me."

Rudman's departure was a stunning development in a weekslong saga that has enveloped the historic library.

A criminal investigation was launched in April into the disappearance of two prints by Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt, valued together at $630,000, from the library's vast collection of rare books, prints, and other artwork.

Boston police initially said they suspected an "inside job." The keeper of special collections was placed on paid administrative leave. But then the prints were discovered June 4 on a library shelf — "simply misfiled," Ryan said — a day after the library president announced she would step down.

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Ryan's resignation followed a special trustees meeting at which she faced withering criticism. The mayor's chief of staff, Daniel Koh, scolded trustees at the session for failing to serve as "an independent check" on Ryan and her staff. He also questioned why top library staff had not known the artworks were missing for nearly a year.

Rudman, a 65-year-old lawyer who retired last year as a senior partner at WilmerHale, remained one of Ryan's staunchest supporters. During the special trustees meeting, Rudman responded to Koh's criticism by saying, "If the allegation is, do I have confidence and respect in Amy Ryan, and do I think she's a great leader? Guilty as charged."

In a brief interview with the Globe, Rudman declined Thursday to elaborate on his e-mail to the trustees.

"I just want to say how lucky I was to have had all this time as the board chair of the Boston Public Library, to work with the trustees, and above all to work with Amy Ryan," said Rudman, who has donated more than $750,000 to the library.

Rudman was named a trustee in 2004 by former mayor Thomas M. Menino and became chairman in May 2006. During that time, the main library at Copley Square expanded its hours, access to online collections increased, and new neighborhood branches were constructed, library officials said.

Paul A. La Camera, administrator of public radio at WBUR and a library trustee, was effusive in his praise of Rudman.

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"In all my years in Boston, I have never been associated with a volunteer board member who brought more dedication, outright passion, and accomplishment to his leadership responsibilities," La Camera said. "The Boston Public Library is once again a nationally renowned institution and a national treasure, and much of that credit rests with Jeff."

However, the disappearance of the artwork illuminated a festering argument over how to manage the library's 500,000 rare books, 320,000 prints and drawings, 1 million manuscripts, and more than 1 million photographs in its world-renowned special collections.

Full-time staffing in that department has fallen 25 percent, from 16 to 12, during Rudman's tenure. Critics have complained that the library's treasures have been neglected, and that many of them are deteriorating or effectively lost in a cavernous space.

A city audit commissioned in December concluded that improvements are needed. Although the auditors praised the library system for its vision, digital potential, and robust support from trustees, they cited a need for "a stronger performance management culture." Only 19 percent of the library's assets can be found online, and there is no consolidated inventory, the audit said.

The auditors also concluded that "staff levels are not sufficient to properly care for aging items" in special collections, and that "storage is not suited to maintaining required environmental conditions. Security is insufficient to protect against internal theft."

Vivian Spiro, chairwoman of the Associates of the Boston Public Library, has long pressed for increased spending in the special collections.

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"Hopefully, this transition will provide many opportunities to explore new ways of keeping this vast treasure trove of materials viable, accessible, and safe," said Spiro, whose independent group is dedicated to conserving the collections. "In the meantime, Chairman Rudman deserves thanks for having taken on the responsibility of overseeing a major cultural institution that is more complicated than most."

Councilor Stephen J. Murphy, who called for reforms after the artworks disappeared, reacted bluntly.

"With the resignations of Amy Ryan and Jeffrey Rudman, the library can now begin to be more accountable to the taxpayers of Boston," Murphy said. "Mayor Walsh and his administration now have the opportunity to institute long-overdue management and safety protocols designed to preserve the integrity of such an important cultural landmark in this city."

The mayor thanked Rudman in a statement.

"We are fortunate to be home to one of the country's most renowned library systems, and it's important that we maintain the highest standard for the residents of Boston. Using the audit as a guide, I look forward to working with the library to strengthen our programs and services, especially in the neighborhoods, and the availability and security of our assets."

For his part, Rudman struck a wistful tone in his e-mail to trustees.

"I will be calling each of you individually just to chat and to reminisce," Rudman said. "But may I just say how wonderful it has been to work with all of you on behalf of the library we all love."

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Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie
@globe.com.