Striking a blunt tone, a consultant’s report on chronic neglect besetting the Boston Public Library’s world-class art collection calls on Mayor Martin J. Walsh to increase resources to address decades of inadequate record keeping, storage, and staffing.
The 34-page report, commissioned by the library, contends the collection of prints and drawings deserves better organization and leadership, more employees to look after it, and “the respect and acclaim” of the city. It said a greater investment of resources is essential to bring the print department in line with contemporary best practice and standards.
“The mayor says that the library must do better. Well and good, the staff are willing and eager to do better but cannot do more than they do now without additional resources,’’ the report said. “Where are these to come from? . . . How can they do better within the city imposed limitations on full-time staff?”
The report, which took a year to complete, was submitted to the library officials by Simmons College professor Martha Mahard in late May, roughly seven weeks after the system’s leaders became aware that two valuable pieces of art were missing and a criminal investigation was launched. The study, details of which the Globe first revealed on Monday, was released publicly Tuesday.
It also emerged Tuesday that the professor, aided by Simmons interns, on June 8 began conducting an item-by-item inventory of the thousands of pieces in the library’s print collection. It is expected to be completed in nine months.
The vanished artwork — an Albrecht Dürer engraving valued at more than $600,000, and a Rembrandt etching worth $30,000 — highlighted deficiencies at the library, and prompted library president Amy E. Ryan to announce she was stepping down. Ryan had little backing from City Hall, with Walsh and his chief of staff, Daniel Koh, criticizing her during the biggest crisis of her nearly eight-year tenure. The artwork was eventually found 80 feet from where the pieces should have been filed.
The mayor, through his spokeswoman, contends that the city has already made significant investments for improvements at the library.
“Mayor Walsh is committed to finding the best way to move the entire library system forward and looks forward to closely coordinating with the Boston Public Library to implement thoughtful reforms and realize possible efficiencies within their current funding structure,’’ Laura Oggeri said.
City contributions to the library’s overall budget increased steadily since the recession, even as the library’s capital budget rose. Walsh also increased city funding for the library from $33.4 million in this fiscal year to $34.1 million next year. The city contributes about 80 percent of the library’s overall budget of over $42 million.
Michael Colford, director of library services, said in an interview that the report is the result of a years-long strategic planning effort. As part of that process, the library singled out its print collections, which has 320,000 items, for strengthening and growth.
Last year, in a move that now seems prescient, the library commissioned Mahard to assess the collection, particularly how items are organized and cataloged, and the secure area where they are kept.
“We wanted the facts,’’ Colford said. “We wanted to know exactly want needed to be done. . . . We asked her to be frank.”
Mahard produced three preliminary assessments over the year, and in her fourth and final report, she was not sparing in her harsh analysis of the state of the collections and the role of the city in the library system.
She cited inadequate staffing and leadership in the department, and took pains to note the need for better control over the contents of the vast collection. She also addressed the missing artwork.
“Years of neglect and ineffective leadership (particularly at the departmental level) led to the current situation in which it is possible for two prints such as these to be mislaid,’’ Mahard wrote in the report.
She said preservation of the collections has become urgent. Stewardship of the collection, she wrote, has “clearly faltered.”
“Today, intellectual and physical access to the BPL’s Print Collection is inconsistent, idiosyncratic, and requires intensive mediation by three long-term staff members. The card catalog, maintained for nearly 50 years, is now out of date and not accessible to the public,’’ the report said.
She said much of the problem stems from decades of poor recordkeeping, leaving the library unable to document large quantities of new items.
“It may be futile to assert that the collection is understaffed and badly housed in inadequate space,’’ Mahard wrote. “This plaintive tune has been repeated since 1944 when the first Keeper of Prints began reporting his need for better ventilation and better lighting, more space and, by 1950, for more staff. If requests for more staff and more space are to be ignored as mere background noise . . . then how are we to proceed?”
The report said the print department is a strong candidate for outside grants, but some benefactors may be hesitant.
“Granting agencies will want to be assured of sustainability and the ongoing commitment of the library and particularly the city administration to maintenance and accessibility of the collections,’’ Mahard said in the report.
Mahard said the staff cares about the welfare of the collections and has been frustrated by the working conditions. The print department has had just three full-time employees for the past decade, although other staffers help out, officials said.
The three staff members’ responsibilities include answering routine reference questions, maintaining the stacks, and cataloging the collection while also staying current on new academic developments. “This is both unreasonable and unrealistic,’’ the report said.
Mahard’s study also notes chronic lack of space and storage. Artwork and historical photographs require large, clean surfaces, and good lighting to be properly handled and examined, the report said. However, it noted, there is no table or surface in the print stack or the staff office able to accommodate two standard matted prints at the same time.
The report recommends a “clean sweep,’’ getting rid of supplies and artwork that do not belong in the department, and imposing “an order that will make more sense.”