Draconian cuts to Miami public libraries—nearly 45 percent of its branches shuttered and more than 250 staff positions lost—stand to impact the community, including Miami’s school children.
“The worst case scenario is 22 libraries would have to be closed,” says Lisa Martinez, senior advisor in Miami-Dade’s Office of the Mayor, who oversees its library department. “The Mayor has charged us to bring that number down.”
At issue is a budget cut proposed by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, and approved by county commissioners, set to go through October 1. Lawmakers are trying to reduce the branches that may have to close before that deadline, and Martinez believes she is close to bringing the number of branches cut to 16. Still, they pose a monumental loss of service to Miami’s K–12 students, as some of the public libraries slotted to shut down are close to Miami-Dade County public schools.
West Kendall Regional, a 39,000 square-foot space and one of the original 22 slated for closure, is a 10-minute walk from Felix Varela Senior High School, and on the same block as Hammocks Middle School.
In the coming weeks, Martinez is analyzing schedules, community needs, and the geographic locations of the branches to try to stretch library resources, and attempt to save some of the branches that are in danger. She’s also looking at partnerships to offset costs, possibly reduce hours, and also considering ways the library funds services.
“If we have a library that has a staffing level of five, and one is responsible for maintaining the computers, how do we make sure that we deliver services, not just offer computers in the library,” she says.
School libraries may also be considered for some partnership, says Albert Pimienta, instructional supervisor of library media services for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, who says public school personnel are expecting to meet with the mayor’s office and the public library “on what the impact may be,” he says.
School libraries do work with the public libraries in Miami-Dade by cross-promoting events and encouraging students to get public library cards among other activities, he says. But school libraries are not meant to support public needs, adds Pimienta. While 343 of its schools have libraries, not all are staffed with certified media specialists. Some have clerical staff who handle circulation duties, but sometimes for just a few hours a day.
“I don’t think our intent is to serve the public at large,” he says. “I would be hard pressed to see how we could serve the public if it came to that.”
Laura Spears, a doctoral student at Florida State University, spent 30 years in South Florida, and taught online at Florida State University’s School of Library & Information Studies. She believes that the way public libraries are funded needs to change dramatically to ensure access for everyone.
“The bottom line is library funding really needs to be shaken up, but it has to be important to the decision makers,” she says. “It’s not clear to me that somebody like Miami-Dade’s mayor feels like it’s important.”