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October 22, 2014

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Miami’s Public Library Cuts Detrimental to Students

Miami Bus 8 2 13 SD flickr Miami’s Public Library Cuts Detrimental to Students

Photo by Ben Ostrowsky

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.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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  1. Please show your support for Miami-Dade County Public libraries and their STAFF @
    PETITION: http://www.change.org/petitions/miami-dade-county-commission-fully-fund-the-miami-dade-county-library-system
    FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/SaveTheMiamiDadePublicLibraries
    MAYOR GIMENEZ: mayor@miamidade.gov // 305-375-5071

  2. All memos explaining the future of Miami-Dade Public Library issued by the Mayor’s Office do not use the word librarian. 251 library staff are on the chopping block.

    The initial Miami Herald article which was retracted described a plan to close 44 of 49 libraries. One day later the number was publicized as 22. Fast forward a week, and the working parents’ argument that kids need a free afterschool safe space wins six more buildings a reprieve. Embracing a “change for change sake attitude” they are renamed “homework / technology centers.” This should make for edgy PR although the equipment and software are the same as before. All hired help will be part-time.

    To add suspense to the drama, the latest Mayor’s memo promises no less than 35 of the 49 buildings to remain. These survivors of this fiscal mayhem shall offer a “footprint” reminder of lost services, collections and professional librarians.

    For more information on how the grass roots battle is being fought for the 2.5 million residence of Miami-Dade go to https://www.facebook.com/SaveTheMiamiDadePublicLibraries

  3. Elyse Levy Kennedy says:

    Public libraries in Miami-Dade County are one of the best bargains the government has to offer. They cost relatively little to operate, are heavily used, and are efficiently managed. The aggregated public gets a huge return on its investment. Like schools, roads, fire services or lifeguards they exist for the greater good of all. Shortsighted politicians shoot themselves in the foot when they fail to realize that libraries make THEM look good. Let’s turn this disaster around before it is too late.