Libraries as a Positive Force in Miami-Dade, Florida

We here at Libraries Changed My Life are very concerned about the libraries of Miami-Dade, Florida. The mayor of Miami-Dade, Carlos Gimenez, has stated the the age of libraries is probably over, even though the libraries of his county are well-used. Mayor Gimenez is looking to close 13 libraries, change 9 of the libraries into “Homework Centers” (which may or may not employ librarians) and layoff 250 employees. 

This is unacceptable.

Even if you’re not a Florida resident, you’re probably a library supporter, so this affects you. The threat to libraries is real and it is harmful to all of us, regardless of where we live.

Please, sign their petition, "like" them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and Tumblr. Support them. Let them know you care. Share their posts with your friends. 

I have a long list of what Miami-Dade residents can do, but it’s very long so we’re going to include it in another post.

This upcoming submission is from an anonymous Miami-Dade librarian. It’s longer than our usual posts, but I beg you to read it all and share it widely. If you can’t read the whole thing, take a look at the last couple of paragraphs. There are facts there that cannot be ignored. We want Mayor Gimenez to know that the world is watching what he is doing to libraries and that we do not approve

Please get mad. Please get outraged. Please recognize how awful this is for the library workers and library users of Miami-Dade. 

And now, our post.

~Ingrid of LCML

It’s probably a cliché coming from a librarian, but I have to say it: libraries and librarians have always played an important role in my entire life – and it is important to note the power that stems from having a local branch within practical walking distance from your home. From my local library, I was first exposed to the responsibility of having a library card, I was exposed to books every day throughout my youth, and it was there that I applied for a job that would lead into my career today.

As a high school graduate, I walked into the very same branch that I first obtained my library card in. I approached the Reference Desk and asked if there were any job openings available. The librarian looked very kindly at me, and handed me an application form for the part-time positions. I interviewed, and received an offering for a job at a new branch just about 15 miles away from my home—and I gladly accepted. 

At my new job, I learned that the library before me was (is) a space of creativity, of art, of recreation, of education, of community, of socialization, and imagination, all facilitated by librarians who sincerely cared about each patron who walked through their doors. I was put to work every 19 hours of the week, shelving, answering patrons’ questions, setting up for programs, and the entire time, I was fascinated with the amount of work that the head librarians, put into their job. Sensing my exuberance, the two of them took me under their wings with an almost maniacal eagerness (“Yes! We snagged another one!”) and threw me into every program, every Outreach, and onto every desk to broaden my experience.

The work of the amazing staff was so obviously done with love and care that it was contagious. I knew nearly right away that I had to follow in their footsteps and become not their employee, but their colleague. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this profession would not only be FUN, but it would be the BEST way to give back to my community. 

So, after my undergraduate career, I made the decision to pursue librarianship and my Master’s Degree. I managed to secure a full-time position and promotion, and left the branch that I had come to call home for 3 years. 

Yet, in 2011, in the middle of our recession, our taxes were lowered drastically to help homeowners and taxpayers. However, the public library, funded by taxpayer money, was faced with the closure of 13 branches and 150+ layoffs. At 21, I realized that there was so much more to government than ‘lowering taxes’ and voting for individuals who I synced my social views with. Fortunately, the community pushed back enough that no branches were closed. Unfortunately, the layoffs still occurred, and included me along with it.

After I received the news, I gathered with friends, had a few drinks and together, we wallowed in our sorrow as 300 employees were given their 21-day-notice pink slips all in one day.

It was one of the most trying times I have experienced.

Still, I felt confidence in my chosen profession. I scoured online for library assistant jobs in nearby universities and managed to obtain a Circulation supervisor position in a private university. I continued on in my degree so that I could one day work alongside the individuals I admire and within the community that I love. I graduated just last year and my dream came true: I was rehired with the Miami Dade Public Library System as a fully-fledged Librarian. 

Being re-hired was funny—and not in a mirthless, ironic sort of way, but in a positive, unusual way. I felt right at easy the moment I stepped in the branch I had been assigned to, though I had only been there once before. I felt right at ease behind the reference desk, felt right at ease stepping out in front of it to assist patrons at the computer with job searches and résumés. I told my new coworkers, who were taken aback by my quick adaptation, that it had felt like I had never left—that I had come back home. 

Fast-forward a little over a year later into 2013, working with teens and children, with hundreds of innovative and technology based programs, and new experiences – I was faced with déjà-vu: budget cuts.

And here is where the real meat starts. 

Our National Award winning Miami Dade Public Library System is facing the worst budget cuts in the history of the United States. On July 16, our elected officials expedited a budget discussion and voted to keep our tax-rate for the Library and Fire Departments flat, thereby solidifying the terrifying possibility of branch closures and layoffs.

At that time, a worst-case scenario was announced, 22 branch closures with a crippling 251 layoffs. That is nearly half of our 49 branch system and more than half of the staff.Even worse, 15 of those branches were in lower income neighborhoods, including the poorest city of Miami-Dade County: Opa-Locka, with a median-household income of about ~$15,000.

The tax raise to save our libraries and staffing would have been an average increase of 5 cents more a day for the next fiscal year. Quite literally, pennies a day.

With renegotiating of leases, the County Administration has managed to “save” 9 branches from closure. These branches that were removed from the chopping block will instead face drastic hour and staffing cuts and may be labeled as “Technology Homework Centers,” possibly manned not by librarians, but by either volunteers or contract employees without the training necessary to keep a library functioning.

The reasoning? Apparently there was no support for our public services – that despite being faced with a cut in services, people were surveyed and the majority declared that they would not want their taxes raised. 

Yet, the truth comes out; only about 1500 individuals were Robo-Polled prior to discussions of the budget, and 800 more after that. Robo-polling does not reach individuals with cell phones, thereby alienating a large base of the county population, nor (most importantly) cannot confirm whether that individual is a registered voter. If our county administration was to initiate a robo-poll again, it will not generate the same results because it cannot confirm what person it reached, as it does not cross reference against a voter list. It does not dial numbers to reach identified houses that hold voters; it randomly dials numbers that could possibly be within the city.

To add more insult to injury, our Mayor has stated that “The age of the book is probably ending.”

Our elected officials have pictures plastered all over the library branches, their smiling faces, holding a book, and the text of “READ” over their heads – yet it has become suddenly clear that these posters were all for good PR, that they had never stepped foot into a library, that if they knew what really went on in there, they would understand that a library is a necessity, and not a luxury. They would understand what it meant to the community – and, who can deny these particular overwhelming statistics: the Miami Dade Public Library System serves a population of over 2 million people, has 1 million registered borrowers, and saw over 6 million visitors last year.

In regards to the budget—our Mayor can only say one thing: “It is what it is.”

In order to prep for the worst-case scenario, we have begun downsizing our programs and collections. We know that we do not have enough space for all the collections from the closing branches, or space for the furniture or even newly updated computers. After rearranging our Main Library, historical items – and soon they may be discarded. “Fahrenheit 451” has become a reality for us. Millions of dollars invested by the taxpayers over a span of 40+ years, special collections built to preserve our culture and history of Miami – all undone with a 15 minute vote on the tax-rate. 

To battle against our Mayor’s misconceptions of libraries being outdated, and to inform our people – our patrons – a grassroots movement has begun. Our movement, dubbed “Save the Miami Dade Public Libraries” aims toward fully funding the library system, staff and all, and has reached 4000+ supporters. Yet, of the thousands that support us, there are thousands more that remain unaware and will suffer should this budget be allowed to go through. Library supporters and staff have taken to rallying in the streets, rallying at Town Hall Meetings, and fighting not simply for these institutions that we love so much, but for our community.

It pains me to think that individuals who are supposed to represent us do not seem to see the value in our libraries and librarians. That do not see what is so obvious to me, to my colleagues, to the millions of patrons that walk through our doors. 

I think of the West Kendall Regional Branch and wonder, where will my neighbors go? I think of the library branches that have been there for many, many years, even before I was born, and wonder how people will feel to pull on the doors and feel the jam of the lock prevent them from opening up a place that was once magical? 

Libraries and librarians have shaped my life in such a way that I cannot separate myself any longer. I have chosen this career, I chose this profession, and I do not wear it like a mask that I can take on and off. The values of my career have become so embedded in me, that I cannot shed such ideals to solely become “a taxpayer” or “voter” – I am a librarian who wants the best for her community, both inside the walls of the library, and outside of it.

But right now, in reflection, I am a librarian, who clings to the library card that she received as a child, and wonders what the future holds for her community. 

~Submitted by a Miami-Dade librarian

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