I like to share with you a brief history of the Miami-Dade Public Library System.
Since 1971, the Miami-Dade Public Library System has been serving the majority of residents within unincorporated Miami-Dade and most municipalities. Due to the support of many past leaders and elected officials, the Library System steadily grew in number of branches and types of services provided to the public. Our library system provided a myriad of programs that range from storytelling to expected mothers, newborns and toddlers; computer courses for those who are not able to afford them; workshops for those who come to this country in the hopes of a better life and services to a person’s home when they are not able to visit a library due to a disability or end of life.
In 2008 the Library System reached what could be called a zenith when it was awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Services. This national recognition of excellence was presented to the Library Director by first lady Laura Bush. As many library employees celebrated this achievement, little did we know that three years later under Mayor Gimenez the Library System would be the target for decimation for reasons we still do not know.
In 2011, just a few months after Mayor Gimenez started his job with the County; He targeted the Library System and reduced the millage by 50%. He claimed that this was done in order to use up a large reserve that the library held for expansion of its branches to many underserved areas in the County. However, the mayor went beyond a reduction in the millage to use up the reserves. He also eliminated 160 full time positions and 100 part time positions cutting library staff by one third.
Now we come to 2013. The reserves are gone and because of the Mayor’s actions the millage is only able to cover half of the operating funds needed to run this system. So now we have another purge within library ranks and this time half of the staff will be gone.
Yes, you will have 4 buildings with a large sign on them branding them as libraries. But in fact what residents of Miami-Dade County will have are 45 facades. Most services will be self-service. Books will become outdated. Computers will break but will not be replaced because they will not be able to keep replacements in stock. There will not be staff to repair damaged equipment in a timely fashion. You can reserve an item but they will not be able to tell you when you can expect it, so drive to wherever it is and you can get it sooner. Programs will be nonexistent with no staff to do toddler stories, or children’s programs or team events or assistance programs for the elderly.
A System with 45 buildings that includes a Main Library, five regionals, soon to be six when Aventura opens in 2014 and less than 200 staff members to keep them running and offering services to the community. You do the math and are very simple that this numbers does not lie.
The future is bleak for this once honored Library System. Patrons will become angry with staff because of the reduction in services, the lack of up to date technology and online products, as well of materials available at each branch. They will complain to managers and administrators who share their concerns but are helpless to do anything about it because resources will just not be available. Upset and disillusioned patrons will leave the system. Wealthy and educated municipalities will be fed up with the situation and take back their branch thereby further reducing the funding for the system. Finally it will fall into mediocrity and become just another government bureaucratic animal that serves no one but it’s nice to have it in the County’s portfolio as a great place to live.
A rich vibrant Library is a direct link to all our communities but their primary importance is to those who do not share many of the benefits offered by our society. Those who for financial reasons are not able to afford a computer and cannot afford to pay for courses to teach who to use technology to better their life. Libraries bridge this gap by providing opportunities to those disadvantaged segments of our communities and as they grow they can become productive members of our society.
It is not hard to see why politicians like Mr. Gimenez are not able to see the value that libraries bring. They see police and corrections and see crime statistics. With Fire you see lives saved and property protected from fire. But how do you measure a four year old who learns the love of reading and the drive to search for answers that will make him/her a success twenty years down the road. Or a teenager who spends his time on a computer or in a teens program instead of on the streets with the wrong crowd. A choice to follow learning and development instead of a life of crime and violence. What is the value of this decision? I can assure you that many do but we do not follow them during the next decade of their life to see what the seed of knowledge and hunger for truth germinates into an asset for society.
I hope you think about these facts and see the damage that is being done, not just to 169 families facing layoff, but the number of underserved persons throughout this County who will no longer have a place ready and willing to help when the need arises.
Library Employee 169