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Why Libraries in Miami Are More Important Than Ever

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As The Dissident, J.J. Colagrande turns his critical eye on Miami culture. This week: Closing 22 libraries in Miami? You've gotta be kidding.

Closing almost half of the city libraries is wrong on so many levels, and it's time for a quick call-to-action to ensure that Mayor Carlos Gimenez changes his mind, before it's too late.

In case you didn't hear, the mayor, in a last minute reversal of plans, has flipped his position on raising property taxes, and instead, has decided to recommend cuts in community services.

According to the Miami Herald, the library system as well as the Fire Department would be hit the hardest. In a "worst case scenario," six fire stations would close down, and 22 libraries.

Not surprisingly, most of the libraries are in poor neighborhoods.

Let's be clear: libraries are more important than ever. Granted, the digital age is transforming how we read and gather information. But libraries are still central to that process. The primary purpose of a library is to offer access for the public to free information. Information and education do not grow on trees, after all.

Adults may be using libraries for Internet access more than books, but online access is still an essential service. A recent New York Times article cites: "More than a quarter of all adults used the Internet at a library during the past year. The numbers are higher for blacks and Latinos than for whites."

Additionally, almost one-third of adults in the U.S. do not subscribe to the Internet at home. That number is higher for African-Americans and Latinos. Imagine having no access to the Internet. How are those trying to improve their lives supposed to apply for jobs, research health care options, manage their money, or plan their children's futures?

Children, in fact, may suffer from Miami's loss of libraries even more than adults. Kids are reading more than ever. Two of the most successful genres in modern publishing are Young Adult and Children's books. Additionally, a huge chunk of Miami-Dade library event programming is aimed at kids, with recurring Teen Club and "Dig Into Reading" gatherings -- services that encourage education in a safe environment.

Bibliophiles hope that these children will continue to read into their adulthood. But closing libraries will cut off these benefits for kids who need them most.

Here is a list of the 22 libraries to be closed in a "worst-case scenario": California Club, Opa-locka, Golden Glades, Civic Center Kiosk, Lemon City, Little River, Model City, Culmer, North Shore, Shenandoah, South Shore, Fairlawn, Virrick Park, Country Walk, Concord, Sunset, Lakes of the Meadows, Tamiami, West Kendall Regional, Doral, Hialeah Gardens, and Palm Springs North.

Let's try to give our elected officials the benefit of the doubt. They're in a pickle.

If the Mayor and Commissioners don't want to raise property taxes -- and they won't; commissioners voted 8-4 to keep the property tax rate flat -- then they better find other ways to save money or raise revenue, other than gutting the library system. They have time, until October 1.

It is our duty to let them know that closing half the city libraries is unacceptable. But we must do so cautiously, with reasonable appeal, not cliché anger. Bringing up the botched Marlins Stadium fiasco will do no good right now. Hollering with misguided rage about the wages of City Employees will only lead those in charge to turn a deaf ear. Let's let them know with simplicity.

You can call the mayor's office at 305-375-5071. Email him at mayor@miamidade.gov. Hit up his Facebook page and Twitter feed. And don't forget the County Commissioners.

Let them know with a reasoned voice, plain and simple: Find another way.

J.J. Colagrande is the author of the novels Headz and Decò. Follow him on Twitter.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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