Library Advocates Say Gimenez Budget Would Slash Services For Miamians

At Pinecrest Branch Library, there are homeschooling groups where children and parents get to sit on rugs and cushions while working together. There's a genealogy group, creative writing sessions, a podiatrist teaching a 'Happy Feet' class and free summer lunches for children. And that's only on a Tuesday.

It's all part of the programming that advocates say Miamians will lose out on if Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez gets his way with next year's proposed budget. "The community is going to be cheated if the mayor continues to insist that a library is just a facility when it is so much more than that," Patricia Gormley, co-founder for Community Advocates for Libraries in Miami, tells Riptide.

See also: Library Supporters Feel Betrayed By Mayor Gimenez's Budget

In a press conference Tuesday, Gimenez proposed to raise the library tax rate, but only enough to allocate $45 million to the financially troubled system. His proposal also included replacing 94 full-time professional positions with part-time staff.

Gimenez says the move is necessary to balance a lopsided county budget, but library advocates are upset as their pleas with the mayor have fallen on deaf ears. They aim for a $64 million budget.

The fate of the library system is now on the Miami-Dade County Commission. They will set the millage rate, a term for special tax rate, that generates money for libraries in a meeting on Tuesday, July 16.

In the meantime, librarians and their advocates are highlighting the community services they say would likely get axed if the budget passes as is.

Gormley, who is married to a librarian, is part of a network of library supporters that is outraged with the county's cuts to library funds. This network has emerged as librarians are strongly encouraged not to speak on the state of the library system, which is why multiple community advocacy groups have emerged in their defense.

Since 2010, library revenues have been cut by 55 percent as the county continues to lower the property tax rate allocated to libraries. Yet in these four years, countywide property taxes have only seen a 2.78 percent reduction.

Gimenez has said that he will not support raising taxes, which means sacrificing libraries again. This comes after the mayor has said that the age of the library is over and can be readily replaced with technology.

"He judges the library without truly understanding what we do," said Ellen Book, a veteran librarian and CALM member. "He damns our libraries without any real reason."

To put the cuts into perspective, the budget for materials in Broward and Tampa is upwards of $5 million, while this year it was just over $700,000 in Dade. This leaves little money to buy new books, let alone replace damaged old ones. These cuts have already resulted in enormous personnel and materials cuts, leaving the county's 49 existing libraries without enough professional staff and even less books.

Online resources will also have to be sacrificed if cuts continue. Among these is Mango Languages, an online language learning course that allows one to learn 63 languages. The program is accessible online 24 hours a day all for free with a library card.

Bookmobiles in the county have cut down on routes as only two or four trucks are driving to neighborhoods far from a library.

Not to mention SMART tutoring, a program that offered free math, reading, and science tutoring by licensed teachers on Saturdays. That program is altogether gone.

"People think that information online is always free, but archives, books, librarians that can point you to the right answer: that all costs," Book said.

A Miami-Dade library card entitles residents to archives, more than 15,000 downloadable books, magazines, music databases, and even services to study for citizenship and college entrance exams.

The list of programs goes on and on, while many residents don't even know they exist.

"People can't call the library obsolete if they don't know what it has to offer," Book said. "There's been no push to get this out except for a librarian actually standing one-on-one and explaining it to people."

Book, whose statements and opinions do not represent the Miami-Dade Public Library, also noted how the library system is suffering from brain drain as young librarians, as well as more seasoned professionals, are leaving to work in places like Tampa, Boston, and Broward County.

To make matters worse, the county has had to use cash reserves that were once dedicated to construction and renovation money just to keep doors open. Libraries like the Coconut Grove and North Dade Regional Branch have suffered without air conditioning because of lack of funds.

"You're not going to see cute pictures of families reading together in a library if it's a library with no air conditioning," Book said. "When you leave everything downtrodden, it just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

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