Miami-Dade County in Florida is experiencing an all-too-familiar crisis in recent years for librarians: public funding and budget crisis have prevented libraries from operating at full capacity for several years now. Combine that with the slow-creeping epidemic of library abandonment amongst youth, and Miami-Dade’s libraries have definitely been feeling the squeeze.
Luckily, county commissioners just last week voted for a tax increase in the area that would result in an $8 million increase over this year’s budget, and avoid cuts that had the library slated to actually lose millions in funding this year and be reduced to an operational budget of just $30 million next year (down from this year’s current $44 million budget).
For library advocates, this is a mixed victory. While the originally proposed budget would have been catastrophic to the public library operations next year, the new figure still falls short of what the library system calculates it will need to maintain in the coming months and years; they had hoped for $64 million in funding, while the newly approved budget allows the system $52 million instead.
“We are both happy and disappointed,” said John Quick of the Friends of Miami-Dade Public Libraries, summarizing the mixed feelings surrounding the decision. Even so, the organization thanked many of the supporters who not only signed a petition to the county commissioners on the issue of the library budget, but who also showed up at the meeting to speak out in favor of an increased budget for the coming year. These speakers likely helped the county commissioners to see the importance of the community libraries, and ultimately avoid the drastic cuts planned for next year.
From here, the Mayor will have to decide if he will veto or support the plan. Seeing as he had been the one to originally produce the drastic cuts, it may be a tough sell. That said, Mayor Gimenez did make a statement following the vote noting that he would have to carefully consider his response and actions from here.
The revised budget should be enough to not only maintain current operations, but to avoid the planned layoffs of nearly 90 library workers in the system. For these workers and their families, the decision can provide some temporary breathing room.
Even so, the library has cut operational hours several times over the last four years, and without the suggested budget increase to $64 million, representatives fear the library will fall short in its efforts to recover. Furthermore, libraries lucky enough to have higher revenue in the U.S. are enjoying the ability to implement new technologies and revolutionize the learning spaces they provide. In turn, these libraries become more desirable because they’re playing on the popularity of some of the very technologies that once threatened their traditional livelihood. Unfortunately for libraries not receiving adequate funding, this can become a vicious circle in which they fall farther and farther out of public interest due to not having the money to modernize, while at the same time the very reason they are considered undeserving of public funds is that they have shown a downward trend in popularity.
For the time being, however, Miami-Dade’s libraries are set to rest in a slightly comfortable and slightly uncertain middle ground.