Black in Time

Columnist: Libraries deserve our support

 

Proposed library closings

Miami-Dade County’s most recently announced plan calls for closing these libraries: California Club, Civic Center Kiosk, Concord, Country Walk, Doral, Fairlawn, Golden Glades, Hialeah Gardens, Model City, Palm Springs North, South Shore, Sunset, Tamiami and West Kendall Regional.

Eight libraries previously slated for closure have been tentatively removed from the list and would now remain open: Culmer, Lakes of the Meadows, Lemon City, Little River, North Shore, Opa-locka, Shenandoah and Virrick Park.

The county’s remainining 35 libraries would remain open.


Special to The Miami Herald

“Unthinkable” was the individual and collective response I received from some retired librarians regarding the closing of any Miami-Dade County library branches. The account of the planned closings also attracted national attention in The Library Journal, a national trade publication of librarians. It reports news about the library world emphasizing public libraries, and offers feature articles about aspects of professional practice. Several weeks ago the Library Journal began reporting the difficulties Miami-Dade County is facing continuing to fund all 49 library branches.

After reading the July 18 article, as a former school librarian, I contacted colleagues for their thoughts. All are deeply concerned, too. Alma Brown, a retiree from the county’s public library system, believes that libraries are equalizers of the community,“ libraries provide clean and wholesome services for everyone in the family including information to improve their life skills, literacy for adults, assistance with resume writing, free tax preparation, access to Internet, storytelling for children and many more services” all under one roof.

Storytelling helps children in their formative years said former school librarians Ellen Williams and Edna Thompkins. They recounted family experiences. Williams fondly remembers taking her grandchildren to the North Dade Regional Library and Thompkins and her daughter, Zandra Faulks, enjoyed field trips to the downtown library. (Both of those libraries would remain open.) Librarians agree that neighborhood libraries are a source of pride for children, adults and senior citizens to use books, access the Internet, job postings, genealogy and many enrichment programs. The public library provides a setting that promotes reading from books, tablets and online all in one place.

Concern for the underserved population was expressed by retired school librarians Carmen Jackson, Mary King, Evelyn Wynn, Edna Johnson Williams, and Carolyn Dunnell. They stressed that libraries such as Model City, which is slated for possible closure, also serve as community centers. King referred to information from The Pew Research Center, a nonprofit “fact tank” providing information on the attitudes and trends shaping American and the world. A May 1, 2013 report found, “Parents of minor children have a special relationship with libraries. Most believe libraries are very important for their children and provide extra resources that are not available at home.” Wynn said libraries are centralized keepers of information and books; and physical books are available when electronics fail.

These plausible answers to the question why should we keep these libraries open? led to another question: What can residents do to help libraries remain open?

In a recent Miami Herald article, Working to minimize negative impact, Miami-Dade Public Library Director, Raymond Santiago stated, “with the adoption of the millage rate last month, the library administration has been working closely with the mayor’s office and budget office to minimize the negative impacts on our community. In 2011-2012 over 8 million in-person and 5 million on-line visits were recorded. It is clear that our community values our public library system.”

Edna Johnson Williams is adamant: “It’s not enough to use the facilities and resources there must be interest in supporting our public libraries.” Alma Brown encourages support on Facebook.

It was suggested that residents send letters and emails to the mayor and county commissioners expressing willingness to pay taxes for library services and participate at the town hall meetings. The schedule for these meetings can be found on the county’s webpage, www.miamidade.gov.

The major private funder of ongoing programs is the Friends of the Miami-Dade County Public Library. On their website, www.friendsofmdpl.org, is an announcement of The fourth annual Ten By Ten Challenge which started July 10. The goal is to get 10,000 people to donate $10 each by October 10, 2013. Each donation sends the message that you appreciate the invaluable role the free public library plays in the well-being of our community. Numbers count. Three ways to donate: Online; by sending a check payable to Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Library, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami, FL 33130; or by calling 305-375-4776 to donate with your credit card.

This is an immediate project for individuals, families, businesses, civic and social clubs countywide. It is “unthinkable” for residents not to act on behalf of our public libraries.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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