Two more Miami-Dade libraries could be spared from closure

08/02/2013 12:12 PM

08/02/2013 12:14 PM

Two more Miami-Dade public libraries could be spared the ax, according to an updated plan of proposed county budget cuts.

The North Shore and Virrick Park branches, in Miami Beach and Coconut Grove, respectively, would remain open under the latest version of the plan, which administrators have been tweaking over the past few weeks to bring down the number of libraries slated for closure beginning Oct. 1.

Saving those two branches would reduce the number of libraries on the hit list to 14 from 22. Mayor Carlos Gimenez had warned last month that, under the worst-case budget scenario, nearly half of the county’s 49 libraries would be shut down.

In a memo Friday, he informed commissioners that the county will keep a minimum of 35 libraries open.

“As we narrow down to a final list of libraries that will remain open, our next step will be to strategically and collaboratively finalize a recommendation regarding library schedules,” Gimenez wrote.

The mayor has already cautioned that library hours will be reduced across the board. His staff has been working to renegotiate commercial leases and slash costs to shutter fewer facilities. That could mean smaller libraries staffed by fewer people and offering fewer programs.

The county has met with the Miami-Dade public-school system and plans to sit down with several other community organizations, including the Children’s Trust, the United Way and the Early Learning Coalition, to find ways to partner with the groups and align their efforts to serve children through libraries.

“It is very clear to me that our libraries are safe havens for many children during after-school hours and I have directed my staff to look for solutions that keep libraries open during these critical time frames,” Gimenez wrote.

The county will also work with groups that serve the elderly, who are also avid library patrons, the mayor said. Administrators are also regularly meeting with the Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Library, the libraries’ fundraising arm, to organize more volunteers at the facilities.

Next week, the county will launch technology centers to provide free Internet access in several communities outside of libraries, whose computers and wireless connections have become increasingly popular.

Gimenez’s memo does not name the two additional libraries that would remain open under his latest plan. But Lisa Martinez, a Gimenez senior adviser who has been working with the library department to stave off some of the closures, identified those branches as North Shore and Virrick Park.

On Monday, Martinez said six other branches — Culmer, Lakes of the Meadows, Lemon City, Little River, Opa-locka and Shenandoah — would also be saved.

Administrators are also working with the fire department and firefighters union to prevent the elimination of six fire and rescue trucks.

Commissioners will settle on the final budget after two public hearings in September. The mayor will host six town-hall style budget meetings for the public beginning next week. Two will be held in libraries.

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