As part of its budget belt-tightening, Miami-Dade County will downsize the space used by the Main Library’s back offices, shrinking the facility’s footprint to save money on rent.
The library system’s downtown Miami headquarters would be reduced in size by half, keeping the two floors currently open to the public and eliminating a third floor and a basement used for administration and storage.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s office expects the change to have little effect on library users. But the planned move has stirred controversy among library supporters who fear historical documents and special collections long held at the county’s largest library may be lost in the shuffle.
Raymond Santiago, the library department director, said Monday that while librarians are “weeding” some materials out of the Main Library, they have not been instructed to do away with any collections.
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“Nothing is being thrown away,” he said, calling the notion “ludicrous.” “We’re not idiots.”
Librarians are packing books, art and other artifacts that will need to be moved either to one of the two remaining floors or to other library branches. What’s getting thrown out in the process are older, obsolete materials without historical significance that are not part of special collections, according to Santiago.
“Our historical collections are still here,” he said. “They’re going to be available as they were before.”
It was business as usual Monday morning at the library, which was humming with activity. There were no signs of packing or moving.
The public outcry began over the weekend after organizers of a campaign dubbed Save Our Libraries widely distributed a letter saying “nearly everything” in the Main Library’s basement would be tossed.
The campaign was launched after Gimenez’s administration initially warned it might shut down 22 of the county’s 49 libraries due to budget cuts. That number has since gone down to 13, and a final list won’t be approved until September.
The Main Library was never slated for closure. But by downsizing, the department will save nearly $2.4 million a year in rent payments to the county’s general fund. The building is owned by Miami-Dade’s internal services department, which is funded separately from the taxes that fund libraries.
“Along with the disdain for librarians, the Mayor discards collections and entire libraries across the county without any consideration for the past or the future,” Save Our Libraries campaign organizers Andrew Herridge and Vanessa Reyes-Herridge wrote.
They did not cite any person or records, referring only to the “grapevine.”
On Monday, Herridge and Reyes-Herridge responded to a Miami Herald reporter’s request for additional information with an email saying their Saturday letter contained everything they knew on the subject.
“We are attempting to obtain more information from the individuals who sent the original claim to us,” they said. “Until we can gather their verified documentation, we cannot release any further statements on the issue.”
Gimenez sent the activists a letter Monday assuring them no materials are being discarded.
“I would like to ease your concerns regarding the safety of the Miami-Dade Public Library System’s special collections and other materials,” he said. “I have not issued any directive to dispose or sell any library materials.”
Through a public records request, the Herald obtained emails from Main Library managers regarding the move. The emails show employees were instructed to clean out their desks, disposing of trash and any old office documents, such as statistical reports or evaluations kept beyond their required retention periods.
They are also discarding some children’s materials, the emails show.
“We will need boxes to pack up the basement collections,” a children’s librarian wrote Wednesday. “Also we are throwing out as much as possible ... any chance we can have a few large garbage bins?”
Another email suggested “weeding” some adult-literacy books if the library planned to combine those materials with storytime books for preschools. The department ultimately decided to move materials for the storytime program, named Jump Start, to the North Dade Regional Library in Miami Gardens.
Lisa Martinez, a Gimenez adviser who oversees the libraries, toured the Main Library on Monday to make sure preparations for the move were not hurting any collections. The materials are being packed as the department figures out where everything will go, she said.
Martinez, who met Saturday with library employees and activists concerned about the budget cuts, acknowledged residents’ fears about losing libraries.
“There’s just a certain sense of anxiety,” she said.
Martinez plans to meet with the group again next week.