Apathy, disenfranchisement and distrust of government are some of the reasons citizens don’t get involved in their communities or communicate with their elected representatives about issues that matter to them. Yet, in these past few months, a growing drumbeat swelled from every neighborhood to reach the corridors of County Hall. It was the sound of library advocates and we heard them. Along with eight of my colleagues, including Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, I voted on Sept. 4 to slightly increase the library tax to preserve this precious public institution.
Earlier this year, our library system faced a $30-million budget shortfall after four years of steep cutbacks and depleted reserves. Library advocates fought tirelessly for a $64-million budget, which Commissioners Xavier Suarez, Bruno Barreiro, Dennis Moss, Jean Monestime and I supported. What passed in July, with additional support from Commissioners Sally Heyman, Audrey Edmonson and Lynda Bell, was a preliminary tax rate to support a $54-million budget.
This will not restore many important services lost during four years of reductions, but it marks a turnaround for our libraries with funding for new materials, programs, technology upgrades and expanded operating hours at some locations. It prevents further layoffs and provides a solid foundation to build upon.
With the worst of economic times behind us, we must begin to envision future growth, especially in communities that have historically suffered the most. We must invest residents’ hard-earned tax dollars in order to improve their quality of life. Libraries are a big part of that because they are one of America’s great equalizers, a cornerstone of our democracy. Libraries serve people of every age, education and income level, ethnicity and physical ability. For many people, libraries provide resources that they could not otherwise afford — resources they need to live, learn and find work.
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The technology-based information age of the 21st century has not reduced the need for libraries. To the contrary, it calls for our libraries to evolve to keep up with the times.
It’s clear that the majority of my colleagues on the commission believe this to be true. I am confident that the compromised $54-million library budget will be finally adopted on Sept. 18, marking a new beginning and direction for our libraries.
The passionate, broad-based grassroots movement to save the Miami-Dade Public Library System proves that community activism is alive and well and produces results.
Barbara J. Jordan,
Miami-Dade County commissioner,
District 1, Miami