Public Services
6:00 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Can This Social Media Campaign Save More Miami-Dade Public Libraries?

Demonstrators during last Saturday's library rally near the Concord branch.
Credit Mercy / Facebook/ Save the Miami-Dade Public Libraries

Just over two weeks ago, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, along with a majority of county commissioners, tentatively agreed to a proposed budget that would slash major public services.

On the chopping block are the Pets Trust, which voters approved this past fall; six fire and rescue trucks; and 22 libraries throughout the county. 

The cuts would mean layoffs for some 400 county employees. No public referendum is needed for the cuts to take effect.

But while each group has its own activists pushing back and pressuring local politicians, at least one faction may be making some inroads. The Miami Herald's Patricia Mazzei reported this past Tuesday that at least six of the proposed 22 libraries to close may be safe — somewhat.

As of now, the Culmer, Opa-locka, Lemon City, Little River, Shenandoah and Lakes of the Meadow locations — all among the original list of 22 to close — will indeed remain open. That is, unless commissioners again change their minds in September, when the county budget is finalized.

It’s slow progress, but it’s progress. And library fans can thank a growing social media movement for that. It’s currently found on the Facebook page, Save the Miami-Dade Public Libraries, on Twitter at @MIALibraries, on Instagram at @savethemiamidadelibraries and on Tumblr at savethemiamidadelibraries.tumblr.com. Further group communications across all these platforms can be found under the hashtag #saveourlibrary.

The Facebook page and Twitter account appeared first, on July 17, just after news of the intended closures broke and Mayor Gimenez suggested that "the age of the library" may be ending.

Miami native Vanessa Reyes-Herridge and her brother-in-law Andrew Herridge took up the cause instinctively — even though neither are currently in Miami. Reyes-Herridge, a former Miami-Dade library employee, is currently completing a Ph.D in library science at Simmons College in Boston. Herridge, meanwhile, will enter a master’s program in clinical psychology this fall at the University of West Florida.

Regardless of their current physical distance from Miami, they see this as a greater philosophical battle, not just about preserving printed paper.

“We collectively believe that libraries hold the key to the success of the next generation,” they wrote in a statement to WLRN. “Libraries are responsible for giving access to and teaching patrons how to use to the new technology that is being incorporated into society.”

Quickly after setting up the Facebook page, it grew to 2000 likes within the first week.

That was enough to mobilize nearly 200 library fans, according to organizers, to a rally this past rainy Saturday afternoon. They hoisted signs for hours at the intersection of Bird Road and SW 112th Avenue. That’s just outside of the Concord Branch library, one of the libraries set to shutter by October under the mayor’s proposal.

More Public Actions Planned 

That was just the first public action out of many that are planned, according to organizers. The goal, they say, is to demonstrate and appear at some of the mayor’s upcoming town hall meetings to raise public awareness. From there, they hope citizens will pressure their individual county commissioners to save the remaining locations.

So far, Reyes-Herridge says their efforts may have helped at least partially save the six locations struck from the planned closing list.

“We made sure to post guidance to supporters so that they knew who and how to contact their local commissioners,” wrote Reyes-Herridge. “Since then, all 11 of the Miami-Dade County commissioners have been receiving non-stop letters, phone calls and emails demanding and pleading to not close libraries because of how important they are.”

Engagement On Twitter

In fact, an exchange on Twitter between #savourlibrary activists and Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo  proved fruitful. On July 24, after a flurry of tweets directed at him, Bovo responded to the @MIALibraries account with, at first, a carefully worded brush-off: “perhaps now is the time to reinvent our libraries with new technology, hours of operation and engage new municipalities.”

The tweeters behind @MIAlibraries continued to engage politely. “He offered us an open invitation to call him and let him hear our concerns. We then prompted the Facebook group to contact his office,” Reyes-Herridge wrote. “After the outpouring of comments from the community, Commissioner Bovo issued a memo to the mayor requesting that they discuss alternatives to closing the libraries.

"Following his statement, Commissioner Sosa and Zapata have since issued statements requesting the mayor reconsider also.”
 

The next planned campaign action takes place this Friday, August 2, through Sunday, August 4. On Friday and Saturday, the group plans a “library tailgate,” in which supporters ride from branch to branch, rallying in front of each location slated to close and passing out flyers.

Friday will focus on the northern end of Miami-Dade County while Saturday will focus on the Southwestern end. On Sunday, there’s no tailgate but a group will gather and rally at the Country Walk library.

Next Tuesday, August 6, another group will gather at a town hall meeting hosted by Gimenez at the North Dade regional library — although this is not one of the locations slated to close.

“Since there is not a specific election/vote for the public on this issue this year, the most important thing for citizens to do to spur an actual change is keep the continuum going. Constituents must keep letting their commissioners know that libraries are important and are a significant place for everyone,” wrote Reyes-Herridge and Herridge. “What we want users to do is to imagine their lives without libraries and realize how important libraries are to the everyday lives of families, the community and the public at large.”

For more information on the events planned for this weekend or next Tuesday, or for more on the campaign to save Miami-Dade public libraries, visit the Save the Miami-Dade Public Libraries Facebook page.