Opinion
6:00 am
Wed July 17, 2013

Why Closing Half Of Miami-Dade's Libraries Is Dumb

Credit mdpls.org

“Who says that we get to kill all the books,” asked District 10 City Commissioner Javier Soto.

Miami, apparently, does. 

The decision yesterday was made to theoretically close 22 libraries (10 storefronts and 12 branches) as well as lay off 251 employees. This number is presented as the worst-case scenario. While it could be less, the closings are nearly half of the libraries in Miami-Dade.

It’s a common sentiment, with the Internet having overrun our daily lives, that libraries have become increasingly irrelevant. People don't mind the idea of "killing all the books," and that the debate about the fate of libraries came to the city commissioners of the county. They didn't kill all the books, but they definitely leveled a major blow. 

I think we often underestimate the importance of libraries. The Internet is a relatively new experiment, one on which America has bet a lot of her chips. Due to the constant access many of us enjoy, not everyone has a the luxury of a smartphone or laptop.

Indeed, phones and computers are items that cost a great deal of money, and many of Miami’s residents do not have a great deal of money. For instance, just two months ago, Google’s head honcho Eric Schmidt alluded to how there are only 1 billion people in the world with a smartphone and only 2 billion connected to the Internet.

The budget cuts hitting libraries, fire departments and animal shelters have one thing in common: They are an assault on the foundation  of a civilized society.

I ask you, Miami, please imagine yet another worst-case scenario: your house burning down and nobody comes, you're overrun by feral cats and nobody is there to take them away and you have no place to go if you need to send an email or read the Bible.

During the commission meeting on Tuesday, when asked if the libraries are used for computing, Raymond Santiago, director of the Miami-Dade Public Library System, explained that this year they have “provided over one million hours of Internet access.”

Keep in mind that if you don’t have a computer then things like Section 8 paperwork, employment applications and online research for building a resume become impossible and a roadblock to improving your lot in life. 

Libraries have evolved and continue to evolve, but budget cuts are not giving them enough time or resources to do it properly. Just because it seems like the Internet is the answer to all of our prayers regarding information technology does not mean we should give up completely on libraries.

“I think the age of the book is waning,” said Mayor Gimenez.

It’s funny how everyone becomes a speculative book futurist when we’re talking about closing libraries and because there’s money on the table. They think the Internet will make everything cheaper.

You’re fooling yourself, Mr. Mayor, if you think all of the information in libraries across the city and planet is or will be available online in the near future. The overarching logic seems to be that it’s ok to dismantle libraries in the hope that all of that information one day ends up in a digital form. This seems hopeful at best. 

Who is going to pay for the digitizing of books? Private enterprise? We are then talking about corporations controlling information, as well as our access to it. It’s not going to get cheaper for you and I, the end user. You’ve got to pay to download a book; you don’t have to pay to check one out.

These are our last public buildings and we are letting them go. Where else can you sit for free and comb through the world’s (or even the Internet’s) literary treasures. Public money now goes to fund a billionaire’s sports arena, which you have to pay to enter each time. We bought a new home for a baseball team we now hate, yet we are letting nearly half of our public libraries slip away.

“It takes a lot of things to build a community,” says Victoria Galan, marketing and media relations liason for Miami-Dade public libraries, “and libraries are an important part of that.” Yes. I believe they are.

When speaking of the decisions in front of him to not raise taxes to save these vital resources that the city provides its constituents, Mayor Gimenez said, “This is not a fun thing for me.” Us either Bub. Us either.