April 15, 2014

A Future Worth Funding | Editorial

RmillerEditorialNew A Future Worth Funding | EditorialAll eyes are on Miami-Dade, as they should be. The tragic budget cuts that will almost halve what has been a highly regarded public library system should have every library leader on alert. I worry that it’s a suffering canary in the coal mine, a warning we can’t ignore. We must understand what happens there.

In short, the Miami-Dade Public Library System, FL, faces the closure of some 22 of 49 branches, the loss of 251 jobs, and reduced hours. It is hard to imagine. Yet soon, unfortunately, it will be realized in the vast lost services to this county of approximately 2.5 million people.

[Editor's note: Since press time for the July 2013 print issue in which this editorial appeared, the projection for Miami-Dade improved in terms of branch closures. As of August 15, only four branches were expected to close. The significant budget cuts will instead by absorbed by cuts in hours and staff.]

Too much of the public discussion has focused on a myth: the inevitable demise of libraries. As LJ senior editor Meredith Schwartz reported, Mayor Carlos Gimenez told a local news channel, “people have said that the age of the library is probably ending.” Hardly. The use of libraries nationwide spiked 32.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Miami-Dade’s libraries are themselves very busy, with 3.6 million visits from October 2012 to April 2013. The remaining branches will be overrun—if patrons can get to them, of course.

It’s important to recognize that these cuts are driven by factors much more complicated than some simple case against libraries. The county is reeling from the impact of budget shortfalls brought on by statewide funding issues on the heels of the Great Recession. In such tough times, even the unthinkable becomes thinkable. Mayor Gimenez’s proposal also hits the fire-rescue department particularly hard, and he used to be chief of Miami’s Fire-Rescue operations.

Nonetheless, the people of Miami-Dade will now have to fight for their library. The Friends group and library community will help bolster the institution. (Here’s a guide to how you can help.) This fight will be costly in terms of stress, time, and distraction from forward momentum on strategic planning to serve the community better. Building the services back will no doubt be a long process—though each win will be worth every effort.

For peer libraries, no matter how robust, Miami’s jeopardy illustrates anew how critical it is to help stakeholders readily make the connection between the library mission and the impact on the community’s economic growth and vitality, to see the library as a critical asset that is worth funding, even in the worst of times—perhaps especially in the worst of times.

But what about that book brand? No doubt one of the essential tasks of the public library is to provide access to books—it remains a key service. Yet one of libraries’ greatest brands—books—can also blinder funders and the major media when it comes time to decide on, and to cover, library closures. At the very least, we need to move public perception to a “Books +” brand or a “books and” brand. Better still, we need a branding strategy that gets past the format and into the impact of the vast access to all kinds of resources that libraries deliver.

When a library gets cut, those powerful—and accountable—public leaders who hold the purse strings should be very clear that they aren’t cutting some quaint book-lending service, something nice and uplifting but fundamentally unnecessary. They are cutting a lifelong education booster. They are cutting an economic driver. They are cutting a key safety net from a culture with all too few safety nets. They should be alert to what will be lost. Perhaps, then, they will see a future for the library that is worth funding and avoid the folly of penny-wise and pound-foolish decisions that would withdraw this key service from the public.

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This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Jo Manning says:

    We unfortunately have a most unenlightened body politic on the Miami-Dade County board, and the Mayor of the County is particularly uninformed and unaware. As a retired librarian (who reviewed literary fiction for LJ for over 20 years), I am horrified by this state of affairs. We have succeeded in saving our three Miami Beach public libraries, but major cuts in days and hours open (after a major cut two years ago) are on the horizon. There should be NO libraries closed. This affects the working poor and their children the most, and impacts on a workforce that badly needs the educational opportunities offered by the free public libraries. Please continue to write about this issue… As I write this, the archives at the main library — in Miami — are being removed, and the fate of the large library art collection hangs in the balance. Thank you.
    Jo Manning, author, My Lady Scandalous; contributor, The Look Of Love

  2. Two years ago I wrote a blog post about The Physics of Your Library Brand in which I adopted a TED Talk that inspired my recognition of why it is so difficult to move public perception away from the stereotypical image of LIBRARY. Dan Cobley presented What physics taught me about marketing in which he started with Newton’s law and ended up with “The more massive a brand, the more baggage it has, the more force is needed to change its positioning.”

    I offered the following suggestions based on answering the fundamental questions; How can the library re-invent itself and change its brand to survive in the 21st Century technology and information marketplace? How can we apply physics to library marketing in order to move the library’s position in the marketplace?
    • Each library must start with its own local library brand marketing campaign – such as “Likenomics” & Library Marketing.
    • Every access point for customers to interact with a library should be a unique experience – unlike typical LIBRARY experiences – such as Digital Discovery – A New 21st Century Library Skill .
    • Every library must begin to overcome the stereotypical LIBRARY perception by becoming MORE – such as The 21st Century Library is More: and other suggestions in several Blog posts that followed.
    • Re-brand your local library on an incremental scale by creating “a portfolio of brands or maybe new brands for new ventures” – such as new logos for library programs that do NOT include the word LIBRARY.
    • On a regional level, library consortium must conduct marketing campaigns that change the LIBRARY brand to something other than BOOK.
    • On a national level, library associations must conduct marketing campaigns that change the LIBRARY brand to something other than BOOK.
    • Re-brand professional publications, logos and events without the word LIBRARY.

    There are many ways to do what you recognize that libraries need to do. Someone should take the lead and “just do it.”

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