What was supposed to be the Final Task Force meeting for the future of MDPLS turned out to be only the second-to-last, in a quick last minute decision by the Task Force Chair, Mayor Gimenez.
Starting a bit late, the Task Force began going through each item on the minutes -- 4 topics that were slated out in the very beginning of their efforts in October of 2013: Services Needs, Service Model, Funding, and Advocacy/Awareness/Marketing.
In addressing Service Needs, Task Force members talked about bringing new programs to expand library services, but never cutting any. Ideas such as the expanding the YOUmedia Miami program, Coding Classes, which take place in Libraries, and even a Hackathon were brought to the forefront (to which the Mayor had to ask what coding and a Hackathon was). The representative from the Knight Foundation admitted herself that in talks with the staff, it became clear that Library personnel had great ideas about the future, incorporating technology into innovative programming in order to address the "new digital divide", but could not implement them due to one thing: lack of funding.
When this point came around, Mayor Gimenez then questioned the core services of the Library, admittedly playing Devil's Advocate, and asked why the schools themselves were not teaching coding (for lack of a better example)? The representative from MDCPS then responded that they too have suffered through funding issues. Mayor Gimenez explained that he did not want to government services to be the one to carry the sole responsibility of duties that other organizations 'should' do. Yet, isn't a Library there to engage the community in lifelong learning, recreation, imagination, research, and creativity? Is that not what our programs are about? Task Force members elt ardently services for everyone in the community.
Yet, while good efforts were spent on Service Needs and Model, it all came down to the heart of the matter: funding. In reflecting on last year, to have maintained services without depleting the Library's own reserves, it would have cost the average homeowner an extra $20 more for the entire year, which the Mayor reiterated to the Task Force. In discussing each bulleted point of the Funding item, cutting services and funding was quickly brushed under the table.
"Its the gist of the group to raise the millage to enhance services.... with efficiencies," stated Mayor Gimenez, "I will look forward to achieving that."
An idea on a referendum and straw ballot was tossed around, but did not stick-- Task Force members stood by their majority decision on the recommendation for an increased millage. But it seemed still that Mayor Gimenez was not convinced that the Library itself ran efficiently, asking for a trimmed payroll. To this, representative of GSAF and librarian Kathy Seaver mentioned that staffing was at all-time lows, hovering just over 400 for 49 branches. Mayor Gimenez dismissed this, and seemed determined to take a hard look at wages for Library personnel.
Yet, what was not mentioned at this time was the significant attrition that has happened since the budget crisis over the summer. While there may be no concrete number yet, talented librarians and staff have been packing their bags and seeking jobs--and security--elsewhere. More telling is the survey that was collected by the County from the Library employees, where they stated the felt dispensable, and their morale suffered from budget shortfalls.
"Raising the millage is a political issue," stated Mayor Gimenez, when responding to whether or not it was a possibility. "The Commissioners vote on the budget, but 6 of them are up for re-election." He doubted whether they would follow through with the Task Force recommendation, but stated that it would indeed go in the report to the BCC.
In order to ensure an accurate report go to the BCC and a plan with it to 'justify' an increased millage, Mayor Gimenez asked for the report from former Senior Advisor, now Chief-of-Staff, Lisa Martinez, in two weeks -- and a reconvening in three weeks with a presentation from Library Director, Raymond Santiago, on a brand new MDPLS.
So MDPLS stands, waiting to be repackaged in a 'more attractive' outfit.
We hope that the work and recommendations of the Task Force will not fall on deaf ears -- and we stand at ready to fight for our Libraries.