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Who Loses When Libraries Close?

Miami-Dade Libraries

Miami-Dade Libraries

When a library closes, who may never use a library again? In our followup on the possible closure of 22 out of 49 Miami Dade libraries, we’re taking a closer look at how people in local communities may be affected by the closing of their local libraries. (See Rebrand Miami’s map showing blue pins for libraries to stay open, and red pins for the 22 libraries which would close.)

First, a note on how we did this research: our iMapLibraries project (http://www.imaplibraries.org) seeks to build a planning tool for local library data and to integrate this with U.S. Census data. We used gravity modeling to estimate a geographic market area for every library in the U.S. The gravity modeling method assigns everyone to their geographically nearest library. We had to choose a way to estimate this ourselves, since library systems sometimes do not estimate geographic market areas for each local branch library due to policies that “all are served” who walk through the door – a card for any library will let you check out items from any of the other libraries in the system countywide or citywide. Yet, to better understand what is happening at the local library branch level — such as the local impact of 22 neighborhood libraries closing in Miami Dade — you must start with at least some basic estimate of who each library serves, and where those people live. Some researchers use different methods such as drawing a circle at a one-mile or two mile radius around each local library. The data we present below for the Miami Dade libraries were checked and confirmed by all three of the market area estimation methods we used – the gravity model, one-mile radius, and two mile radius. However, all of these methods are still imperfect – the very best geographic market area estimate would ideally come from each library’s staff and the local planning office, and the very best demographic data would be up to the minute data (we used 2005-2010 U.S. Census Bureau data and 2010 Census data). Here is more info about our data and the limitations of our method.

As we saw last week, libraries provide more than just books. For families with children, libraries offer an alternative to the streets as a safe space in the local community for kids and teens to play, read, and participate in learning activities; when school ends, libraries run “summer reading programs” to help children maintain their reading skills gains into the next school year. We often hear the lament that “Johnny can’t read” — yet libraries are where many kids learn to enjoy reading. Among the 22 Miami Dade communities at risk of closing libraries, eight in particular have more than 40% of households as families with children: Doral, Country Walk, West Kendall, Hialeah Gardens, Lakes of the Meadow, Golden Glades, Opa-Locka, and Model City.

When libraries are nearby, kids can walk from home or school. In some cases, parents may not have the library and reading habit, and kids or teens who walk to the library from their homes or schools may end up teaching their parents about local libraries. But as distance increases, parents must spend time and money on transportation to take kids to the library — perhaps purchasing gas or paying transit fees, and trying to find time after work or between jobs. Longer travel distances over public transit could also be a barrier to library use since items often must be carried in both directions — books/videos to be returned, and new books/videos to be brought home. Parents using public transit could also be carrying or managing children at the same time. Among renters living in the 22 communities, at least 14% or more did not own a car for the library market areas of South Shore, Model City, Civic Center, Culmer/Overtown, Little River and Lemon City. Renters also sometimes don’t have time to develop relationships with neighborhood institutions such as their local library, particularly a farther away “next nearest” library.

Libraries serve many important roles in people’s lives as safe havens, centers for free education, and community gathering places — but an especially vital role is as community technology center for free access to computers, Internet, word-processing software, wifi and technology training. People in low-income communities may lack computers and Internet at home, yet employers now routinely expect online submission of resumes, and government agencies require forms to be filed and applications to be submitted online. Dial-up is also no longer sufficient for the bandwidth-intensive requirements of many web sites, necessitating expensive broadband or mobile access. Among the communities slated to lose their libraries, two that had per capita average incomes close to the federal poverty line for individuals ($11,490) were: Model City and Opa-Locka. (See a picture from Opa-Locka Library)

Many seniors living on fixed incomes rely on nearby libraries for free computer access and technology training, as well as newspapers and other special resources such as large print books, audiobooks and assistive devices for those with disabilities. Libraries often are part of the socialization and recreational routines for many seniors. Seniors may also particularly suffer in losing a local neighborhood library due to mobility impairments and difficulties with driving or using public transit to reach a more distant location. The communities slated to lose libraries which had higher numbers of Social Security recipients (seniors & disabled)– more than 30% — were Fairlawn, Concord, and Opa-Locka. Many of the other libraries had at least 20% (one-fifth or more) in their market area populations who were receiving Social Security, which suggests that if their local libraries close, it’s possible these areas could see increased demand for outreach services to seniors and disabled such as home delivery services or bookmobiles, as well as increased demands for large print materials, audiobooks, and assistive devices at “next-nearest” libraries. In addition to those other three libraries, the libraries with at least 20% or more of their local market area populations receiving Social Security were Model City, Sunset, Little River, Civic Center, Lakes of the Meadow, North Shore, Golden Glades, Virrick Park, Hialeah Gardens, California Club, Tamiami and Lemon City.

We noted last week how libraries reflect the communities they serve by offering special collections and services, such as African American art and book collections and Spanish language materials and workshops. Miami-Dade is diverse, vibrant and multi-cultural, and among the libraries on the list to be closed are libraries with “majority minority” populations – that is, over 50% Blacks or Hispanics. The libraries with over 50% Black populations in their local market areas were Golden Glades, Model City, Opa-Locka and Little River. The libraries in market areas with over 50% Hispanic populations were Hialeah Gardens, Concord, Fairlawn, Lakes of the Meadow, Shenandoah, Civic Center, Sunset, Doral, West Kendall, Country Walk, Tamiami, Virrick Park, North Shore and Culmer/Overtown. Closing these library branches would thus bring some issues of whether special collections and services that reflect these local communities would now be made available at next-nearest libraries, such as bilingual services and workshops in Spanish, or the museum quality African textiles and sculptures at Model City, or Culmer/Overtown’s special children’s and Black culture collections.

Above all, the public library is the “people’s university” where people can apply themselves to education and learning, with free access to resources they need to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps.’ People use the books, journals, databases and computers at the local library to research and work on writing small business plans, search for jobs and write resumes. In their local public libraries, people who don’t have a high school diploma and can’t afford expensive “test prep” classes can still borrow materials for free to study for high school equivalency exams (GEDs), vocational exams and certifications. Communities slated to lose their local libraries which also had the lowest numbers of college-educated populations – 20% or lower were Model City, Civic Center, Opa-Locka, Hialeah Gardens, Golden Glades and Little River. Communities with 29% or more of market area populations having no high school degree were Civic Center, Model City, Opa-Locka, Little River and Culmer-Overtown.

If the 22 Miami Dade libraries are closed, one of the greatest risks would be of those communities becoming isolated from library services and losing habits of regular participation in literacy and reading activities. Maintaining a reading habit is difficult without continuing access to new materials to read. Researchers have found that library use decreases as distance from the library increases (Jue, Koontz et al, 1999) and that ethnic minority groups, low income groups, children, and the elderly often cannot or will not travel far outside of their own neighborhood areas for library use (Hayes & Palmer, 1983; Obokoh & Arokoyu, 1991; Van House, 1983). For low income households, distance is more of a barrier than for wealthy households (Van House, 1983). If the “next nearest” library is too far away, there is the risk that many people in these communities, especially poor people, elderly, children and ethnic minority groups, will simply no longer access libraries.

In a future post, we’ll take a closer look at equity issues in library access, and how closures impact the balance for access among all communities. In the meantime, check out our iMapLibraries site http://imaplibraries.org/ where we have posted our Miami Dade branch level library reports; you can also use our prototype tool to check out library branch level market area data in other local communities nationwide.

– Lorri Mon, Dean Jue and Christie Koontz at Florida State University, for iMapLibraries


Jue, D.K., Koontz, C. M., Magpantay, J. A., Lance, K. C., Seidl, A.M. (1999). Using public libraries to provide technology access for individuals in poverty: A nationwide analysis of library market areas using a geographic information system Library & Information Science Research, 21( 3): 299–325.

Hayes, R., & Palmer, E.S. (1983). The effects of distance upon use of libraries: Case studies based on a survey of users of the Los Angeles Public Library Central Library and branches.” Library Research 5: 67 – 100.

Obokoh, N.P. & Arokoyu, S.B. (1991). The influence of geographical location on public library use: A case study from a developing country. SLA Geography and Map Division, 163: 30-42.

Van House, N. A. (1983). Public library user fees: The use and finance of public libraries. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.


Losing Libraries

Miami-Dade Libraries

Miami-Dade Libraries

In Miami, Florida, 22 libraries in local neighborhoods will close and 251 more jobs will disappear if a recent decision from the Mayor and Board of Commissioners goes into effect. (See Rebrand Miami’s map showing red pins for the 22 libraries which would close.)

What does it mean in real terms–in the impact on people’s lives–to lose almost half of a major city’s libraries?

Miami Dade County Libraries operates 49 library branch locations and two bookmobiles for a population of 2,496,435 people, making available free public wifi at every location plus 1,735 public computers throughout the library system. Each year, 6,762,294 people visit the libraries, borrowing 6,718,933 items annually, and librarians answer 7,108,830 questions per year.

Let’s get to know a little more about these 22 branch libraries slated for closure:

Some of these libraries have unique histories. Lemon City Branch Library, originally built in 1902, is one of the oldest public libraries in South Florida and was once called the “cradle of civilization for Southeast Florida.” Civic Center Branch Library is the first library worldwide ever to be built on an elevated transit system (it’s also known as the Civic Center Station Porta-Kiosk). West Kendall Regional Library has faced its doom once before, when it was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Two thousand people attended its reopening ceremony in 1994.

Some of these libraries offer unique physical spaces and special resources. Virrick Park Branch Library is known for its beautiful stained glass decor and is situated near a park. Culmer/Overtown Branch Library has an in-depth Black culture collection including many out-of-print special items. Doral Branch Library has a “Big Cozy Books” room. West Kendall Regional Library provides a large auditorium for programs and special events. Model City Branch Library has an art display of museum quality African textiles and African sculpture, and special collections for adults and children on African-American history, culture and literature.

Many of these libraries serve diverse communities. North Shore Branch Library, situated two blocks from the Miami Beach seashore, serves a multicultural community which includes seasonal tourists from France, Canada and Germany. Fairlawn Branch Library serves Hispanic immigrants as well as seniors from West Miami, Fairlawn and Flagami. Model City Branch Library in Liberty City serves African-American, Haitian and Hispanic populations. Lemon City Branch Library is located in “Little Haiti” and Little River Branch Library is located in the heart of the Haitian community. Hialeah Gardens Branch Library serves a largely Hispanic community. Many libraries offer special programs tailored to their communities such as Spanish language computer classes at Hialeah Gardens Branch Library, Concord Branch Library, and Palm Springs North Branch Library. Little River Branch Library offers computer literacy classes for seniors.

The libraries offer places for kids to study, learn, and play. Culmer/Overtown Branch Library was Miami-Dade’s first child-focused branch, with 60% of the collection devoted to items for kids. Shenandoah Branch Library offers a Reading Ready Early Literacy center with interactive play-to-learn resources. Many of the libraries also provide special programs for kids and teens, such as Summer Reading programs and other special events. Little River Branch Library offers storytelling, crafts, book discussion, and homework help for kids. Concord Branch Library provides arts & crafts, puppet shows, and classes such as scrapbooking. Lakes of the Meadows Branch Library is the public library serving school children from G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School and Jane S. Roberts Elementary School, and recently offered a Book Discussion Group and a Teen Game Day. A Live Teen Rock Performance event as well as storytimes in English and Spanish, and summer reading programs are offered at West Kendall Regional Library. Shenandoah Branch Library has programs for children and teens in areas such as art, literacy, crafts, games, anime and manga, and at Country Walk Branch Library, special programs focus on babies, toddlers, and reading-ready early literacy toddler storytimes, and there are computers with software for early literacy skill development such as matching, color identification, word recognition and preschool games.

These 22 libraries also offer a local “safety net” of free access to computers, wifi and Internet for local communities. For example, 8 computer terminals and 6 laptops are available at Sunset Branch Library; 21 computers at Fairlawn Branch Library; more than 25 computers at South Shore Branch Library; 16 computers and 20 laptops at Shenandoah Branch Library; and 54 computers at West Kendall Regional Library. Model City Branch Library includes two literacy computers to enhance reading and writing comprehension, and two multimedia computers with word-processing capabilities. California Club Mall Branch Library has 20 computers and 6 laptops. These libraries also offer workshops to help with resume writing and job search, as for example at Little River Branch Library, North Shore Branch Library, South Shore Branch Library, Lakes of the Meadows Branch Library and Tamiami Branch Library in West Dade.

In Miami-Dade, and elsewhere around the country, it’s time to start telling the story of our individual library branches in local communities. Let’s collect and share the data that tells the story of the impact ALL our local libraries are making on people’s lives.

– Lorri Mon, Associate Professor at Florida State University, for iMapLibraries

Public Libraries & Special Spaces: Building Community

Girl using a computerLibraries play a unique role in community building – not only through sharing books and information, but also by offering special spaces where people in the community can meet in small groups, classes, workshops, or in large audiences — such as auditoriums and lecture halls. For example, Teton County Library has auditoriums and half-auditoriums available with audio-visual and projection screens, as well as meeting rooms. Providence Public Library hosts a Music Film & Concert Series and Houston Public Library has both poetry events and open-mike poetry nights, while Ann Arbor District Library hosts gaming tournaments.

Libraries provide showcases for local artists, with exhibit and gallery spaces such as at Olean Public Library and Charleston County Library. Libraries also offer spaces for building and creating. such as Chicago Public Library’s digital media youth learning spaces, and Cleveland Public Library’s TechCentral which includes 3-D printing. Some libraries even offer outdoor learning spaces, such as the low-water-use demonstration Botanical Garden at Glendale Public Library and the Children’s Living Library Garden at Huntsville Madison County Public Library.

Libraries provide special Centers for helping with important community needs – Santa Cruz Public Library reserves Homework Center computers for kids’ schoolwork during special hours, with the first 10 pages of homework printed for free. Springfield Free Public Library’s Read/Write/Now Adult Learning Center teaches reading for adults at the Pine Point branch. Nashville Public Library and Seattle Public Library are two among many offering Job Search and Job Resource Centers. Many other libraries offer special research centers such as the A.C. Bilbrew Library’s Black Resource Center, Arlington Public Library’s Center for Local History, Belmont Library’s Enrico Fermi Cultural Center for Italian American resources, and the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.

Some libraries extend special spaces out into the community – for example, Schaumburg Township District Library has ten “deposit sites” in the local community at places such as senior centers, providing collections that rotate every six months. Many libraries operate mobile special spaces via vans, buses, and even bikes – such as Seattle Public Library’s Books on Bikes. Missoula Public Library’s mobile computer lab also offers passport and notary services.

Does your library offer special spaces to the community? Check out our iMapLibraries’ Special Spaces map.

You can also add your library’s information to the map!

To find out more about iMapLibraries, visit us at : http://imaplibraries.org/

– Lorri Mon, Associate Professor at Florida State University, for iMapLibraries

iMapLibraries ALA 2013 Slideshow now Available!

We presented on  iMapLibraries at ALA Annual 2013 – if you missed it, here’s our Slideshare presentation:

Click on “Library Diversity” to see our available tools and resources for demographics in the communities your library serves, and click on “Social Media” to add your library to our Classes & Workshops, Senior Services, Spanish Services, Emergency Services and Special Spaces maps!

Beyond Books: Libraries Helping the Community


How do public libraries help communities?  Here are some real-world examples of the wide-ranging ways libraries help people:

Supporting teachers – many libraries offer a special teacher’s library card with extended benefits, plus additional help such as Miami Dade Public Library’s JumpStart Storytime Kit for Pre-K and Kindergarten programs, King County Library’s KidReach Bookboxes with 80 books every 50 kids, or Multnomah Library’s Buckets of Books with 24-30 books on a topic plus a teacher’s guide, as well as help with customized book collections and webliographies; 

Supporting students and helping homeschoolers – beyond all the ways we know libraries already help students, Multnomah County Library has a homeschooling liaison to help homeschooling parents; live online homework tutoring is a special extra support offered on many library web sites – as seen for example at Houston Public Library and Los Angeles Public Library;

Helping jobseekers – libraries provide classes, workshops, resources, and individual assistance to job seekers such as drop-in job club and career coaching sessions at New York Public Library, and Pierce County Library’s “library in a bag briefcases” of job seeking and small business resources.  Some libraries such as Fond du Lac Public Library run computer labs and resource centers for job seekers — Memphis Public Library even operates a JobLinc mobile career/job center bus bringing the help to the job seekers;

Supporting small business – some libraries offer special programs supporting small businesses – for example Grand Rapids Public Library operates a small business research center, and at North Richland Hills Public Library you can schedule individualized small business counseling sessions;

Supporting nonprofits – at Fayetteville Public Library, a Nonprofit Resource Center helps individuals and nonprofit organizations identify potential grant funding sources, while Monroe County Public Library’s  Nonprofit Central offers one-on-one counseling for nonprofits;

Helping seniors – many libraries such as Pikes Peak Library offer special resources and classes for seniors; often libraries will deliver items to homebound seniors, as with Jasper County Library’s “walking books” program; Forsyth Public Library among others provides “BiFolkal Kits” designed to spur reminscence and reflection for seniors;

Helping disabled users – libraries often have accessible computers and programs to help disabled users; at Eugene Public Library, a Braille embosser can print documents in Braille, and Nashville Public Library has special library services for the deaf and hard of hearing;

Providing bilingual and ESL services – Forsyth Public Library operates a Spanish Bookmobile called the “Bibliobus”; Jasper County Library is one of many that teach English as a Second Language and offer bilingual computing stations; Fresno Public Library has staff fluent in Spanish, Russian, Armenian, Punjabi, French, Hindi, Arabic and a variety of Asian dialects and operates a Spanish/English bookmobile service called AprendoVan;

Supporting the local arts community – many libraries offer display and performance spaces for local writers and artists, such as the Art and Display space at Flathead County Library; also the Marin Free Library showcases local Marin poets in a digital archive;

Teaching technology skills  – many libraries teach classes and workshops on computers and technology skills. King County Library System operates a mobile Techlab bus for teaching computer classes “on the go,” and Westport Public Library is among those offering a Makerspace with a 3-D printer.

That’s just a small sampling of how libraries are helping people in local communities.  How does your library help – what special programs and services are offered at your library? 

– Lorri Mon, Associate Professor at Florida State University, for iMapLibraries [Showcase the programs and services at your library – you can put your library on the map for classes and workshops, senior services, Spanish services and special spaces such as homework centers, computer labs, meeting rooms etc. at iMapLibraries]