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Are Library Closures Fair to Everyone?

photo: "the library is open"

Creative Commons Flickr photo by EmilyDickinsonRidesaBMX

In our last blog post, the iMapLibraries team began discussing equity and fairness in library closures, and how planning tools might help to identify potential issues. We used the example of examining differences between the group of libraries in Miami-Dade County that have been selected for possible closure, as compared to those libraries that are expected to remain open. We can further analyze that data to identify possible ways for reducing the potential impacts of closing 22 library branches. The data we used is from the 2010 Census.

We noted that as a group, the libraries to be closed serve a higher percentage of Hispanics than the libraries that will remain open. Our analysis of the library branches with the highest percentages of Hispanics in their market areas show that five are to be closed and five are to remain open, which is consistent with approximately half of the library system’s branches overall being closed.

Our study also noted that libraries to be closed serve areas with a higher percentage of households of other races with more linguistic isolation than the libraries remaining open. (Linguistic isolation reflects those who speak a non-English language at home, and who also do not speak English very well.) County-wide, less than four percent of households fit into the other race category. But over 10% of households in the North Shore market area fit into this category as well as almost 7% of the Lemon City market area. Over 10% of the households in the library market areas of Little River and Lemon City are linguistically- isolated, the highest percentages in Miami Dade County overall.

As a group, the average median income, average per capita income, and average median home value for the block groups in each library’s estimated geographic market area are higher for libraries that are to remain open as opposed to libraries that are to be closed. Nine of the ten library branches in market areas with the highest average median home values will remain open (i.e., Pinecrest, Key Biscayne, Coral Gables, Palmetto Bay, Coconut Grove, South Miami, Coral Reef, Sunny Isles, and Northeast); the sole exception of a high home value area to be closed is the Virrick Park branch. In contrast, depending on the market area model used, from four to five of the ten library branches with the lowest average median home values for their market areas will be closed (Model City, Civic Center, Opa-Locka, and Culmer/Overtown).

Another way to look at equity and fairness is to examine the library usage statistics at the various branches. This is where we need to be careful to be sure that we are comparing oranges with oranges. Library use at the Opa-Locka library will obviously be lower than usage at the main Miami-Dade library. But by using an estimated geographic market area that each library branch serves, we can base our calculation on the population size residing within each of the different library branch market areas to calculate the library use per person being served. In more statistical terms, we are beginning to standardize the data so that we can more accurately compare public library branches in very different settings.

The statistical report on selected usages at the various branches of the Miami-Dade Public Library System from October 2012 through April 2013 provided an in-depth look at the door count (i.e., visitors through the library door) and the computer usage count for all of the branches. A look at some of these basic statistics in combination with the per person usage based on each branch’s geographic market area provides this information:

1) the to-be-closed Model City branch serves one of the poorest areas of the county and on a per person basis using the one-mile and gravity models, it is estimated to have one of the ten highest branch usages of PCs (.488 vs. .356 county-wide) as well as door count among all the branches (2.273 vs. 1.478 county-wide).

2) the to-be-closed Lemon City branch has one of the three highest per person usage of any Miami-Dade county library based upon the gravity model (3.187), with only the Main Library and the Miami Beach Regional Library being higher (10.988 and 3.813, respectively) The Lemon City branch also serves a high percentage of renters with limited transportation options as well as high numbers of social security recipients.

3) the to-remain-open Northeast branch has the lowest door count outside of the specialized Civic Center branch (a “porta-kiosk” located on the elevated public transit platform) and has one of the two lowest per person usages based on both door counts and PC usage of any branch in the county. It is approximately 2.25 miles from the next nearest branch by road. In comparison, citizens may have to drive twice the distance to obtain library service if some of these five other branches are closed: Country Walk, Doral, Hialeah Gardens, Lakes of the Meadow, and North Shore.

We provide these examples to show how planning data using geographic market areas can be a useful way to identify potential planning issues for libraries, and can allow managers to explore and consider equity of access issues for the many unique and diverse populations living within a large citywide or countywide system. You can access our planning tool to explore market area data for your own local library, and read more about our data or visit our web site to find more information about the iMapLibraries project and downloadable data reports for the 22 Miami Dade libraries slated for closure.

– Dean Jue (DJue@admin.fsu.edu), Christie Koontz (Christie.Koontz@cci.fsu.edu), Lorri Mon (lmon@fsu.edu) and Laura Spears at Florida State University, for iMapLibraries


How Do You Choose Which Libraries to Close?

Creative Commons Flickr Photo by Tito Perez

Creative Commons Flickr Photo by Tito Perez

In our last blog post, the iMapLibraries team pointed out that one of the greatest risks of library closures is that select communities may become isolated from library services and resources. These communities may include poor people, elderly, children and ethnic minority groups who have more limited transportation options in reaching a library farther away.

In this post, we analyze the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of the people who are likely being served by each of the 22 Miami Dade County library branches that were recently chosen to be closed, and we compare their characteristics with the branches that are to remain open. To make sure that the trends identified in the data are most likely correct, three market area estimation techniques were used (i.e., the one-mile radius, the two-mile radius, and the gravity model) unless otherwise noted. If a trend was noted in only one or two of the market estimation methods, that data was considered inconclusive. Results are based upon 2010 U.S. Census data.

Differences between Miami Dade libraries that will be closed as compared to libraries that will remain open countywide are:
1) The closed libraries serve a higher percentage of Hispanics than the libraries that will remain open.
2) Closed libraries have a lower percentage of English-speaking households and a higher percentage of Spanish-speaking households, especially among those between the ages of 5 to 64.
3) Closed libraries have a higher percentage of households speaking an Indo- European language with a higher degree of linguistic isolation than libraries that will remain open. (Linguistic isolation reflects those who speak a non-English language at home, and who also report that they do not speak English very well.)
4) The average median income, average per capita income, and average housing value for the Census block groups within the library’s market area is noticeably lower for those libraries that will be closed as compared to the libraries that will remain open.

The value of identifying the above differences is in creating the opportunity to solve issues of inequities if and when possible and prior to closures. For managers and planners there is also value in having a tool for comparing and identifying these types of issues with any proposed plans for library openings, closures or relocations within communities.

While this post has discussed the use of planning tools and data with the example of looking at proposed library closures in Miami-Dade County, such tools and data can be used in many other library planning scenarios for library managers all over the country (e.g., helping plan library programs, services, and facilities, addressing library service gaps, and meeting local community needs). One of our previous blog posts described some of the impacts the full closure of 22 library branches may have on some local county residents. These planning issues have major local importance not only due to impacts on neighborhoods and communities, but also because public libraries in the U.S. are funded at 98% average from local coffers.

Our next blog posting will look at the issue of equity and fairness on an individual library community level as opposed to the birds-eye view that this post has taken. In the meantime, you may be interested to download the library branch data for the 22 libraries to be closed in Miami Dade County, or to take a look at your own local library branch market areas with our prototype planning tool, and visit our iMapLibraries site for more resources and information: http://www.imaplibraries.org

– Dean Jue (DJue@admin.fsu.edu), Christie Koontz (Christie.Koontz@cci.fsu.edu), Lorri Mon (lmon@fsu.edu) and Laura Spears at Florida State University, for iMapLibraries