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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

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

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]