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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

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