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It’s So Much More Than Books PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
January 2018

Flush with money, Miami-Dade libraries offer stellar services

FLibrary_1ed up with paywalls? Trying to pare down those subscription costs? Downloaded Kindle and Audiobooks adding up?

Then wipe those scales from your eyes, save your money, and check out the library.

What’s more, you don’t have to leave home, where the library is open 24/7.

This year the Miami-Dade Public Library, freshly strengthened with a record budget, is embarking on its biggest push in years to expand its digital offerings, hours and services, and to spruce up its 50 branches.

Since the budget year started in October, the system has added hours, staffing, services, and money to the collection budget in its branches, bookmobiles, learning centers, and its “technobus,” a mobile computer classroom introduced last March with ten computer stations, tablets, a kiosk, even a drone. The 2017-2018 budget is $83.7 million, up from $73 million last year and $57.9 million in 2014-2015.

The biggest reason for these recent increases is the tax-roll growth of the past few years, which has allowed replenishment of capital projects and emergency reserves with suspended or depleted funding during the great recession.

In a world where sophisticated information grows ever more “monetized” (read: paywalls), the library provides another entry for everyone to learn and get informed.

The system serves 2.5 million people, of whom more than 1 million have library cards, with access to 5.5 million collection items, 242,000 downloadable or streaming audio or ebooks, 7 million downloadable songs and music videos, and about 272 digital magazines.

Last year people checked out 3.7 million books and downloaded 594,000 ebooks, emagazines, and music.

Library_2The system has a reciprocal relationship with some independent municipal libraries not in the system, including North Miami, North Miami Beach, and Hialeah. If you live outside Miami-Dade or in Bal Harbour, Surfside, or Miami Shores (which operates its own library but has no reciprocal relationship), you’ll have to pay $100 a year for the privilege.

The Miami-Dade system offers services for the homebound, Project L.E.A.D. (Literacy for Every Adult in Dade) with one-on-one confidential tutoring in reading and writing; growing programs with visiting authors; and other kinds of outreach. In early 2018, the library will revive its Homework Assistance Programs on Saturdays in 18 locations, with certified educators tutoring youngsters in person. That program was cut in 2012, and now it’s back.

“We think that program will be a big hit and bring people back into the libraries,” says Miami-Dade Public Library director Ray Baker. “Another thing we’ll focus is our facilities in general, with a lot of work on basic infrastructure in all our branches. That is a nonstop activity we’ll work on constantly.

“The library is a trusted source and a trusted space,” Baker adds. “We do citizenship workshops to bring immigrants here, and work with other community groups. The things we take for granted are not available to everyone. That was highlighted especially after Irma. We had some of the first spaces open to the public. Some were thirsty for books. Some needed the AC and the electricity to charge devices, the WiFi. We were slammed. We’re seeing an uptick of people from Puerto Rico looking for resources, including librarians from Puerto Rico looking for jobs.”

Baker, who has held executive positions throughout the county for nearly 25 years, was named director last June after more than two years as assistant and then interim director. He is armed with a master’s in library and information science from the University of South Florida and an MBA from the University of Miami.

Still, he found some surprises when he took his experience to the library system.

“I vastly underestimated how important libraries are to so many people,” he says. “Many people don’t have easy access to many things a lot of us take for granted -- like WiFi access. Things that most of us consider part of our daily lives are not part of other’s daily lives.”

So as the library likes to say, “It’s more than books.” Digitization, of course, proceeds apace. Sometime in January, the system plans to go live with the ecard, so you can get your card online rather than visiting a branch. The system is starting to digitize its special collections, accessible via mdpls.org/digitalcollections. Eventually, it will link them with the Digital public Library of America at https://dp.la.

A few months ago, before Irma and the budget hearings, Baker took the BT for a spin through the library’s website at mdpls.org. You need a card to get full use of the site.

Free courses? Check out course provider Lynda.com, where one learns business, creative, and tech skills via video. Normally, it’s $30 a month. Through the Miami-Dade Public Library, it’s free, along with Khan Academy and Gale Cengage Learning. Baker took a free Excel course and got a certificate. So can you.

Online books? Go to eBooks, Audiobooks, and More, and you get instant links to hoopla, rbDigital, OverDrive, axis360, or (in Spanish) Odilo, which link you to fiction, nonfiction, audiobooks, and more, with apps for your phone, your Kindle, and your computer.

Languages? Go to Learning and Resources. Scroll down the vast array of resources on the right, and look for Mango Languages. Click, and you’ll find 72 languages, from American Sign Language to four kinds of Arabic to Cantonese and Mandarin to Yiddish.

Free magazines? Go to rbDigital Magazines and choose from 272 newspapers and magazines. Vogue, Food Network, and Better Homes are among the most popular. But there are plenty of meaty ones, such as the Economist, the Atlantic, Harper’s, or the New Yorker.

Newspapers? Go to Newsbank, and you’ll find the Miami Herald and El Nuevo archives back to 1983. Or broaden your menu to the Sun-Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, or any of 153 choices in Florida alone.

Here things get tricky. You can search articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, but you can’t get to the full, online digital newspaper. As for the Financial Times, Washington Post, and many other sources, you still have to contend with the paywall. Libraries are trying to negotiate access, but these publications rely on your subscriptions to do their jobs and report the news.

Investments? Again, under Resources, on the right, you can scroll down to Morningstar or Value Line, and get information for free, rather than $100 or $500 a year.

Songs? Download up to five songs a week free through Freegal, rather than spending 99 cents per song at the iTunes store. You can stream up to three hours a day.

Stuck at home? Don’t worry. Happens to us all. Try askalibrarian.org, and a real human being will answer you live and online 24/7 from somewhere in the state, thanks to the Florida Library Services and Technology Act. The site comes with a nifty superhero cartoon, too, with the inscription: “I’m Here to Fight for Truth, Justice, and Better Research Skills.”

And, one can add, the American Way. (The library’s digital comics collection is worth checking out, by the way.) With all this force at your command, one New Year’s resolution worth keeping is to spend less money and unleash your inner library Ninja.

 

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