Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Keep Miami Stupid: the rationale behind closing libraries ... by gimleteye

There could be a hundred reasons Mayor Carlos Gimenez chose to cut "fat" in government by slicing libraries out of government services, but in doing so he willingly joined up with one deeply ingrained cracker tradition: keep Floridians stupid.

The main rationale behind keeping Floridians stupid is that it is easier to make money off the public if ordinary people are in the dark. Give people an education -- as might happen with libraries -- and sow the seeds of dissent with the established order.

I have a first-hand recollection to share on the subject: not with libraries but with another contested avenue of education: public radio.

I moved to Key West with my family from the northeast in 1988. I missed public radio, and so I set out to see what could be done about bringing public radio to the Keys. I visited with the WLRN station manager at the time who explained that extending the signal to the Keys depended on obtaining support from the Monroe County school board and that there had never been energy applied in Keys to recruit their support. The license for public radio in South Florida is held by the Miami-Dade school board.

Naively, I pursued the issue with Monroe County school board members. National public radio, like libraries, is an invaluable source of information and news, opening peoples' eyes to a wider world. (It is also hotly opposed by the radical GOP right.) No one would return my calls. I tried to engage some local Conchs with influence. They said: no one in the Keys wants to listen to school board meetings in Miami.

Finally, one school board member from Key West pulled me aside. He said to me, "It's not about opposition to broadcasting Miami school board meetings in the Keys. Look around you. What do you see?" I wasn't prepared for what he said, next. "There is a culture of keeping people stupid in the Keys. The powerful people know all about public radio. When they go to Miami, or New York, or Washington, they listen to it. They just don't want it, here."

Eventually -- with more letter writing and without fanfare -- public radio was extended to the Keys. I never forgot the lesson of this first foray into the margins of public life. The closing of Miami-Dade libraries calls back a history -- deeply racist, deeply patriarchal -- keeping people stupid is a Florida tradition.

In closing libraries, Mayor Gimenez slips neatly into a path that winds toward power as naturally as a sunflower tracks the arc of the sun.

We do what we can to shed light from this blog -- a kind of samizdat in the land of plenty. I'm sure that people could go to the library to either read a book or check on a computer what "samizdat" means, but for that to happen, the libraries would have to be funded and open. Ain't gonna happen in Miami-Dade.


Anonymous said...

because having so many of them up until now has produced such high intelligence?


Anonymous said...

LOL. There IS that.

Anonymous said...

Think of how bad it could be. Even dumber Floridians!

Japolina said...

The public in Miami libraries are filled with children after school doing their homework on the computers and/or using the free wifi. Where will children who don't have wifi and/or a computer at home do their homework. Don't underestimate how much of their homework must now be done on the computer/online.These children will be at an even great disadvantage.

Marty "Samizdat" McFly said...

Fahrenheit 451:

In an oppressive future, a fireman whose duty is
to destroy all books begins to question his task.

Fahrenheit 305: The retired firefighter is now mayor.

Anonymous said...

You may think children are dumb and lazy now but imagine what will happen if Gimenez closes public libraries? Imagine what will happen if the Miami-Dade School Board can't get its act together? Eventually the Miami-Dade School Board will hire an experienced and professional management team. In the meantime, public libraries fill a need. Gimenez should try stream lining "fat and happy" County departments.

Anonymous said...

"You know things are messed up when librarians are protesting in the streets." Keep the pressure on. Tell your neighbors. Call your commissioner and Mayor Gimenez 305 375-5071. Shame them. Tell them you will organize a recall. Not getting reelect end is the only thing they understand.

Anonymous said...

Living up to third world standards.

Anonymous said...

Martinez, Gimenez's senior advisor for our libraries, is a former teacher. Gimenez's wife, a top administrator for MDCPS, was a former teacher. Don't they object to this, or do things change when you find the better job? Now that I think about it, I did field work under Gimenez's wife years ago and my child was sick. When I told her I couldn't come in, she said, "Can't you just drop her off somewhere?". If that's how those parents dealt with their own kids when they were sick, do you think they give a crap about the poor ones without computers?

Anonymous said...

Question of the day: Main Library paid $5.1 or $5.2 million per year since 1986. A county dept with a special taxing district funding have to pay a lease to the county's general fund for a county building that was built with bond money (I believe.)

and another insult:
the two neighboring museums: History Miami and MAM - never paid rent.

Something about subsidies from the General Fund but that was vaguely discussed.

Malagodi said...

You know ah love me mah Eye on My-Am-A. An invaluable body of work. So normally when there’s a piece in there that seems like, well, filler, I just let it go by. Writers and bloggers must write and blog, even if every last bit of it isn’t exactly revelatory.

But I must comment on this particular piece, as it provides an opportunity to make what I think are some important corrections and to offer a slightly different perspective.

Ok. Now on the matter of “ingrained cracker tradition: keep Floridians stupid.” This is a most unfortunate statement. Stupidity among Floridians, like stupidity everywhere including on a personal level is generally not something imposed by others; it is almost always self-inflicted behavior or a lack of fundamental gift. And further, to use the word “ingrained” and “cracker” together is deliberately suggestive of genetic inbreeding often ascribed to Appalachian so-called hillbillies. Florida Crackers and rural Appalachians are very different peoples. It is considered a slur, and to my mind this remark comes off as a cheap elitist insult. But anyway, the real point here is that there is a difference between stupidity (a trait) and ignorance (a condition). More on this later.

As an example you cite the efforts to bring public radio to the Florida Keys. You cite as an anecdote one Monroe School Board member claim that powerful people “don’t want it here” as the reason for your frustration at the process of implementation. The actual reasons why it took so long to bring NPR to the Keys were technological and financial, not political ideology. In the early to mid-80’s, the technology required to deliver unified broadcast content across the topography of the Keys was limited essentially to two methods; 15k dedicated copper wires running from Miami to Key West (expensive), or a series of low power repeaters - less expensive but technically challenging. After much debate and recommendations that landlines be installed, the decision was made to go with the repeater option. Making it work was difficult to say the least. In short, it had everything to do with money and technology, and nothing to do with a conspiracy of the powerful to keep people stupid.

Why is this important and what does it have to do with the libraries? It has to do with the difference between stupid and ignorant. People cannot generally be made stupid, but they can be kept ignorant. Politicians might not necessarily want people to be stupid, as stupid people can be unruly at times. But they certainly want people to be ignorant; ignorant of what they are doing. In our time ignorance is best achieved by a combination of censorship and distraction. I put it to you and your readers that both WLRN and NPR do a fine job at both.
I suggest to you that the closure of the libraries has more to do with the technology of climate change adaptation and economics than it does with some scheme of imposed stupidity. By now, every department head in every branch of government in South Florida understands that to deal technically with the impacts of sea level rise means that there is no money for anything else, and there won’t be for a very long time. Not libraries, not museums, not art, not nothing. So this is about picking the winners and losers, and guess what; wealthy elites don’t need or use libraries or animal shelters. They need ports and transportation corridors for freight and cheap energy. And they need security forces. Fire Rescue? Among the winners the response time will be ok, among the losers, it won’t.

So we can see that ignorance is important. Even the most stupid human beings among us are a threat to the powerful if those stupid people become aware of what’s going on around them. Even hillbillies know how to fight back. Let us not be distracted by false fears about imaginary ‘ingrained crackers’. We would be stupid to do so.

Cee said...

Library Director Raymond Santiago made $196,560.34 last year. The greedy Library executive employees would prefer to close libraries than cut their bloated salaries. Put the blame where it belongs.

Anonymous said...

Yeah right. It's the high salaries of librarians that is driving the county to financial ruin. Dunno if that last anon was being ironic or what.

Malagodi is right - winners and losers are being picked in these last days of disco. The debt service on the Port of Miami is $60 million a year. It loses money every year but it is supposed to be our great job generator and thus a sacred cow. With the competition from other ports, including Caribbean and South and Central ports, it will not get the business it claims it will get to pay for all its improvements, including the new $1billion tunnel. But taxpayers will pay up. Not to mention the sports stuff: Taxpayers pay the Heat $6.5 million a year. We will pay the Marlins another $x-hundreds of millions. The Dolphins will eventually get more millions)

All the taxpayer funds from all new development and gambling revenue will never be enough to pay for libraries, public schools or public parks because there is always another pet project that benefits a special interest that profits using public assets and the public's money.

The taxpayer revolt of the tea party and Braman, the attack on public employees and pensions is just a distraction. While elected officials make a show of not raising taxes, they continue to spend money on projects that benefit THEIR constituents - the lobbyists and their clients.

Meanwhile, children and old ladies have to beg in the streets to keep their public libraries open.

Anonymous said...

As long as we are OK with a $1 billion tunnel and a $2 million home run sculpture at the Marlins stadium, librarians will have to go begging until the last library shuts down.
It's Potterville for the losers, a wonderful life for the winners and their lobbyist friends.

Anonymous said...

Rather than close those libraries, why not give the facilities to the Dade County School Board? There could be classes during the day to generate FTE and pay for their basic operations, and seek other funding for after school programs and Saturday operations. They could be sites for small experimental programs or demonstration programs, for distance learning training, virtual classes and the like. We can't afford for these facilities to sit idly by, vacant with no one using them.

Anonymous said...

The libraries are heavily used and if they are NOT, they should be. Employers complain constantly that they cannot find enough smart well educated employees. Gimenez and the other commissioners who voted to CLOSE libraries need to study more.

Anonymous said...

The school system needs to begin offering Adult Learning classes online and these programs could be ran out of these facilities. You could have ten of thousands of adults all over the county enrolled in classes ,never leave their homes, and generate FTEs in their pjs.

Anonymous said...

Beyond the present crisis, we need a long range plan for the library system which speaks to the technological and cultural changes that we are experiencing. There has to be a tremendous amount of new activity and thinking going on in the library industry. Once the baby boomers leave, paper books will probably disappear. Even now, when I give books away during the holidays many young people only want digital copies. Maybe the new library workers will be mostly IT people, and maybe they will be learning centers instead of libraries to embrace much larger missions. At the same time things are happening so fast that we need constant training and information. The idea of just going to school and finishing is over. That concept probably ended with the 20th century. We have to keep learning more and new things just to keep up. We need a plan.

Anonymous said...

Really Cee...not sure where you get your info. The executives at the library were reduced from 5 to 3 in 2010
Salaries and benefits have been reduced by 25% and no one in the administration has received a raise in 7 years.

Mr. Santiago managed a budget of $58M dollars and 600 employees, I hardly think he or any other of his library staff are over paid. Instead of spending a lifetime helping people as librarians ...the MDPLS staff find themselves defending their existence. What kind of community is this?
Librarians have Masters Degrees, years of experience and a high level of expertise

Anonymous said...

You really need to understand that the Library system has its own dedicated taxing district. That means that there is no way to cover shortages in the Library district other than increasing taxes, or reducing costs (services, eliminating or reduing lease payments, labor concessions). This is different from the Fire District. They could by ordinance bring the Library District back into the Countywide, and, maybe provide a pro-rata grant to those Cities that provide their own Libraries. At the end of the day, I predict that less than 5 libraries will be closed, and those are the ones with less than 40,000 visits a year, as compared to the larger units with 500,000 visits per year.

What I do know is that space for libraries will be less of an issue in the digital age, and that we should change with the times to make it a more efficient and ultimately sustainable public service.

Anonymous said...

"One way for the county to have more flexibility in managing the library budget is to dissolve the stand-alone taxing district that funds it and instead fold it into the general fund, Gimenez said. The taxing district had been created so residents of cities with their own municipal libraries, such as Miami Shores, did not have to pay taxes toward the county system."

So, to stay afloat, the general fund "taxes" its own employees five percent under the guise of a contribution towards group health. Even part-timers who will not qualify for insurance must pay this insurance cost for the privilege of working at a county job. This compulsory contribution supports the general fund by $37 million a year, without which it would experience significant service impacts and more layoffs.

So, now Mr. Mayor, why should your idea help the library system's future fiscal health? Well, it'll help you bundle the library department under the Parks Department. It'll help you close branches as you convert the parks purpose of promoting the great outdoors to promoting indoor technology centers. You did so wanted to close 13 libraries in 2011, but instead only got to hurt 250 library staff in a layoff, reduce hours and programs such as the free tutoring service. Since there is such a vocal outcry this go around, if the library system can be swallowed whole into parks maybe few will realize that one by one, they get phased out.