This spring, EveryLibrary and Urban Librarians Unite (ULU) teamed up on a joint project to support the creation of the Coalition to Save our Libraries in Miami-Dade County, FL. EveryLibrary’s involvement in Miami-Dade started in September, 2013 when the Mayor wanted to cut the libary’s budget by about $20 million dollars. We did some advertising in the County as an independent expenditure* via Facebook in support of a grassroots group called “Save Miami-Dade County Libraries” and their calls-to-action for citizen engagement with their County Commissioners. We count that campaign support among our successes last year, helping to bring out hundreds of advocates to the final meeting of the board and securing $7 million in stop-gap funding for the library system. But as was reported at the time, they needed a permanent fix to their revenue.
With that funding restored last September, the Mayor of Miami-Dade was faced with a choice: either continue with his calls for draconian cuts to the library or find political cover to make them happen anyway. Choosing the latter, he impaneled a “Blue Ribbon Task Force” to make recommendations about the future of the library and its funding. This panel included a broad group of civic, social, and library constituents who did extensive work building an honest and fair picture of what funding level the library system requires to not only sustain services but to expand services for their growing community. As the Task Force progressed, the Mayor looked to the Blue Ribbon Task Force to provide recommendations in line with his desired cuts. Unfortunately for the Mayor, the cuts he wanted were not included in the work of the Task Force. He issued a so-called Final Report anyway that included two scenarios for cuts: $30 million, which would result in significant closures, reductions, and layoffs; and $50 million budget, which would still include significant reductions in hours, collections, services and staffing. The work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force all along was pointing to at least a $64 million funding level to simply sustain the library.
When the Mayor wanted to cut the library budget last year, a combination of grassroots and stakeholder-group advocacy turned that cut back. In response to the Blue Ribbon Task Force “report”, EveryLibrary was asked to convene a two-day retreat of advocates for the library. And with a possible referendum on the ballot in August, EveryLibrary was happy to help. We invited the Urban Libraries Unite team as our partner in this convening. With a potential need for several months of sustained grassroots organizing and action, ULU’s history of success in engaging and activating the public is key. Several of the same groups who participated in the Blue Ribbon Task Force were joined by new allied organizations around the community. Our job as conveners was to help these stakeholders build consensus on a funding level and plan of action for engaging both elected officials and activating grassroots support for their work. The work the Coalition has engaged is focused, intense, and based in the community’s need for a well funded library.
The first meeting of the County Board’s finance committee was Wednesday, April 23rd and the committee members gave the grassroots advocates and Coalition speakers a fair hearing. We’re hopeful that the levy can be set through the normal budget process this year. There has been talk of an advisory ballot measure there in August, but after all the problems with budget uncertainties last year, we’d rather see it get done in ‘regular order’ through the county Finance Committee. We’re proud of our work with ULU in support of the Coalition. The NPO Quarterly recently called it “a textbook example” of organizing. Thank you to all our supporters and donors who make this good work possible.
* “Independent Expenditures” is a technical term for how political action committees like EveryLibrary advocate directly with the public about a special interest. In this case, we reached out to several thousand voters and residents in Miami-Dade County about their library system’s perilous budget.