If you thought Sharknado with the worse thing to come out this summer, think again! Turns out that a recent decision out of the office of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, wins in the "Summer 2013 Worst Idea Ever" category. You see, Mayor Gimenez recently decided it made more sense to close down 22 libraries and lay off 251 employees than to increase property taxes. Clearly, someone that is as civically engaged as a mayor of a city with the second highest income inequality of any large county, in the country would have not made this decision unless his brain was completely overtaken by Libramnesia.
No, Libramnesia is not the name of a woman or the latest mixed drink to grace the pages of Ruby Tuesday's summer cocktail menu. Libramnesia is a highly common but, under-treated social condition that causes its sufferers to completely forget about libraries or even worse, believe libraries are irrelevant. Personally, I know all about Libramnesia because I once suffered from this debilitating disease for almost 10 years. My particular case was caused by the trauma of spending countless overnighters on the first floor of Bird Library throughout my four years at Syracuse. Once I handed in my last paper of my college career, I did not step foot into a library again until nearly a decade later.
My first visit back to the library was prompted by another debilitating condition I was also suffering from at the time called unemployment. I was unemployed and needed a book. Up until then, if I wanted a book I bought one. Given my jobless state of being, I decided I could no longer afford the luxury of shopping for books at Barnes and Nobles. Only then, when I needed access to information that I otherwise could not access on my own, did I regain my memory.
The thing that struck me immediately upon my return to my local library was how much the library had changed since I last remembered it. No longer was I limited to borrowing books and DVDs. Now I could register to learn computer software skills or resume-building techniques. In addition, there were opportunities for me to attend forums on topics impacting my community and participate in dialogues with my public officials. I couldn't help but also notice librarians were no longer wearing buns in their hair. Instead, they wore beautiful smiles that represented the diversity of my community. Despite all of the new additions, one very important thing remained the same -- library programs were still free!
Fast forward to today and I'm proud to say, I serve as President of the Board of Directors for one of the country's most innovative urban public libraries -- Hartford Public Library. In my dual role as a library board trustee and Libramnesia survivor, I recently headed to Chicago for a librarianship double header -- the American Library Association's Annual Conference and the Urban Library Council's Annual Forum. During my time at the conference I met with incredibly smart and passionate men and women from around the country, that all shared an unbreakable commitment to their respective library community.
Fortunately, for me, I recovered, however, there are still those amongst us that continue to suffer. This includes Libramnesia's latest victim, Mayor Gimemez. In his fragile condition, the mayor was quoted as saying "the age of the library is probably ending." Yes, the library that the mayor probably remembers as solely being a repository of books is so over. But here's the thing, in this day and age of epic social inequality, there is no public institution more relevant to our communities than the public library. And that's because public libraries, especially in our urban communities, are centers for education, innovation and civic engagement.
Sufferers of Libramnesia have been known to regain their memory and appreciation for the awesomeness that is our country's public libraries by experiencing unemployment, homelessness, immigration and/or ghostly encounters with Andrew Carnegie. For those sufferers that wish not to have to go this route, they can elect to visit I Love Libraries. In the event you don't have access to the internet, please know you can visit your local public library and they are more than happy to help you get online (unless of course you happen to live in Miami-Dade county and usually go to one the 22 libraries that are on the chopping block). We can only hope that one day we can eradicate this awful disease from negatively impacting our communities. In the meantime, let's pray for the residents of Miami-Dade that Mayor Gimenez recovers from his severe bout with Libramnesia and makes a speedy recovery.