Need grows, funds fall for Miami libraries

When Frank Rico was out of work a year ago, he used computers at the library to try to find a job.

“I came here to get the Internet,” he said at the Pinecrest branch of the Miami-Dade Public Library.

Rico had plenty of company. The number of people visiting Miami-Dade libraries increased from 5.9 million people in 2006-07, when the economy was humming, to 8.3 million in 2009-10.

The theme of the story for libraries during tough times: As the economy goes down, visitors go up.

At the same time, South Florida library systems have had to tighten their belts, with less public money for staffing, books and technology.

Libraries in Broward, for instance, eliminated Sunday hours at 36 branches. The Sunset Strip branch was shut down. Overall, library hours have decreased 6 percent since 2006, and the budget has decreased 17 percent.

As a result, the system has lost 312 staff members in the past four years.

But the first thing to go was programming, said Broward County Library Associate Director Julie Hunter. From basic computer training and financial literacy courses to cultural events and book readings for children, most programming must be funded by outside sources like Friends of Libraries groups or private grants.

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