Bookleggers' Founder Nathaniel Sandler on Miami's Library Closings: "I Think It's Shameful"
Earlier this month, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez reversed his stance on raising property taxes. Now he wants to close almost half of our public libraries. Many of those libraries are in low-income neighborhoods, and their closure will affect poor adults who rely on the library system for online access, as well as children, who depend on library programming and books.
Nathaniel Sandler is a founding member of Bookleggers, a successful mobile library celebrating its one-year anniversary this Sunday at the Broken Shaker. He also freelances for the University of Miami Special Collections library and writes for WLRN, for which he recently penned a scathing critique of the mayor's plans. And August 13, Sandler will lecture at Locust Projects about the future of libraries, which he believes are not as disposable as the mayor apparently thinks.
We caught up with the bibliophile to talk about the ongoing library debate.
New Times: How do you feel about the mayor trying to close almost half of our libraries?
Nathaniel Sandler: I think it's shameful. Budget cuts are budget cuts, but the reality is that his message is an affront to our shared heritage and, more important, the underserved communities in Miami. If you're truly broke and need to make your life better, you probably don't have a computer and the cash for a monthly bill to a huge internet providing company. Not everyone can afford a $60 monthly Comcast bill for the internet. So you go to a library. Libraries logged a million hours of internet use in Miami-Dade. Those are people who don't have computers or online access at home -- is Gimenez's mindset just "screw them"? I guess so. It seems inhumane for the power brokers to put everything online and then systematically begin taking away free access to information.
You're right. Nationwide, 30 percent of households don't have internet access at home, and the rates are higher for minorities. According to the U.S. Census, almost half of Hispanic and black households don't have internet access at home. We're supposed to be this burgeoning "international" city. We should be opening libraries, not closing them. And you can't say "go to an internet café," because they also cost money, and there's currently a ban on them.
Most people don't understand that libraries aren't just books. There's free internet access, original and irreplaceable archival material, and places where kids and families and schoolteachers build community. Every book in the library isn't on the internet. They're just not.