Miami libraries struggle to provide Internet access

In the past months, a pair of articles in the Miami Herald highlighted two very different problems facing the area’s libraries – problems which are echoed in communities around the country.

In late September, the Herald reported on a Miami-Dade panel  convened by the Knight Foundation which sought to make libraries more 21st century. The panel urged that in order to increase usage, libraries change their core identity. How? “… away from a quiet place for reading into more of an amenity-rich community center, with enough offerings to attract people uninterested in free books or computer time.”

But just a few weeks later the paper reported a very different problem occurring nightly throughout then library system. Students without home Internet  flood the branches – especially in low-income areas of the metro. And frequently have to wait or receive outdated and inadequate computer equipment.

One librarian told the Herald, “The laptops we do have, the batteries aren’t working. You can check out a laptop, and the next 30 minutes it’s dead. The sad part is, if you don’t have a computer, you can’t do your homework.”

It’s a vast problem, with libraries struggling to fill the need. Various surveys have found that between 25 and 45 percent of young library users have no home online access. The latest census numbers reveal that just under 20 percent of children live without Internet. But, Miami is in worse shape than most communities where in neighborhoods like Miami Gardens, one in five residents are below the poverty level.

There is a nationwide goal to move from paper to online resources, but in some ways this is making things worse.

Miami schools’ system’s digital-learning officer said, “The goal is really to get to a point where kids do have a personal device and have Internet access outside of school. Unfortunately, so many of our kids are poor, so it’s rather challenging.”

In the meantime, poor children attempt to make do with the library – and often fail. Not from lack of motivation or skill, but because of endless lines for computers.

Library branch manager Michele Stiles was heard telling a waiting child, “If you ever come here and there is a long wait for a computer, you can get an ‘excuse note’ from the front.”

Not good enough, America.

Miami-Dade libraries need to end ‘bookish’ attitude, panel says (Miami Herald, Sep. 29, 2014)

With no Internet at home, Miami-Dade kids crowd libraries for online homework (Oct. 12, 2014)