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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cost-cutting measures mean reduced services at Fairfax County libraries

George Mason Regional Library
In an effort to cut costs, the Fairfax County library system is implementing major changes that will result in reduced services for local residents—and it’s all being done without public hearings or other input from library users.

The professional staff is being downgraded, so new employees won’t need to have a master’s degree in library science. No one is being laid off, but people who retire or resign won’t be replaced.

A new service model is in the works to focus on basic assistance rather than professional-level research for patrons. The libraries are adopting a “single-service desk,” with one employee responsible for helping people check out books and pay fines, as well as answer questions about how to find information. Now, those  functions are considered two separate jobs.

This model is being beta-tested for six months in two libraries, the Reston Regional Library, where the staff has been cut from 20 to 13 positions, and the Burke Centre Library, which is down from nine to seven employees. The results from that test will be available next winter.

“Everyone who works in the libraries feel these changes came as a great surprise. People feel blindsided,” said one library employee. “Even the branch managers were not consulted.” And because there was no opportunity for public input, library patrons are going to be surprised when they find many of the services they relied on will be gone.

Several library employees are expected to discuss these issues at a meeting of the Library Board of Trustees, tonight, 7 p.m., at the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale. The meeting is open to the public.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has the final say on the library budget, but the library board makes policy decisions, and so far, it’s gone along with the recommendations of Library Director Edwin “Sam” Clay.

According to Clay, the changes “would save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the long term.” He said the job of a branch manager has evolved to the point that training in management is more useful than specific training in library science.

He has also indicated that there’s less of a need for professionally trained librarians because there’s so much information on the internet. 

That policy seems to be based on the idea that anyone can do the work, said a library employee. While there’s an overwhelming amount of material online, people still need guidance on what is a credible source. As another librarian said,  “Anyone can Google; not everyone knows what they get.” It’s easy to look up diseases online, for example, but it takes a professional librarian to be able to find the right source to give people what they want to know.

According to Clay, the changes are needed to ensure the libraries remain “relevant and alive to users.” Unless they can remain a vital part of the community, libraries will “sink into oblivion,” he said. “We cannot remain as we are.”

In another new policy that took effect in May, books are no longer returned to their home library if they are dropped off at a different branch. That means a particular library could amass a collection of the same book, while another could have none. Librarians can still order books from another branch, but patrons often don’t know what they want unless they actually see it.

That’s also a problem when particular libraries have collections based on the needs of the communities they serve. For example, Thomas Jefferson Library has the largest collection of Vietnamese books. If those books get dispersed to other libraries where there aren’t a lot of Vietnamese speakers, they won’t be checked out and thus could eventually be discarded.

Clay is expected to retire in a few years, but librarians fear that these changes are so significant that it will be hard for new leaders to change direction, even if they wanted to. 

These policy changes could have a far-reaching impact. Good schools and libraries are critical in attracting new business to Fairfax County, so when these services are underfunded and the quality deteriorates, it “ultimately affects the whole county,” a librarian said.

A letter from a library patron to Kay Rzasa, branch manager at George Mason, echoes that sentiment. “This county earned its reputation as an outstanding place to live by providing excellent schools, libraries, and other community facilities that were not available elsewhere,” it  states.  “Fairfax County needs to protect the things that make it special, or it will lose the tax base that allowed it to become special in the first place.”

34 comments:

  1. Wow! I can't believe this! I'm sure there will be an outcry from the public about this! Not only are librarians extremely useful for knowledge of books, but many patrons at the library I work at seek technological advice from librarians (ereaders, tablets, computers, etc). Losing employees like this is not only heartbreaking, since most librarians are the nicest people I know, but it'll effect people more than they realize. I understand its to save money, but what about using volunteers to help? I pity the person who is now going to have to do three jobs in one - its a terrible burden to have. I feel like the people responsible for this passing are generally people who have never worked the desk, helped patrons all day, or even shelved books. These people should walk a day in a librarians shoes and realize how much we do for the community.

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  2. Agreed that the idea of not returning books to their home libraries is a recipe for disaster. Just look at how much re-balancing Capital Bikeshare has to do...

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  3. I sent the following message to Supervisor Gross:
    I am one of easily 1000 residents living in the area affected by the proposed Parklawn cell phone monopole. So far I have received TWO notices from Fairfax Count Board of Zoning Appeals about a hearing; each letter was sent certified mail at a cost of $6.11 each. I doubt there is any of my neighbors who doesn't know about this issue and has an opinion that hasn't been heard. I told Supervisor Gross that I thought this was an inapprorpiate use of taxpayer money.
    After reading this article I hope others will echo this sentiment; I would much rather have my money spent on library staff than needless certified mail.

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  4. Oh the humanity! Seriously liberals, you reap what you sew. Your years of unmitigated spending has to end, so make cuts other places if you want this. As a responsible voter - I'm not happy about this particular cutback - but nobody is starving because of it and it is a zero sum game.

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    1. Actually I wear what I sew. I reap what I sow.

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    2. Sounds like this person could benefit from the use of a library.

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  5. But, I am sure there is plenty of money in the til for the free lunches(and breakfast) all summer long provided by the taxpayers.

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    1. Social Services are getting a big chunk of taxpayer moneys these days. Enforce the laws.

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  6. This is absolutely terrible. Not requiring librarians to have a masters downgrades the profession. Librarians are skilled professionals whether in law firms, hospitals, schools or public venues. And, so much for my role on the "community member advisory committee" - I never saw so much as a survey about these changes.

    I can't even begin to tell you how much libraries serve all members of the community, whether it be providing computers, space for English language learners to meet, or books in print or online. Maybe no one is starving because of the cuts but I bet there are people who are NOT starving because of what libraries and librarians have done for them. Thank you Annandale Blog for bringing this to our attention and treating it with the urgency it requires.

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  7. The County is cutting the Park Service budget, cutting the libraries budget, not giving teacher raises in years, but increasing Social Services and not enforcing the law. When are you going to stop voting in the incumbent and on party lines.

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    1. what increases in social services? What are you talking about?

      AFAIK social services in FFX and of course in Va generally are lower (maybe far lower) than in DC or Maryland thanks to conservatives. thats supposed to lead to limitless economic growth, so we should have all the libraries and parks we want. Guess that isn't working out.

      But at least our taxes are lower than in Maryland or DC. You can go buy books from Amazon, and when you want to recreate, go pay for a health club, right? Privatize everything.

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    2. How about free breakfast and lunch all summer?

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    3. Yeah, Heaven forbid that poor people should be fed in the summer when they can forage for food!

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    4. I want to know if these people's SNAP benefits are being reduced by the amount of free and reduced breakfasts and lunches their kids are getting all year long. I would hate to pay twice for meals, especially since the rates of childhood obesity are so high.

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  8. Articles like this amuse me. Customers that frequent the library I work at come in now and see two people out on the floor - one circulation and one reference - where there used to be three or four people working blame the politicians and the "budget cuts" they amuse me also. The truth is we don't need more than two people on the floor. We don't have the numbers to justify hiring the positions vacated by retirees so my library system hasn't filled positions in years. And another fact, scary but true, 95% of the questions I answer at the reference desk can be answered by anyone. We librarians appreciate the props I'm still an awesome search engine but... Libraries aren't what they used to be and they never will be that again so as a profession we are struggling to find our way. Hopefully we will or we will go the same route as the buggy whip.
    P.S. This article is the worst - what services are being cut? - list them! And they are talking about a floating collection (when materials are kept where they are returned and not sent home) libraries, including where I work now, have been doing this for years. It allows the customers to build the collection instead of the library so the mentioned Vietnamese books will stay at whatever location where they get the most use.

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    1. Wow, I hope you dont work for FCPL!

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    2. Dont worry, even if they do they wont for long!

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    3. Sam Clay is that you? Jan?? Katie???

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    4. The specific challenge with some foreign language materials like Korean is that it is almost impossible to identify an item to put it on hold. The catalog is incomprehensible to both the foreign language speaker and English speakers since it uses a phonetic way of "translating" titles and authors rather than characters or a standard English spelling -- it is not reliably searchable and very awkward to "browse."

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  9. "This article is the worst "

    I guess as a librarian you are used to people complaining about services they don't pay for - but note, unlike libraries, this blog doesn't receive govt funds either. IIUC its basically a labor of love.

    If you have more info, it would be great if you could provide it.

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  10. I heard that there was a full house at the Board meeting and people voiced their concerns in a respectful and constructive manner. The pilot program, I hear, will be postponed until October after more analysis of the situation will occur. YAY! I <3 libraries. : ) : ) : ) : ) : ) : ) : ) : )

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  11. I am not confident that more analysis is going to change anything. The Library Board and FCPL need to be a lot clearer to the public now on the proposed changes in service and service levels that will affect the public. They seem to think that they can cut the staff by a third, lower their qualifications, and not impact the quality of library services.

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  12. As an FCPL librarian I have helped college students find appropriate research materials for their online courses; located obscure articles in foreign journals for authors; helped many people prepare resumes and conduct job searches both locally and out-of-state; tracked down family birth records, wedding licenses and death certificates for genealogical research; taught basic and not-so-basic computer skills; and recommended 1000s of books to children and teen readers as well as adults -- books I have read as part of my job as a reader's advisor. I'm so glad to know my job can be handed over to a non-professional because Library Director Sam Clay thinks anyone can do it. It will be a sad day for Fairfax libraries if the residents are willing to sacrifice professional level library services to save a penny on their tax bills.

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  13. It is really unfortunate that this is not a better article. It is very one-sided with its tone and obviously written from the standpoint of someone disagreeing with the proposed changes for FCPL. The positives on floating the collection, for example, aren't even mentioned. And there are many, aside from saving money.

    I happen to disagree with some of the proposed changes, but the cause would be better served by coverage that's more balanced that what looks like an angry press release written by a library employee.

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  14. Fairfax County brags about having world class amenities and school system, but does not fund libraries. Right now, thousands of FCPS students are flooding our libraries to keep up their reading skills over the summer - and they are being helped by FCPL children's librarians, who know what the children need to succeed in school. I hope the Board of Supervisors sees this connection - libraries help keep our schools strong.

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  15. www.lastofthelibrarians.com

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  16. The cure for what ails the library is money. Money, unfortunately, is something Fairfax County tax payers will never agree to pony up more of, ever! This area claims to be liberal leaning, but when it comes to putting their money where their mouths are, tax payers go for the budget cuts every time.

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  17. They plan to change the Librarian job title to Customer Service Specialist. Seriously. Can you believe it?

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  18. Didnt Sam Clay teach Library Science for CUA until recently? You can still find his name there http://lis.cua.edu/directory/clay.cfm but I didn't see it on the schedule for teaching this fall.

    Seems like he's really undermining that LIS program. He is listed as teaching 607 Management in the LIS program but is replacing LIS graduates with non LIS graduates???

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  19. The job requirements to become a librarian in Fairfax County have been revised. Now all an applicant will need is sixty college credit hours and two years of customer service experience. So,the expert advice the public is relying on could very well come from a former 7-11 clerk or sales person at Target with no college degree. This is the new excellence in customer service standard in Fairfax libraries. I will start calling the the Loundoun County PL reference desk for real library service. So sad.

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  20. Mr. Sam Clay saying there is less need for professionally trained librarians, because there is so much information on the internet, is a little like saying there's so much information in books that we really never needed librarians. As a library user, I must observe that Mr. Clay is completely out of touch with what takes place in libraries.

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  21. My sister is a librarian so I understand why the FCPL staff is upset. It is hard to see the job you trained so hard for be taken by someone with far less experience (and student loans) than you.

    Unfortunately for librarians, it is pretty easy to find meaningful information on Google and other internet sites. I don't need a librarian to show me where to find information on medical diseases etc. And you certainly don't need a master's degree to shelve books. I can't remember the last time I interacted with a librarian at FCPL. I use the self-checkout and find things myself. It's unfortunate that this is happening, but it is happening. All over the country.

    As a FC resident, I'd far rather see the library's limited funds go towards more library books and e-books than to pay for a bunch of librarians standing around, hoping that someone with a book report comes in the door.

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  22. One of the problems is the misconception that everyone is as versed in using resources, both online and in print, as those who are English-speaking, college-educated, frequent users of libraries and information. In reality, many library users may be using libraries for the first time {in some countries libraries are very formal affairs and users can only use the resources with what is basically a letter of referral}, have never used the internet, don't know how books are arranged {Dewey is international but still takes getting used to}, etc. There is also library programming. Programs by librarians are not haphazardly thrown together. Often librarians work to offer programming unique to their library's population. Story hours are not just a random reading of books. In addition, there are a lot of services you just don't see being done by librarians in the library...because they are out in the community. Librarians who visit schools to give book talks or promote the summer reading programs or bring books to the elderly based on their interests. Yes, self checkout is great - I use it myself and much prefer it to standing in line. I can do meaningful searches on Google because I am lucky to have the education and the means {and the skepticism} to find or ignore information. But if you just pay for more books, you will soon have a shell of just that: books. It takes a trained librarian to really know how to connect with and create NEW readers and enthusiastic library users.

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  23. So I take it that all those who have signed the petition have zero balance on their own library account!

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