|Thomas Jefferson Library in Falls Church.|
Library advocates say the changes would downgrade the professional staff, resulting in reduced services to the public.
More than 600 people have signed an online petition posted by the library “friends” groups. The petition says the policy changes “will result in drastic reductions in staff available to serve patrons in the branches, near elimination of programming geared towards children, and a workforce that lacks the advanced certifications and skills necessary to fulfill specialized requests.”
The petition calls for the Fairfax County library board to “postpone indefinitely” the FCPL “beta project” and re-evaluate its direction. The beta project is implementing these changes at the Reston and Burke Centre libraries.
Clay insists the changes are needed because the library budget has to be cut by $850,000 and libraries need to be updated in light of changes in how people use them and because so much information is available online. A “fact sheet” Clay sent to supervisors downplays the impact of the changes on library services for the public.
Outreach to supervisors
During the past couple of weeks, library employees, including representatives of the Fairfax County Public Library Employees Association, have met with several Fairfax County supervisors to share their concerns. They are also reaching out to citizen association organizations and homeschooling parents, who rely heavily on libraries, and are passing out postcards at community meetings that individuals can send to their supervisors.
A major concern of library employees and supporters is that Clay didn’t seek their input before proceeding with the changes. Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova and several of the other supervisors indicated that the policies should be put on hold until the library administration has a chance to hear from employees and the public.
At a meeting with library employees, Supervisor John Foust (Dranesville) said he’s already gotten a lot of feedback from the public and said he didn’t agree with the idea that libraries are no longer essential and should be subject to constant budget cutting. Not all of the supervisors are aligned with the employees, however. At another meeting, Supervisor Pat Herrity (Springfield) wasn’t that concerned about the policy changes and indicated they should be given a chance.
An Aug. 12 written statement from Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (Hunter Mill) says: “I fully support public libraries as an essential service . . . While the county has struggled in recent budgets with service reductions, I believe we have already gone too far. Please know that I am not in favor of additional limits to library services.” She noted that she has not yet received anything from FCPL and is scheduled to meet with Clay in September.
A library employee group has not met with Mason Supervisor Penny Gross yet. Elizabeth Clements, a member of the library board representing Mason, said she has talked to Gross about the proposed changes and says, “she is very interested and concerned. Penny Gross has always been a great supporter of libraries.”
Clements predicts a lively discussion at the next board meeting on Sept. 11. “Things are in limbo. There’s great controversy,” she says. “We love our libraries. We want them to remain the finest libraries in Virginia. Some view libraries as amenities. We feel they’re a necessity in our communities.”
Some of the branch managers have scheduled a meet a meeting with Clay for Aug. 15 to present alternative proposals for addressing the need to cut the library budget without overly diminishing the quality of libraries.
The branch managers’ recommendations call for delaying the new job classifications, retaining librarians that specialize in children’s and youth services, and soliciting feedback from staff. They don’t oppose the proposal for a single-service desk—combining information and circulation functions—but would like to see it phased in over several years. And if the budget needs to be cut, they would prefer closing one or two libraries, rather than diminishing service and quality across the board.
In addition, some employees have suggested that it isn’t appropriate for Clay to make such far-reaching changes when he has already made plans to retire in a couple of years.
Many employees also feel the single-service desk concept could be appropriate for smaller libraries but are less confident that it would good for regional libraries, said Jennifer McCullough, president of the Fairfax County Public Library Employees Association and a youth services information assistant at Dolley Madison Library in McLean.
No more librarians
The policy changes go a lot farther than that. however, by proposing a whole new job classification system, McCullough explained, and that is what many librarians are upset about.
The new job classifications decrease educational requirements and pay grades. Some jobs that now require a master’s degree in library science, for example, would only need a bachelor’s degree, and those that require a bachelor’s degree would be downgraded to an associate degree.
Instead of specializing in information or circulation, staff would be expected to take care of both functions, and new positions would be created under the category “library customer service specialists.”
According to McCullough, it doesn’t make sense to downgrade the qualifications of people who are supposed to be providing services to the community. These people will no longer be “librarians.”
The new system also eliminates the positions described as children, youth, or adult service specialists. Instead, there will be one person in charge of outreach who will be expected to develop all of a library’s programs for infants through seniors.
“Staff feels that is a great loss to the community,” McCullough says. “People trained for youth services and have expertise in that area should specialize in that and shouldn’t be given responsibility for adult services.”
The new job classifications took effect in May, and library employees are unhappy that they weren’t consulted on any of those changes, she says. Employees are also unhappy about the requirement that all staff be full time, that fewer staff mean programs might be cancelled if an employee has an emergency, and that it will be harder to advance in one’s career.
The financial impact on current employees is unclear. Clay told employees they would be able to stay in their current jobs until they retire or leave the system, McCullough says, but senior administrators also told staff that everyone would eventually be moved into the new job classifications. That could mean an improvement for some staff but most employees would be downgraded—by as much as three pay categories for some positions.
If the budget needs to be cut, employees don’t understand why all the cuts are happening in the branches, she adds, while new positions are being created in library administration.