|Library books in a dumpster.|
When Providence Supervisor Linda Smyth heard that the library system was actually throwing out books, many of them in excellent condition, she went to see for herself. “I found some children’s books, art books, and nice big reference books with lots of color pictures. It kind of blew my mind,” she said.
Smyth collected a handful of books from a dumpster at the FCPL Technical Operations Center in Chantilly and took them to the Fairfax County Government Center where she confronted Deputy County Executive David Molchany. She said he agreed to stop Library Director Sam Clay from having more books thrown out “until we come up with a policy on discarding books.”
|One of several dumpsters full of library books, many in excellent condition.|
When asked why this has been allowed to happen Smyth said, “that’s going to be a subject of much discussion to come.”
The destruction of library books is likely to surface at the Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 11 at the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale, where the board will consider Clay’s plan to restructure the library system. That plan includes the elimination of dedicated reference/information desks, downgrading the professional qualifications for library employees, and the elimination of specialized staff dedicated to serving children.
Critics of the plan—including library employees, friends groups, community groups, and individuals—have been urging the library board to scrap these plans, or at least put them on hold until the library staff and the public are given a chance to submit feedback. They are also calling for the library system to halt the “beta project,” which is implementing the new policies at the Reston and Burke Centre libraries.
The Board of Supervisors will discuss the library situation at its next meeting, Sept. 10. Supervisor John Foust of Dranesville plans to introduce a board matter calling for the library board to conduct more public outreach before making major changes. Mason Supervisor Penny Gross said she plans to co-sponsor the resolution, and a spokesperson for Foust said several other supervisors support it.
A joint Board of Supervisors/library board meeting is expected to be scheduled in the near future. “We genuinely need an opportunity for real community discussion on the future of the libraries,” Smyth said.
The Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations also plans to draft a resolution on the library plan, and the League of Women Voters will begin discussions on the issue in early October.
“The destruction of books is disturbing, and we don’t have answers. The community really needs to be made aware of what is going on,” said Kathy Kaplan of Reston, who is chairing an ad hoc committee of the Fairfax Federation charged with looking into the changes in the county’s library system.
In 2005, the library had 2.5 million books, Kaplan said. As of mid-August, there were just 2.24 million books; that’s a net loss of 260,000.
“We don’t know why they want to make the collection smaller,” she said. “Basic questions are not being answered. We do not know where they are headed—and why they are destroying county libraries.” And it hasn’t been explained why the books are being destroyed, rather than given to friends groups for sale to the public or donated to charities.
According to Kaplan, fiction books that haven’t been checked out in the previous 12 months are being tossed. For nonfiction books, it’s 18 months. Among the books she found in dumpsters were a Newberry Award-winning children’s book in pristine condition, a book of photos published in 2010, and a brand-new mystery with a bookplate inside showing it had been donated by a patron.
Kaplan said the books are being culled by high school library pages, and front-line librarians have no authority to save them. In the Reston Regional Library, where the beta test is under way, there are lots of empty shelves where the books have been cleared out. When the supervisors signed off on a plan to focus more on e-books, no one thought Clay was going to throw out print books, she said.
“Is this a useful thing to do with taxpayer money? We paid for all of those books,” Kaplan said. “They are not only destroying our libraries, they are destroying the future reputation of our county. Why would a business want to move here?”
The dumpsters full of books at the Technical Operations Center were discovered last spring by a member of a library friends group who was hoping to obtain discarded books, especially children’s books, for the group’s used book sales.
Her request for the discarded books was denied. She was told it was unfair for one friends group to get the books simply because it was willing to pick them up, while other friends groups could not do so. She even offered to share the books with other friends groups, but was still not allowed to take them. At a subsequent Friends Forum, Clay indicated friends groups would be able to get some library discards under limited circumstances if they made a written request.
A guest commentary by Mary Vavrina, vice president of the Friends of the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library, published in the Falls Church News-Press Aug. 22, contrasts the Fairfax County library system with the way other library systems in the region are being managed.
“While Fairfax County is retrenching, D.C. is hiring 100+ new library staff,” Vavrina states. And when the City of Falls Church planned a major expansion of its library system, it “hired a highly respected library consulting firm that conducted extensive community research, as well as a vast number of public focus groups and online surveys.”
FCPL administrators, meanwhile, “developed and began implementing changes unilaterally without consulting outside experts or gathering public or staff input,” said Vavrina, which is “an abuse of taxpayers’ trust.”