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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Fairfax County library system threw out thousands of books

Library books in a dumpster.
The recent discovery of perfectly good library books tossed in a dumpster has ignited the opposition to efforts to overhaul the Fairfax County Public Libraries.

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.
“At this point, the destruction of books has stopped, Smyth said. A subsequent memo from Janet Prasher, FCPL support services associate director, to library management teams says, “No books or any other materials purchased with county funds should be put into the dumpster regardless of 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.”

38 comments:

  1. Wow. And I donate hundreds of books each year to the Friends of George Mason Library for their book sales!?! Now I have to wonder why I do so.

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    1. Please keep donating; if not to George Mason then to Thomas Jefferson or Pimmit Hills for their on-going sales. Some donations have to be tossed; they are damaged, highlighted, musty, heavily scented, pages falling out, etc. Those that can be saved (unsaleable) are re-donated to the jail/detention centers, Salvation Army, and any org we are aware of that can use the books. I am a volunteer and will go to great lengths to make sure any book that can be saved is saved.

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  2. "While Fairfax County is retrenching, D.C. is hiring 100+ new library staff,”"

    DC is allowing new high density mixed use developments, is leveraging its metro stations, is focusing on walking and biking as transport options, and, BTW, has lots of speed cameras.

    You can't keep saying "we don't want to be like DC" and then complain that you are not like DC.

    Let the suburban death spiral continue.

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  3. There are people in this world that could use those books. You just need to know where to send them and that is not hard to find out. What a waste ! !

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  4. What I do not understand is how the county can be constantly installing all these cost cutting systems/processes/changes and yet their deficit keeps rising. Where does the money go?

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    1. It goes to Social Services.

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  5. Over the course of the last year at least 200,000 books were trashed by Fairfax Libraries. MANY of those books were still in good condition and were not "out of date" in a way that rendered them useless. Friends of the library wanted those books. We asked for months for those books. We wanted to sell them to benefit the libraries and donate leftovers to needy charities. But we were refused and the books were trashed. This is a crime against the taxpayers of Fairfax County who purchased those books.

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    1. and this is interesting because (as a volunteer) I'm being told to pull old non-fiction/historical/etc. books from the sale shelves per the Friend's rules. For those I've disagreed with I've driven them to George Mason in hopes they'd be saved/salvaged. Lately I've taken two three-tiered carts of books to Salvation Army as they were deemed 'discards.' I'd rather take the time and effort to drive them anywhere within reason vice throwing them away.

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  6. I am having to get books more and more often from Arlington--they seem to be maintaining their system better than ours!

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  7. This is appalling. Who came up with this policy?

    "Fiction books that haven't been checked out in the previous 12 months are being tossed." One of the things I expect from a public library are holdings that include old books (even if they haven't been checked out recently) that are out of print or that I can't find elsewhere. And I, for one, prefer to hold a real book in my hands than to ruin my eyes reading text on a tablet.

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  8. The way the leadership of Fairfax County has cut the library's budget beyond the bone has led to this craziness. Our public officials pay lip service to the libraries, and then refuse to provide the tiniest amount of financial support, despite the fact that so many children need the libraries to succeed with their school work.

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    1. You get to the crux of the matter. Faced with decreased funding every year, why not just give up and give the county board the system they're willing to pay for. I fault Clay for not being more transparent, not for giving the supervisors what they'll pay for.

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    2. The real crazy part is that the money earned from donations sold cannot be used by the County employees for their library. They can only use money given/budged by the County.

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    3. Book sale money is used to support the library. For instance, the Summer Reading Program receives significant funding from Friends.

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  9. Who is this clown Sam Clay and how much are all of us paying him to trash our libraries? Looks like Sept 11th is the day we need to show up at George Mason Regional Library and DEMAND the Board of Trustees cut him and his crappy ideas loose.

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    1. I agree!

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    2. Based on publicly available information on the Fairfax County website, the position is an executive E-12. The pay is between $107,772 and $179,554 for an E-12. Seeing as he's been in the position for over 30 years (!) he's probably making $180 grand to do what he's doing.

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  10. We should be like Falls Church and hire expensive consultants. I'm sure that'll work out well for everyone (as long as everyone = consultants).

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  11. Doctors without borders? Yes
    Classrooms without walls? Maybe
    Libraries without books? Absolutely no way!!

    So, let's see, if a Hemingway, O'Connor, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Twain, etc., etc., has not been checked out in 12 months it has to go?

    Is this any way to run a library system? Good grief!

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  12. Now I know why in the middle of nowhere North Carolina I can find obscure or classic texts, both fiction and non-fiction, that are impossible to find here even when the populous there is not highly literate, let alone educated or traditionalist to look for such works. Hurrah for democracy! Let the unwashed masses decide what people should read, let them steer what constitutes knowledge--that can't possibly go horribly wrong. It's also a very retail approach: out with the "unsellable" to make room for what will draw more people, and make sure to just waste everything because if you can't "profit" off of it then no one can.

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    1. That is an exactly right explanation of what seems a pretty questionable approach. The theory is that there's always new stuff, and if someone didn't want the old stuff, out it goes--same as a bookstore.

      My mother retired from a large library system elsewhere, and reports that she would sometimes check out something she thought was important, just to restart the clock before it would be de-acquisitioned. Of course, if all the MSLS and MLS positions are eliminated, who's going to do that?

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  13. I am appalled! What the heck is going on with the Fairfax County Public Libraries? This is as bad as “Fahrenheit 451,” just missing the fire! If they want to cull books, they SELL them or donate them to other libraries hungry for more books. They do NOT just toss them in the garbage, or simply toss books b/c they have not been checked out recently!

    Who says books go out of style, in 12 months/18 months, like fashion? And WHO gives them the right to choose which ones go? Have these people never heard of rare/historically valid/OLD books? Many books fade through time, but some only become rare/valid/historically relevant books because someone found them years later, and not at the bottom of a landfill. Someone WILL want these books, when and if the PEOPLE of this county decide such books are no longer needed. Books can be passed on to those who crave more books, school/county systems who cannot afford new books, and such!

    This goes beyond a budget crunch. FCPL can SELL approved books for removal. They already sell donated books several times per year and throngs come to get a bargain or find that last book of a collection they’ve been seeking. This is beyond saving money/space. This, and other recent decisions listed in your article, is destruction of our libraries and an abuse of power.

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  14. There is an argument for warehousing a single copy of certain nonfiction books after a certain amount of time (and tossing any redundant copies) -- they do become dated, after all, imagine a history of Iraq published in 2000 -- but no justification for tossing fiction.

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  15. So if we each go to the library tomorrow, check out 30 books from the fiction section, return them the next day, then they're safe for another year? To the library, everyone!

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  16. A relative just returned from a business trip to Botswana. She found that libraries there are in dire need of books, especially children's books.

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    1. Thats wonderful! We should send them to these needy countries. Now who is ponying up the $$$ for the shipping and customs duties? Does the Ffx County Library have the funds? Perhaps the Ffx County Library should allocate 25% of its budget for shipping the old books to needy libraries. Now there's a thought.

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  17. Loudoun's library system is superior to Fairfax's. Even the tiny Sterling Library has a better selection of new books and a regular collection of considerable depth. Plus, branch copies are on the shelves as indicated in the library's online catalog. Unlike FCPL, where as many as four copies of the same title may sit at a location with high circulation while smaller libraries' shelves are empty.

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  18. Has anyone seen a copy of the beta-test document? What is posted online is the strategic plan and there is no mention of the beta test or the proposed sites in it. We also need a list of the titles that have been weeded in the past year. These are not unreasonable requests and enquiring minds want to know.

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  19. The original posting here is imflammatory and contains multiple mistakes and/or misrepresentations. The managing of a library collection is a complicated process designed to make the most of the taxpayers' money. As a professional librarian, I am sure I could give you perfectly good reasons for 99% of the books in the dumpster. The numbers quoted are also misleading. That is not the number of books thrown out. It includes the many books lost or damaged by our patrons. The library did not destroy them; our customers did. The numbers also include rental titles of best sellers that are returned to the rental source when their popularity wanes. To say the library is destroying these books is incorrect. Folks, please check the facts before you let your opinions be swayed by a few alarmists, or those who for some reason are intent on painting a misleading and destructive picture of our fine library system.

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    1. I respect your professional perspective, and it's helpful to highlight other reasons that the libraries would be down 260,000 titles over several years. There is less money for the collection, less books are being purchased, but as weeding continues to take place removing older, damaged, less useful titles the collection holdings go down.

      However, as someone in the system, the weeding that has taken place in the last year to prepare or deal with floating the collection has been drastic. Books with nothing wrong with them other then not being checked out for a year, books with minor damage, even books with too many copies on the shelf were removed from libraries. They were supposed to be evaluated centrally at that Technical Operations Center. But the pictures of full dumpsters bring that evaluation process into question.

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    2. To the person that wrote the entry beginning with "The original posting", thank you so much for attempting to provide the actual process that occurs. I am amazed that people don't try to research issues before they say such disparaging remarks. Really sad.

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    3. I'd like you, as a librarian, to give me just *one* good reason for throwing any book that's in usable condition into a dumpster. Just one! This is not a rhetorical question. P.S. I, too, am a librarian and I absolutely believe the throwaway numbers. At least once a month we are asked to throw culled books away, too, and we are a tiny, tiny library in a tiny southeastern town. I've carried boxes and boxes of readable books away, to storage or to give them to other people rather than toss them into our dumpster.

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  20. Why not sell them on Ebay - As a collector of old books, I frequently see, and sometimes bid on lots of old books being offered on Ebay - most just include a pic or 2 of the entire lot, make the buyer pay a S/H charge, and lots of 20-50 books typically wind up being bought at auction for $10-$100. If you assume that the avergage lot of 50 would get at least $50 (and that the S/H fee would cover cost of shipping plus cost of labor to gather and box them), then the 260,000 discarded book could have instead netted over a quarter million for the Library System to use for other purposes. Doubt me? just peruse the book auctions on Ebay. search "books lot" and see what otehrs get.

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  21. Dont worry they will be replaced by books specific to the Boards agenda.Hey! might even get most recent edition of History according to Texas School Board.

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  22. Perhaps the County should explore the possibility of obtaining warehouse space for excess library materials still in very good condition from both the public library and the schools to be used to fill future collection holes in both types of County libraries, and/or offer some of the materials to schools in the County with less community support. These books could be added to either their school libraries or for classroom collections. Children's books that sit too long in the warehouse could be put into the hands of children that may not have ready access to books in their homes to encourage reading. Other books that sit too long could be auctioned off as surplus. As someone who has volunteered for both the County school libraries as well as the public libraries over the years I have seen good items pulled and removed from both collections, often for lack of space. The County may even be able to obtain a long term lease at low cost somewhere for this joint venture. Something to consider perhaps?

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  23. The problem with selling the books on E-bay or shipping them to Botswana, India or fill in your own favorite country ... is that someone has to pay for the shipping.

    At the end of the Reston sale left overs are given to other Friends groups, as well as other non-profit groups (who must apply to get them), and teachers. But there are still some left over, and someone has to deal with them. Books are heavy, bulky, and tough to move around easily.

    If YOU want to ship books to (fill in the country or cause), RAISE YOUR OWN FUNDS, and then apply to the Reston Friends for the remainders.

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  24. Wouldnt just burning the books be easier?

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  25. The scum responsible for this should be dragged before Madame la Guillotine for their crimes.

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