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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Library board seeks public input, but there are concerns about the intent

The George Mason Regional Library in Annandale on a typical week night.

Several public meetings have been scheduled to give members of the public and library employees an opportunity to comment on the future direction of the Fairfax County Public Libraries (FCPL).

These sessions are aimed at collecting public input following the huge uproar in recent months over the FCPL administration’s proposals to restructure the library system. There is concern, however, that FCPL is less interested in hearing what people really think than in making a show of seeking input.

In our area, there will be a meeting at the Luther Jackson Middle School cafeteria, 3020 Gallows Road,  Oct. 10, 7 p.m. This meeting, sponsored by Providence Supervisor Linda Smyth, is aimed at gathering the public’s thoughts on these issues: “How do you use libraries? How would you like to use libraries? What do you see as the future direction for our library system? What is the role of books and traditional resources? What is the role of technology?”

The League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area has also scheduled a series of meetings on the library issue all over the county, including meetings at the Packard Center, 4026 Hummer Road, Annandale, on
Oct. 5 at 10 a.m. and Oct. 10 at 9:30 a.m. Those meetings are open to the public.

Following widespread opposition among library employees, friends groups, and other stakeholders to far-reaching proposals to restructure the FCPL system, the Board of Supervisors last month directed the Library Board of Trustees to put those plans on hold while outreach efforts are carried out to seek more public input.

The Library Board then voted unanimously to suspend the so-called “beta project” to restructure library operations, which library supporters charged would result in reduced services to the public and a narrower role for professional librarians. The beta project was slated to be tested at two libraries before being implemented countywide.

Library Board Chair William Jasper established an Evaluation and Communication Subcommittee to determine a plan for seeking input. After that subcommittee’s first meeting, Sept. 30, library employees and friends group members came away disappointed that the subcommittee is not including additional stakeholders and is focusing on reviewing the plans for the beta project rather than starting from scratch.

The subcommittee meeting was run by three library board members (David Ray, Mary Peterson, and Susan Thorniley), along with Deputy County Executive David Molchany. The format they agreed on calls for a 15-minute presentation by the library director or other FCPL administrator on the current situation and the proposed beta plan, followed by public discussion.

“This is supposed to be a fresh start, not a rehash of the beta. We do not need the library administration to explain the beta and then have to react to that,” said one library employee after the meeting. “It sounds like the same old dog and pony show.”

As a result, it’s crucial for lots of people to show up at these meetings and ask tough questions. Otherwise, the FCPL administration might believe they have a mandate to make a few minor adjustments and go ahead with their existing plans.

There was also some confusion at the subcommittee meeting about the Nov. 19 deadline for reporting to the Board of Supervisors. Molchany indicated that all public input would need to be accumulated by then, while the library board members thought that was the deadline for submitting a progress report.


  1. What is the Library Boards' fiduciary responsibility - to the citizens of Fairfax County or to the Library Administration? At this point, it seems to be to the Library Administration and the Beta plan.

  2. Is Mr. Molchany knowledgeable about libraries?

  3. Who is the library employee quoted here? And who exactly had "concerns"? I appreciate the voice you are providing but there are some glaring holes in this article.

  4. Ellie acknowledges the very real concern many have about the rushed, last-minute "public input" sessions regarding the future of Fairfax County Public Libraries and the relentless focus on same discredited, deeply unpopular "Beta plan" in spite of the plan being "suspended indefinitely" by the Library Board at their Sept. 11 meeting. There is also an attempt to reinterpret the November progress report to the Board of Supervisors on the outreach effort as a deadline for public input and for a "recommendation" on the Beta instead - a complete misrepresentation of the Board of Supervisor resolution. These concerns were strongly reinforced by the first "public input" session last night. The commitment to railroading the Beta plan through and ignoring the overwhelming "public input" from both last night and from the last many weeks AGAINST the plan was crystal clear last night.

    Please contact the Library Board to demand a far more serious effort to seek public input and to really listen to and conform to that input

    The three Library Board members overseeing the public input process are David Ray, Mary Peterson, and Susan Thorniley


    It is absolutely astounding that after over 2000 people signed our petition against the Beta plan, 250 showed at the Sept 11 meeting overwhelmingly against the Beta plan, hundreds wrote letters and emails against the Beta plan, civic associations weighed in against the Beta plan, staff communicated concerns over and over about the Beta plan.... Sam Clay keeps explaining the SAME discredited Beta plan as if nothing had happened He talks as if he never heard or understood any feedback There is no serious revision or rethinking or amending or reconsidering of ANYTHING It is like our whole public campaign
    never happened and Sam is in a time warp still acting like we were in the same place as we were
    six months ago They truly are not interested in what the public wants or what the staff thinks They plan to just forge ahead with their original plans like mindless robots incapable of genuine understanding of communication from the community Why is it so important for them to railroad THIS plan through no matter what ???

  6. A good portion of the community meeting at Centreville Library meeting was devoted to Sam Clay rehashing and justifying the same old discredited "library redirection" also known as the "Beta Plan".

    There was a period for public comment. One person spoke against the CSS classifications and called into question the claim that reducing staff, downgrading staff, and reducing the qualifications for staff would "enhance" service to library patrons. The majority of the speakers spoke up for books and for librarians and for children's librarians. A few other library staff bravely spoke as well.

    But after the public comment Sam Clay was called on to respond. So he once again sought to explain the "Beta" and justify it. He called on the usual false "support" for his plans like the work of Joey Rogers.

    Sam also said stated that the Library Board had to make a "recommendation" on the "redirection" to the Board of Supervisors at their November meeting - after the period of public input.

    It was very clear that the few weeks of public meetings currently scheduled are all the input he thinks is necessary in order for the Library Board to endorse the Beta once and for all and allow it to move forward.

    The whole notion of the Beta being "suspended indefinitely" and this being a "new beginning" or "fresh
    start" was utterly rejected. There was a summary sheet on the Beta in the handouts given out before the meeting even started.

    Clearly the plan is to close the whole deal by December. The overwhelming sentiments of the community in the petition, at the Sept 11 meeting, in letters and emails is to be disregarded.

    There was also mention of a creepy "no book left behind" slogan intended to trivialize and disarm the firestorm over the indiscriminate trashing of 300,000+ books in the last year.

    We were promised that all the attendees would receive a transcript of the meeting. If that is preserved accurately that may be a useful tool. But we were told to contact Sam Clay (seriously !!!) if we have any
    concerns about something missing from or inaccurate in those transcripts. The fox guards the hen house once again.

  7. What is this beta system and why should I be against it? We often miss out on getting members of the community on board because activists are forgetting that many potential supporters are NOT going to go back and follow the story from the start…. I can't figure this out…. Bits a pieces…. a short unbiased summary or link to a summary embedded in a related articles would be very helpful.