|George Mason Library is a popular gathering spot.|
Molchany told the audience at George Mason Regional Library in Annandale Nov. 18 that the survey of citizens should be as wide as possible and should gather opinions from people from different demographic groups, students, library users, and non-users on what they want from libraries.
The results of that survey will be used in determining the future direction of the library system and inform BoS funding decisions, Molchany said. The first step, though, should be a series of focus groups to determine what the survey should cover, he said.
The upcoming action by the BoS stems from widespread opposition over the past few months to a far-reaching plan for restructuring the library system proposed by Fairfax County Public Libraries Director Sam Clay.
Among other things, that plan called for de-professionalizing librarians, establishing a single-service desk combining research and circulation services, and downgrading the employee classification system. A “Beta” plan to implement some of those changes was already being implemented.
The discovery of hundreds of thousands of library books in dumpsters—leading to widespread public outrage—added a greater sense of urgency to halt those proposed changes. In September, the Board of Supervisors directed the Library Board to suspend the Beta plan, conduct a series of public outreach meetings, and report back on Nov. 19.
At the meeting last night, Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, said, “I’ve been hearing mistakes were made. That will be rectified.” She said FCPL should have gotten public input first before embarking on major changes. One lesson learned from the turmoil over the library system, she said, is that the public places a high value on libraries.
Clay spoke briefly at the meeting, telling the audience he will “submit a time frame to the BoS” in January and “will start to initiate the proposals” in February.
Elizabeth Clements, a member of the library board representing Mason District, outlined the conclusions in the two committee reports that will be presented to the BoS.
The Communications and Evaluation Committee totally rejected the Beta plan, along with the staffing cuts and reclassification of employees, and recommended that FCPL continue to seek professional librarians with a master’s degree in library science. The committee also opposed Clay’s proposal to have library staff be limited to a single function, such as working in the back room and not interacting with the public, because that would threaten morale. In addition, the committee recommended an increase in the FCPL budget.
The committee was divided on whether to adopt a single-service desk. Clements said that arrangement might work in a smaller library, but each branch should have the authority to decide if they want the single-desk model or not.
The other committee convened by the library board was charged with examining policies on floating, weeding, and discarding books.
“Unfortunate decisions were made,” Clements said in reference to the huge amount of good-quality books found in dumpsters. “It was remedied. It won’t happen again.” At the time, there was extensive “weeding” going on in preparation for FCPL’s new policy on “floating” the collection.
Under that policy, books that are returned to a different library stay there; they are no longer transported to the library where they were checked out. That saves money, but results in an uneven distribution of books, Clements said. She said new software should help balance the collection.
According to Clements, the committee recommends that usable books be given to friends groups for their used book sales. Any books the friends groups don’t want should be given away or sold.
But the library will continue to discard books, she said, noting that 70 percent of discarded books are damaged, out of date, or inaccurate. For example, some science, medical, and travel books are obsolete. Other books are discarded because they are no longer in demand.
Despite the library board’s request for more money, it’s clear that funding will continue to remain tight, following years of cutbacks. “We have to figure out how to make do with fewer resources,” Gross said.
Funding for libraries has gone from $34 million a year in 2007 to $27 million, and the propotion of the county’s budget going to libraries has gone from 2 percent to .07 percent during the same period, Clements said.
A member of the audience suggested that areas of the county that have established a taxing district, like the Dranesville District has done to support a community center, should be allowed to use those funds to provide more funding to their libraries.
Molchany said that can’t be done. If voters approve a taxing district for a specific purpose, the money can’t be diverted to another program.
Other people suggested the county impose a meals tax to raise more funds for libraries and other county services. Gross said that’s something the BoS won’t be likely to consider unless there’s widespread support within the community. A meals tax referendum was on the ballot before, and “it went down in flames twice—big time,” Gross said.
If people want a meals tax, she suggested building a coalition with groups that want more revenue for schools, parks, and other programs and put together a strong campaign.