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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fairfax County to survey public on future of library system

George Mason Library is a popular gathering spot.
At the last public outreach meeting on Fairfax County libraries before the Library Board presents its reports to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this morning, Deputy County Executive David Molchany called for a countywide survey to gather more public input on the future of the system.

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.


  1. Tax paying property owner11/19/13, 12:02 PM

    The meeting last night was not to gather input. It was a sales pitch for the worst idea since Obamacare. This new "Beta Plan" for the libraries has met with overwhelming revulsion and been stalled. When asked "Well if plan B is on hold, where do we stand?" the speaker had no answer. What was wrong with Plan A? Leave the libraries as libraries not community centers. Community Centers cost money and usually charge fees; note Dranesville district. Why should the property owners of Fairfax County provide community centers for those who don't own property and don't pay property taxes?
    As Mr. Molchany said, tax dollars from library bond issues cannot legally be diverted to provide community centers.Band concerts and head start programs are not part of library functions. We have schools for that and they are overflowing so liberals are trying to warehouse the overflow in the libraries.

  2. Really, were we at the same meeting? Didn't seem like a sales pitch at all for Plan B. In fact, the committee reports that were given in advance of their being presented to the BOS today pretty thoroughly trounced the "Beta" plan.

  3. This article made it sound like Clay will be going ahead with changes in January, possibly regardless of what the general population thinks?!?

    1. The majority of the proposed changes are dead, especially those related to staffing changes. Mr. Clay could not proceed with them at this point, even if he wanted to.

  4. The reality is the people who pay property taxes don't want to fund additional programs. As Penny Gross said, “We have to figure out how to make do with fewer resources”

    1. And yet, the opening screen of the library catalog pleads with you to sign up for "The new library family events newsletter." Forget that funds are shrinking, someone thinks programs should expand beyond non library functions.

  5. This is how one establishes a community center. Not by stealing library funds.

    Who We Are
    The McLean Community Center (MCC) was built and is funded by residents of Greater McLean for their use through a real estate tax surcharge, the result of a 1970 bond referendum (Small District 1A-Dranesville). The Center also receives money from fees and charges and relies on volunteers, gifts, and donations to expand its program. An eleven-member Governing Board, elected by citizens of the district and appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, oversees the Centers budget and operation.

    MCC offers a continuing program of activities for adults and children, including a wide range of classes, lectures, study tours, camps, art exhibits, theatre performances, and specialty shows. The Center also sponsors major community activities such as McLean Day at Lewinsville Park in May and the 4th of July Fireworks at Langley High School.

    Center facilities include the 386-seat Alden Theatre, the McLean Project for the Arts galleries, the Susan B. DuVal Art Studio, meeting and conference rooms, a rehearsal studio and a classroom/commercial kitchen. Local open clubs and organizations use the Center for their monthly meetings without charge. Center facilities may be rented for private functions such as business conferences, receptions, parties, and recitals. District residents and businesses pay reduced fees. Registrations for MYI and Little League activities are regularly held at the Center and information on their activities is always available in the lobby.

    The Center also operates the award-winning Old Firehouse Teen Center, the first of its kind in Fairfax County, and proof of McLean's continuing commitment to its youth, their safety and future.

    The mission of the McLean Community Center is to provide a sense of community by undertaking programs; assisting community organizations; and furnishing facilities for civic, cultural, educational, recreational and social activities apportioned fairly to all residents of Small District 1, Dranesville.

    The McLean Community Center is a “hub” for McLean’s Community!