|At one of several meetings with legislators held by Fairfax Library Advocates, Sen. Dave Marsden (left) speaks with John Ball, president of the Friends of the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library, at the Swiss Bakery.|
Despite the Board of Supervisors’ actions last year to get Fairfax County Public Libraries (FCPL) to halt the “beta plan” to restructure the libraries and to implement a new discard policy after hundreds of thousands of library books were discovered in dumpsters, all is not well with FCPL.
Numerous developments in recent months point to a continuing crusade by county officials to cut funding, cut staff, reduce the number of books, and limit the power of library branch friends groups.
Terry Maynard, a member of the Reston Citizens Association’s Reston 2020 Coordinating Committee, describes what’s been going on in an editorial in the Reston Now blog titled “Fairfax County Steps up War on Public Libraries.”
The most recent effort deals with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors ordering an audit of the library branch friends’ groups.
Earlier this fall, the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations called for the library system to be subject to a fiscal audit by an independent entity. That was done because of a lack of transparency.
Various county documents listed different budget numbers for the library system with discrepancies in the millions of dollars, says Kathy Kaplan, a library advocate who volunteers at the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library. Also, there was no data on what happened to the $100,000 in friends groups’ book sale proceeds that went to FCPL.
However, instead of supporting an audit of FCPL, the BoS passed a board matter proposed by Board Chair Sharon Bulova Dec. 2 that called for an audit of the friends groups and the Library Foundation, saying that’s what the Fairfax Federation requested. “We did not do either of those things,” says Kaplan.
Kaplan calls this move “harassment of the friends.” Financial documents are open and shared, but this is more like being audited by the IRS, she says. “There’s an element of intimidation.”
A post on the Reston 2020 blog refers to the audit of the friends groups as “an attack on perceived opponents of the board’s dismantling of the county’s public library system” and says “it is unwarranted, mean spirited, and a blatant abuse of power.”
What’s more, FCPL Director Sam Clay told the library trustees that “all the money the friends get belongs to the library, and the library can take it,” Kaplan says. “We don’t know what that meant.” Fiends groups are independent nonprofits and she doesn’t think FCPL can seize their funds, but friends groups are worried.
The friends provide children’s programming, summer reading programs, library furnishings, and books, including many children’s books, Kaplan says. “If the library system takes their money, they would be out of business.”
Meanwhile, she notes, in many libraries, “shelves are very, very empty.” She says the new discard policy, adopted about a month ago, is just a continuation of the old policy.
Books not checked out for two years are discarded, which means some are given to friends groups but most are “pulped.” Books identified as “grubby” because they were checked out frequently are also discarded.
Many of these books are still in good condition. Librarians can save them, but the process is so cumbersome and librarians are so overworked, it often doesn’t happen, and there’s a lot of pressure on libraries to cull books, Kaplan says. As a result, “we have a very diminished library system.”
Kaplan and other library advocates are also pushing for an inventory of the collection, which hasn’t been done since 1988. That’s needed, she says, to see how many books there are in different categories and to see what is being lost. According to data published by Maynard on the Reston 2020 blog, the library system lost a half a million books in the past decade.
Bulova reportedly told Dennis Hays, acting chair of the newly formed Fairfax Library Advocates organization, that the county won’t do a collection inventory.
Kaplan is particularly concerned about the possibility of continued book losses at Woodrow Wilson Library in Bailey’s Crossroads, which has been relocated temporarily to an office building on Leesburg Pike while the library undergoes extensive renovations.
In 2004, Wilson had 87,000 books, she says. The collection is down to about 32,000 or 33,000, including books in storage. Kaplan is concerned the number of books will shrink even more when the renovated library opens in March 2015.
Meanwhile, the county attorney sent a letter to the Library Board stating the only responsibility of the trustees is to hire and fire the FCPL director. Fairfax Library Advocates is trying to get members of the library board to understand that the trustees are in control of the library system, not Clay.
Fairfax Library Advocates has been meeting with state legislators and reaching out to the public in an effort to build support for a strong county library system.
The Fairfax Federation has developed a series of legislative proposals for the General Assembly, one of which calls for libraries to be designated “essential services,” which has the goal of preventing massive funding cuts.
The county budget for FY 2016 is expected to include funding cuts to the library system ranging from 3 to 8 percent. That would mean additional staff cuts, while many positions are already vacant. According to Kaplan, 90 percent of the library branches need to pay overtime just to ensure there are enough people on staff, while some libraries have had to close early.
If the libraries have to cut way back on hours and staff positions, “that’s a death spiral,” Kaplan says. “There’s no way to come back from that.”