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Monday, December 15, 2014

Library advocates accuse county of waging war on libraries

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.
Fairfax County library volunteers are fighting efforts by county officials to decimate the public library system.

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.”

22 comments:

  1. It's time for politicians and so-called concerned citizens to get out of the way and let the FCPL officials do their jobs. Storing information in book form is becoming increasingly expensive and unnecessary. There is simply no longer any reason to keep piles of books around, especially current fiction that quickly goes out of style. Libraries still have a function, but this isn't the 1950's. Advances in information technology have made it easy for many people to access information without going near a library. So, the best strategy the FCPL can pursue is to focus its resources on providing citizens with information and literary resources they cannot access on their own.

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    1. Reading efficiency is 2.5 times slower in electronic form and retention is far less in electronic form. For kinesthetic learners, paper books greatly improve reading retention. Furthermore - I could see discarding books if you didn't have room for them, but the libraries I've visiting are mostly empty shelves, with very few titles in some areas. I was considering donating books that I don't read, some of which are quite rare and old, until I heard of the Fairfax County book-burning mentality. They need booklovers to work with libraries, not pinheads.

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    2. So, would you have FCPL provide its patrons with tablets or e-readers to access your preferred digital content? Boy, that's cost-effective.

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    3. If you visit a library, there's a good chance you can comprehend the written word regardless of how its presented. If you live in Fairfax, you probably already own the technology required to access information in electronic form. Most corporate libraries stopped accumulating printed materials long ago and seem to be doing fine. So, enough with the disingenuous comments about how persons need books. The FCPL was never designed to be an archive. It's not the Library of Congress. The traditional focus of local libraries has been on providing reference services and maintaining a nucleus of classics, traditional popular fiction and children's books. Most contemporary fiction and non-fiction works quickly lose their popularity. That's why the library dumps books that haven't been checked out for two years. Like it or not, they're paperweights. So, if you're sentimental about books, open a book store. But, stop interfering with the libraries.

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    4. maybe where you live in fairfax county, the homes are littered with ereaders or tablets. Not in my neighborhood. And since my tax dollars support the libraries, I will interfere as much as I please.

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    5. Well said! How can I read to my child....on an ereader!

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    6. Unfortunately for you, the library has fewer than 50,000 e-book titles, hardly enough to serve one million people. It's two million books (& it was much higher) comes closer to the mark.
      Moreover, in the longer term e-books LEASED for a period of time/number of reads are more expensive than books BOUGHT and put back on the shelves.

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    7. Many staff throughout FCPL do NOT agree with many of the policies being pushed by "FCPL officials." Check with the leaders of our Fairfax County Public Library Employees Association and our Fairfax County Government Employees Union. There is and has been significant staff opposition to what Library Administration has been pushing - from the "Beta plan", to hostility to library advocacy, to dumpsters filled with books. FCPL is not a monolith. Many of us welcome the involvement of "concerned citizens" trying to put the brakes on the downward spiral of Fairfax County Public Libraries.

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  2. Swiss Bakery is in Springfield, Annandale only has Korean Bakeries.

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    1. Tiffany's Bakery in Annandale is not Korean.

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    2. Apologies, I was not aware. What is good there, I must try it.

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    3. Surprise twist ending : Swiss Bakery is also Korean.

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  3. "They don't gotta burn tha books, they just remove 'em" Information is controlled by politics and whig history and revisionism and leftism and faux-conservatism now. And also what everyone else likes. Worth is determined by people who can't find Turkey on a map. Ridley Scott who prides himself on accuracy makes Pharaoh Ramses. If he read a book once offered at Mason, he'd know the real Pharaoh was Merneptah, which sounds like madness because all scholarly books are tossed for modern "easy to read" "fun" politics-infused modern-life connecting "history". The great enlightened progressive man of the 2000s needs nothing of what the non-functioning idiots of the past had for thousands of years, like books. He just needs a computer and an iphone! The Mongols rule when discarded books turn the Tigris black.

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  4. A "War on Libraries"? Really?

    It sounds a little over the top, but I guess you have to use whatever rhetoric you can to get people motivated.

    My primary concern is being able to pay the taxes and other bills necessary for me and my family to remain residents of Fairfax County. I am all for liberating the libraries from the clenched fist of tyranny as long as it doesn't increase my taxes.

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    1. Fairfax County libraries has discarded more than 2.5 MILLION books over the last decade. Even with purchases, it has lost about a half-million books. It has cut the library staff by about the same amount. And it has cut the library budget by about a fifth as well. Meanwhile, the county is spending 15% more now than a decade ago.
      If that is not a war of attrition on our public library, I don't know what is. It's all there in the budgets!

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  5. No one has mentioned the children! The awe in the eyes of a youngster looking throu the stacks of all those wonderfully illustrated books, and seeing the quantity of them makes them believe that there must be something wonderful about reading! If anything, the young adult sections, also should be enlarged. Programs for children need to be increased! Not all families can afford buying those very expensive book!

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    1. Thank you! It's too true that, while young children today can easily and eagerly operate an I-Pad with just about anything on it, there's nothing that can compare to the sensory experience of a genuine, ink-and-paper book--and I'm not just being sentimental here. Children's developing brains are taking in the world in ways that many adults seem to have forgotten or can easily overlook (at their own peril, at times) and if e-books take over, we will have lost thousands of opportunities for ALL children to understand the three-dimensional world around them.

      I can agree that electronic books are not evil, but, as someone who has taught very young children for 24 years, I must say that our society's children need us to preserve paper books for them--and not as if they are historical artifacts, but as tenable, valuable possessions. Tactile qualities such as texture, heft, mass, and density; visual qualities of varied types of illustrations; and audio qualities such as the rustling of paper vs. the hum of a battery-operated device (our brains "hear" it even if our ears aren't entirely aware of it!) bring to the reader an understanding of any book that can't be recreated via plastic components, programming, and circuits.

      However, speaking of historical artifacts: I consider myself quite lucky to have viewed the Book of Kells last year and can tell you two things: the original is far more intriguing and impressive than any photos of it, and I'm quite grateful that, even after 1200 years, it hasn't been lost to a cyber-virus or change in file format (and so is my computer-programming husband).

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  6. Define "essential services" please.

    Like the police and fire fighters? Seems a stretch.

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  7. Yes, like well trained police officers, well equipped fire fighters, modern schools, safe roads. Can't you really see the connection between all of this and access to life long education?

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    1. No, I don't. Comparing the library to police and fire fighters is... silly, at best. Asinine at worst. Are construction workers essential services? Perhaps I'm not understanding the phrase correctly then.

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  8. Why add more staff? I now check out my own books and I even paid my fine at a machine? Do they need more people standing around doing nothing?

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    1. There's more going on behind the scenes than you realize.

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