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Friday, March 6, 2015

Proposed Fairfax County budget would impose huge cut in library staff

George Mason Regional Library in Annandale (above) would be affected under a budget proposal to cut  library staff.
The following statement from a Fairfax County resident was originally published in the Fairfax Library Advocates blog.

Even though Fairfax County Public Libraries consume barely seven-tenths of 1 percent of the county budget, they are being asked to sustain nearly one third of the net staff cuts throughout the entire county (14 full-time equivalent positions out of a county-wide net total of 45) in the current proposed budget.
   
This is deeply unfair and extremely short-sighted.

Study after study has shown that public libraries give back far more value both to economic development and the overall community than the funds invested in them by local governments – $4-$10 for every dollar invested.

Yet Fairfax County Public Library’s budget has been cut almost relentlessly over the last several years. The library’s materials budget has been cut and cut and cut at a time when the cost of books and periodical subscriptions has risen dramatically and need to provide both print and digital resources has placed additional demands on evermore limited funds.

The number of magazine and newspaper subscriptions available in library branches has had to be mercilessly slashed.

Funds have been insufficient to afford replacing all of the worn or outdated items which must be weeded with fresh new and up-to-date editions.

Patron complaints about the lack of books on the shelves, and long waiting lists for popular titles are commonplace. During the public meetings following the collapse of the “beta plan,” such complaints were a constant theme.

Some popular services have had to be eliminated. Some technological enhancements and upgrades have had to be delayed.

Library Friends have tried to bridge the gap – paying for library programs, furniture, training, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, popular books, volunteer recognition, landscaping, and much more. But our libraries are steadily losing ground.

Fairfax County libraries are at the bottom of funding in the Washington area and falling further year after year.

Claims that Fairfax County libraries are somehow more efficient so we don’t actually need the same funding as neighboring library systems and that, despite being starved for funds, Fairfax County libraries still match the finest public libraries in the area and the nation are the ultimate in wishful thinking.

Hundreds of staff positions have been cut from Fairfax County Public Libraries since 2008, including half of all library pages, all the special Sunday staff and exempt staff, all the administrative assistants, all the regional adult information managers, assistant circulation managers in community branches, and assistant page managers. 

The libraries have a skeleton information staff on Sundays, and the branches cannot answer the phone that day. Fairfax libraries have stopped proctoring tests in spite of frequent patron requests for this service. The focus has become self-service and do it yourself.

In some cases branches have had to close service desks or even close the branch early due to insufficient staffing. Appeals for overtime help are constant and have increased dramatically in the last year.

Remaining library staff have made truly extraordinary efforts to fill the gaps and still deliver high-quality service to the public – night and day, seven days a week. But those heroic efforts in no way justify Fairfax County’s failure to provide appropriate funding to realistically support high-quality public libraries.

Yet after all this, the proposed county budget for FY 2016 would cut 21 more staff positions from the library – 14 full-time equivalent positions out of the total of 45 net full-time positions being cut throughout the county in the current proposed budget.

To repeat, even though Fairfax County libraries consume barely seven-tenths of one percent of the county budget, they are being asked to sustain nearly one-third of all the net staff cuts throughout the entire county.

These are permanent cuts at a time we should not be taking any permanent actions regarding Fairfax County libraries.

There will be a new library director in about a year from now. A community survey is currently being conducted as part of the process for finding the new director.

There is also a much larger community survey concerning the library, which will occur in the next year. This survey is an outgrowth of the numerous public meetings held in the wake of the beta plan train wreck.

To permanently eliminate nearly two dozen more library positions before the results of the survey are known and before the new library director has had an opportunity to weigh in on the cuts is extremely short-sighted and ill-advised. Hopefully, the new director will seek restored library hours as the economy continues to improve. Permanent elimination of staff needed for restored hours will make restoring hours all but impossible.

Our libraries and library users deserve much better in one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the nation.

Library advocates are calling upon the Board of Supervisors to reverse these destructive cuts of additional library staff and instead work toward restoring library funding to a level at least on a par with other Washington area jurisdictions.

35 comments:

  1. It's time to turn the libraries over to a contractor. That's the way my company does it and everything is fine.

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    1. Public libraries are not the same as private company libraries . We serve the entire community - not just a particular business.

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    2. not sure if troll

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  2. Why not give a Private Contractor a Chance? Timing might be right since the hunt for a new Library Dictator is on...oopps Director

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    1. Public libraries should be run by and for the public - through the Library Board appointed by our elected officials. Privatizing is just a Republican ploy to undermine public education, public libraries and other public services.

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  3. Yes these cuts in Library Services are an outrage. I have heard many of my neighbors in Fairfax County spontaneously exclaim in public that they would gladly pay more in property taxes to fully fund our County Libraries.

    Coincidentally, many of these same neighbors lament to me about the sorry financial status of the U.S. Postal Service and how they would gladly pay higher County taxes if the extra funding would be used to improve U.S. Postal facilities located in the county to ensure our once proud Postal employees can conduct their work -- which puts the "United" in USA -- in at least 2nd class facilities rather than the dumps they work in today.

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  4. FCPL did outsource customer service by phone on a trial basis. That ended a year or two ago--presumably because it was not cost-effective.

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  5. Why don't you just turn it all over to ISIL and let it self-destruct. Send this bad idea of privatizing our libraries to sender.

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  6. I am familiar with 5 of the FCPL branches: Main, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and Richard Byrd. Each of these buildings are relatively new buildings; Main and Thomas Jefferson were completely rebuilt only a few years ago, and Woodrow Wilson's renovation opens later this month. What is the rationale of FXCO for investing taxpayer money in such beautiful facilities if there is no intent to provide adequate staff or books that the patrons desire? How many librarians, how many books, equal one Supervisor?

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  7. That's right, because government employees are so much more efficient than the private sector.

    Bringing up ISIL in this context is a pathetic example of useless inane name-calling.

    Return yourself to whatever kindergarden you are attending for remedial training.

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    1. There are certain things that can be turned over to the private sector effectively and other that are not. I.E. turning over our security forces to private forces in the middle east was a disaster because they have one object in mind, the bottom line. The library is a service that should be carried by the govt not the private sector. The ISIL example was used to show the ridiculousness of private sector example used. ISIL is a self proclaimed entity, is that what you want running your libraries? If you do, they are selling tickets to the middle east and think of all the frequent flyer miles you can get every time you check out a book, and one that is censored.

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    2. Again, the ISIS example is idiotic (by the way, no one except Obama calls them ISIL - another tipoff you are a Liberal loon). Library patrons do not want to undergo beheading simply to take out a book for two weeks.

      Your convoluted and nonsensical rant demonstrates the inability of opponents to make a cogent argument against privatization.

      All the opponents do is demonize. They call it a Republican Plot, or claim it is equivalent to turning the Libraries over to ISIL. Emotional (not fact based) arguments.

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    3. OMG, now you have a conspiracy theory. You must be a former Blackwater agent. You know one of those private sector, publicly funded disasters.

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  8. What happened to getting and Education being more important than just about anything? Our libraries are really part of the education process and are extremely necessary.If anything should not be cut it is our libraries.They are an important tool for learning and information. They enable student to do homework research,people to do job research .Sure we have internet,but then again not everyone can afford internet -thus the library is necessary again.I don't see the people who are making these cuts in county jobs cutting their jobs.How's about some jobs higher up on the totem pole? Bet not. I especially go to the George Mason Branch.The people that work there are extreamly nice and helpful and all necessary in their own way.How sad if they should be cut .What is Fairfax co doing?Trying to make the county better ...or worse?Education is the key to making a better life.We need our libraries!

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  9. I don't think I will be voting for the incumbent Supervisor this time. My assessment is up almost 15 percent in 2 years, and there is talk of increasing the rate again. Yet they are managing the libraries toward oblivion while voting themselves a 15K pay raise. Is this any way to run a county government?

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    1. So, who will you be voting for? Penny Gross keeps getting reelected because she bound at the hip to Sharon Bulova. The latter hasn't exactly been an advocate for fiscal restraint, yet remains wildly popular. Moreover, voters keep reinforcing that impulse by passing bond proposals by 70%. Some residents may be getting fed up with higher taxes, but the evidence suggests they aren't serious about changing their voting behavior to reflect that attitude. In fact there are barely any Republicans running, except in Sully and Springfield. (John Cook is a Republicrat and spends like a Democrat)..

      In the absence of any true opposition, those residents of Mason who want to turn off the spending tap are essentially disenfranchised. - Penny's only current opponent is Jessica Swanson. She's an advocate for "fully funding' the schools which is just another way of saying she'll happily set you up for an endless future series of tax hikes. What's really odd is that she's an educational bureaucrat who is completely lacking in government experience. If I were cynical, I'd say she's being put forward purely as a stalking horse. I'd really like to know who's behind running her.

      It's the absence of political competition that's driving rampant spending in Fairfax. The artsy crowd cashed in big a number of years ago and ended up sticking the county with a $30 MM debt for the Lorton Arts Center. Now it's the library crowd's turn to spout platitudes about how their pet project needs funding because of its purportedly crucial contribution. What's particularly galling about them is that their interference in library operations has actually increased operating costs without benefiting library services. However, that won't stop them from demanding more money though, especially because the Democrats haven't demonstrated any inclination to end their spendthrift behavior. In fact, the library mavens are probably counting on just that.

      So, good luck finding find someone suitable for whom to vote. I'm still looking for that proverbial candidate on a white horse myself.

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    2. Your assessment is going up because the value of the real estate you own is going up. And you want to blame your Supervisor for that? If you think your property tax is too high then say that.

      In any case, you have an inflated view of yourself if you think I or anyone else care who you may or may not vote for. Geesh.

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  10. The positions in question are all vacant, but they are funded. Cutting them frees up money to help pay for a long delayed compensation increase in a time of stagnant revenues without an increase in property taxes. We in the City of Falls Church encouraged our City Council to balance service cuts with property tax increases. Now the highest in the region. At the next City Council election only those pissed off at the increase came out. Beloved local officials lost their seats. Lesson learned for local pols. We do need our libraries. But unless there is the sort of robust and steadfast political support that the schools get, it's not going to happen. All we get now are attacks on library administration for actions taken to provide services under constrained financial circumstances that they have no control over. And, of course, the ignorant and willfully stupid attacks on the normal weeding process probably cost the County $10 (or more) for every $1 or discarded material. Without the hysterics over books in the dumpster and related costs, we could have hundreds of thousands of dollars of new, desirable material on the shelves. The procedures put in place because of the book discarding hysteria cost lots of money that comes directly out of materials funding. The friction introduced means that less desirable books take up very expensive shelf space that could be used for newer material.

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    1. The notion that the library can not buy new books because there is no room on the shelves for them is an absolute falsehood. Shelves are half empty in many Fairfax library branches. The only crowding is caused by floating - where too many books are returned to one branch while too few are returned to another branch. We don't have more new books because the County does not provide enough funding to buy them. And our libraries still discard thousands of books each month - for being in poor condition , out of date , or sometimes surplus copies. Don't blame our declining collections on those who rightly demanded more responsible weeding policies. Blame it on years of draconian cuts to library materials budgets. Library Administration has done a woeful job of advocating for more funding. If we had the sort of leadership the schools have we would not be in the hole we are in.

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    2. It does NOT cost $10 additional to properly review which items are being discarded, be sure the ones discarded are the correct copies , and keep a record of what has been discarded. Regular library staff and volunteers do this work and it is time and effort well spent. Library resources are paid for by tax payers and we have an absolute right to due diligence in their care and disposal. Such arrogance in some of these comments - as if the public has no right to weigh in on the conduct of OUR libraries.

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    3. http://reston2020.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-comparative-mediocrity-of-fairfax.html

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    4. The library administration all but gift wrapped these staff cuts - declaring that these positions had been made unnecessary by technology. They pushed the Library Board to endorse these cuts and the Trustees did so with barely a whimper. No backbone there ! All the while library branches are short staffed and relying on overtime because these positions - which library administration refused to fill - are indeed needed. Shame on the library administration and the Library Board as they both sold our libraries out without a fight.

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  11. The staff positions slated to be cut are only vacant because the Library Administration refused to fill them. They have been held vacant for up to a couple years - back to the preparation for the disastrous Beta plan - while some branches have been desperately short staffed . Some have had to close service desks or even close the building early for lack of sufficient staff. Use of overtime has skyrocketed. These positions are very much needed. They are not extraneous . The article did not mention that assistant circulation managers in community branches were also RIF-ed during the massive cuts to Fairfax libraries over the last several years. Several hundred library staff positions have been permanently eliminated. Things are cut down to the bone by now.

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  12. Perhaps a petition could be started, Does anyone know how to get it initiated and to whom it should be addressed for maximum impact? I don't, but if one is started, I would gladly sign it.

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    1. Supervisor Gross doesn't respond to petitions. She has yet to respond to an August petition regarding the return of Willston School to the school system.

      I have no confidence the Board of Supervisors would be any better.

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    2. PLEASE do not forget in November that Ms. Gross does not respond to residents....including petitions. The BOS will ignore any petitions from Gross's district because it is her job to clean up and fix her own issues. What you have in Fairfax is NINE districts without any connection - there is no ONE Fairfax policy!

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  13. In some cases, libraries have also become "de facto" community centers, which are lacking in their neighborhoods, by providing classroom and meeting space, mentoring opportunities, computer access, etc. This added use requires more, not less, staff.

    The library administration has not been a strong advocate of its system, nor has the general public.
    Libraries are something we take for granted .
    Others may think, mistakenly in my mind, that they are no longer needed..

    The BOS voting themselves a raise at this time of supposed fiscal austerity is an indication of their total disregard of their constituents and the very real needs of their communities.

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  14. Contracting out libraries is NOT a good idea. Companies are out to make money and services will decline.

    Public libraries need to be PUBLIC not private!

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    1. "3/7/15, 12:02 PM"

      Another empty-headed attack against privatization that is nothing but demonization.

      A company making a profit is good, not evil. It demonstrates that not only does the company provide quality services (the contract between the County and the contractor would set strict quality standards), but it does so efficiently.

      To think that somehow the "Government" has the best interests of the "Public" at heart because some empty-head sprouts a slogan is ridiculous. This is especially the case when there are current news reports that many federal government agencies (the gold standard and the employer of many Fairfax County residents) do not fire employees who watch porn on their computer up to 6 hours a day, but instead give these "public servants" regular pay increases just like any other employee on the government payroll.

      Shouting slogans and using exclamation points may work for the looney left but is not the way to establish intelligent public policy in the 21st century.

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  15. Thank you Blog posters, came here to say Lorton Arts debacle and pay raise. We need change in Fairfax, I don't mind paying taxes but enough is enough. County employees that can retire at age 55 and they have $0 deductible insurance. Police who chose not to live in the county yet take the cruisers home with the county paying for gas and additional wear and tear on the fleet.

    The libraries need to adapt as well, kids may not be into books as much. Maybe we should look at providing more technology at libraries, e.g.. 3D printing, more maker type things. more STEM.

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    1. IMO, Libraries or the need for them will be non existent at some point. This will not happen in 5 years or 10 years, but I suspect by 2040. Anon 2:53 is right, Kids may not be into books that much at least in the form of paper. I suspect more and more reading is done on an electronic device. This will follow suit like the LP/cassette, then the CD. And for those that state what about the folks that don't have electronic devices I call BS.

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  16. As a Fairfax County employee I can assure you that the health insurance choices are equivalent to the private sector (I compare costs with husband's choices each year), and the cost has been going up dramatically since the introduction of our insurance marketplace program.

    Cuts are necessary in many areas of county government because of the school system's needs/spending. I suggest you volunteer in a neighborhood public school to see where our hard earned tax dollars are going. In one local middle school, the percentage of homes where Spanish is spoken is more than double the percentage of homes where English is spoken. The elementary and other 2 middle schools in the Annandale area probably show the same statistics. The cost associated with this trend is going to continue to rise dramatically.

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    1. I have volunteered at my kids school's thank you very much for the suggestion. The principal ran off with $100k and the student services have suffered.

      Did you stop and think why there is such an influx of Spanish speaking population in our schools? Maybe it is because of lack of residency checks for students or legal status of the parents.
      I see over crowding at schools, and think wait there has not been much added in terms of housing units in the school service area, so it must be more people living in the same units. PWC enforcement of immigration laws scared all the illegals to Fairfax. Now they are getting services from Fairfax at the expense of the tax payers. Some where this cycle has to break.

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    2. Anon 5:25 - You are spot on. Nothing is enforced in Fairfax. Whether it is immigration or ordinance laws zero is done. Multi families cram into 1 bedroom apartments, front yard turned into parking lots and nothing is done. . Everyone knows where the overcrowding problems at schools are coming from but nobody wants to deal with it. It is much easier to argue for a new school. While tragic to see services cut at libraries I would much rather see that than tax increases. The taxpayer already hands out too many free lunches. This cycle and a whole new approach needs to happen in the FFC.

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  17. Our libraries provide an excellent service for very low cost. I would hope that they would focus on the basic need of lending books and other materials. Keep the staff and trim the "community gathering" aspects.

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