|George Mason Regional Library in Annandale (above) would be affected under a budget proposal to cut library staff.|
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Funds have been insufficient to afford replacing all of the worn or outdated items which must be weeded with fresh new and up-to-date editions.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.