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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Major changes on the way for Fairfax County libraries

Every Fairfax County taxpayer and everyone who uses libraries should be concerned about far-reaching plans under way to restructure the Fairfax County Public Libraries. The Board of Supervisors has directed the Library Board to put those plans on hold to provide more opportunities for public input. A series of public outreach meetings has been scheduled. A large turnout is crucial to let FCPL know that people really do care about books and libraries.

An explanation of this situation is addressed in the following interim report by Kathy Kaplan, chair of an ad hoc committee on libraries established by the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations and Fred Costello, a member of the Fairfax Federation board.
Report on the Changes Coming to Our Libraries

“I think changes [need] to be made to the way libraries operate—to accommodate ways people get their information, do research, and use libraries as community centers,” said Sharon Bulova, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman, as quoted in the Reston Connection, Sept 28, 2013.

By direction of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Library Board of Trustees, the Fairfax County library system is moving away from providing traditional library services. Since 2005, books have been systematically purged to make room for open space, for meeting spaces, for community gathering spaces, to convert libraries into community centers. 

Most of the books purged between 2005 and 2007 were nonfiction titles. General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal account of World War II, Crusade in Europe, is no longer in the library collection. The library insists that community libraries are not archives, but many patrons would agree that certain books are too important to be thrown away and forgotten.

The 2012 Library Strategic Plan approved by the Board of Supervisors provides for the transition from print books to digital books [Section 4]. To implement the Strategic Plan, in May 2013, Library Director Sam Clay presented his Beta Plan which was created to save $275,000 in FY 2014. That is a very small sliver of the county’s entire budget. The average salary of Library Administrators is $150,000, so removing two administrative positions would fulfill the savings requirement ordered by the County Executive.

The Beta Plan calls for two libraries, Reston Regional and Burke Center, to transition to a new modality. Staff will be cut from 20.5 to 13.5 at Reston Regional and from 9 to 7.5 at Burke Center. In addition, information and circulation desks will be combined in a single service desk.

Youth Services will be eliminated. Children’s librarians will be eliminated. Information librarians will be eliminated. A new employment classification, Customer Service Specialists, was added. Beginning library staff will only be required to have two years of junior college and two years of retail experience. Upper level positions will only need a bachelor’s degree. Master’s degrees in Library Science and Information Science will no longer be required even for the position of Library Director.

Within six months, the other branches will begin to transition to the Beta Plan. Removing degree requirements for library positions is only the first step. Reducing skill requirements for other jobs in county agencies that provide human services will be the next step in county reorganization. Library Director Sam Clay has said that the other county agencies are being directed to follow the library’s lead. (June 12, 2013, Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees meeting minutes).

At the current time, fiction books are pulled from the shelves after 12 months of not being checked out. Non-fiction books are removed after 18 months. The branch librarian can decide whether to discard the book or transfer it to a different branch. Under the Beta Plan, branch librarians will not be allowed to review culled books. Once they are pulled by young library pages, they will be discarded. To prepare for renovation to add space for community meeting rooms and space for more computers,12,902 juvenile and young adult books were removed from Pohick Library. The books are not likely to be replaced; there won’t be room for them.

When it was discovered that discarded books were not being made available to Friends of Library groups for resale, but destroyed, there was an uproar in the community. On Sept. 10, 2013, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors asked the Library Board of Trustees to hold public outreach meetings to allow the community time to understand and evaluate the plans to change the library.

The taxpayers of Fairfax County need to attend these outreach meetings. There are questions we need to consider. What is the library for? Should we have pool tables in the library? Should we have bowling in the libraries? Should we be able to attend classes on hog butchering at the library? What about yoga classes?

The cost of providing digital books has not been fully evaluated. At the present time only two publishers lease digital books to libraries. Publishers charge $85 and the book can only be borrowed 25 times. Then the lease expires. A print book that costs $10 can be borrowed up to 50 times before it wears out. Therefore, we may find that it costs 10 times more to provide digital books than print books. What will be the cost of transitioning to digital in the long term? The library’s current collection of 2.2 million books cannot be replaced with digital books. Most books are not available in digital format. These books should not be discarded.

Currently the budget for the library is 0.7 percent of the county budget. The public school budget is 53 percent of the county budget. Yet the public schools asked the Library Board of Trustees to pay for e-readers for children whose parents cannot afford e-readers. As the books are emptied out of the library campuses, those campuses will be re-purposed for other activities in conjunction with other county agencies such as the Park Authority.

If the taxpayers of Fairfax County want to continue to enjoy libraries as they are, they need to speak out now during the public outreach meetings hosted by the Library Board of Trustees. Meeting times and locations are listed on the Fairfax Federation website and the Fairfax County Library website. 

The schedule of public meetings on the libraries is listed on the Fairfax Federation website. The meetings closest to Annandale are Oct. 10, 7 p.m., at Luther Jackson Middle School, and Oct. 19, 1:30 p.m., at King's Park Library in Burke.


  1. I thought I was the only one who had noticed that the property holding tax payers who fund the library are being forced out by shrieking hordes of ill mannered children running and playing computer games.

  2. I am a taxpayer and frequent library patron. I have no need of the school system and continue to be appalled. that so very little of my taxes go to the service I use and appreciate. As far as Bulova's statement about libraries needing to change -- indeed they do when she and the rest of the board consistently reduce their funding .

  3. Libraries being "re-purposed" into community centers? Where else is this being done? I don't dispute that a good library becomes a focal point and meeting place in a community, but is their no place for traditional library services? Maybe if the supervisors got their heads out of their *sses, they could stand outside any one of the libraries for a few minutes and watch people going in and out with armloads and bags of books. These people, young and old, rich and poor, are READING, and they are using the library for that main purpose.