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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Library advocates disappointed in county's failure to hire new library director

The Woodrow Wilson Library in Bailey's Crossroads has been beautifully renovated this year, but according to Fairfax Library Advocates, has 40,000 fewer books than it had in 2004.
The Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees was supposed to have found a successor to outgoing Library Director Sam Clay by now but has so far failed to find a suitable replacement.

Even worse, reports Terry Maynard in the Reston 20/20 Blog, “the board does not intend to find one promptly.” 

Maynard reprints in his blog post a Nov. 6 memo from Library Board Chair Charles Fegan, stating: “We had a thorough process in place to identify the right candidate not only for our library system, but also for our staff, customers, and community. While we identified and interviewed several viable candidates during the process, some elected to withdraw. An offer was made to the selected candidate, but unfortunately, the offer was declined.”

After meeting with Deputy County Executive Dave Molchany and human relations staff, Fegan continued, “it was determined not to immediately proceed with launching a new recruitment search for the library director. However, we would like to reassess the current situation and work on the next step after the New Year.”

“That could well leave Clay in charge of the library,” Maynard says. “Over the last decade, he has led the destruction and demoralization of the county’s library system.”

Maynard lists some “low lights” over the past decade:
  • The library’s budget has been cut by more than 22 percent in the past 10 years.
  • Library spending as a share of the county budget has been cut by 30 percent and now is less than three-quarters of 1 percent of county spending.  
  • Library staffing per capita has decreased by more than 23 percent, and open positions are not being filled.
  • The county’s book collection has been cut by more than 20 percent, or more than half a million books, despite continuing growth in the county’s population.
  • Fairfax County Public Library ranks 15th among the 19 public library systems in the metropolitan D.C. area, according to the Library Journal.
“So much for attracting families and employers to Fairfax County and its ‘knowledge corridor,’” Maynard says. “Sam Clay has been a disaster for the county's libraries and their future. His continued ‘leadership’ of FCPL will only assure the continuing strangulation of our public libraries.”

Clay, the Library Board, and the Board of Supervisors “have driven our public libraries into such a budget and management hole that no qualified candidate apparently wants to take on the job of leading it,” Maynard charges. “To prevent further destruction of a vital county asset, Clay must go.”

When Clay was interviewed on Kojo Nnamdi’s radio show last winter, he stated emphatically that the Fairfax County library system was not for education, but rather for recreation, says Kathy Kaplan of Fairfax Library Advocates and co-chair of the Fairfax Federation of Citizen Associations’ Library Committee.

“This attitude has led to county libraries with empty shelves and a decimated nonfiction collection for both adults and children,” Kaplan says. “Every day that passes without a new library director to move us in a better direction, our collection continues to suffer unnecessary losses.”

Kaplan calls it unacceptable for Molchany to delay hiring a new library director until 2016. “This library collection cannot sustain another six months of losses. We need new leadership now.”

“Our libraries can and must be a key foundation stone on which we build an educated and successful society,” says Dennis Hays, chairman of Fairfax Library Advocates and co-chair of the Federation’s Library Committee.

The county’s inability to hire a library director after a year of trying to do so may be because “first-rate candidates want to come to a library system where the role of the library is recognized and supported by elected and appointed officials,” Hays says. “That has not been the case in Fairfax County for many years.”


  1. It's time to hire a contractor to run the libraries. That model has been successful in the private sector and would be more cost efficient.

    1. > That model has been successful in the private sector

      That's nice. Libraries are Public sector institutions, though. This tired corporatist dogma is obsolete.

      I've lived in this town all my life, and it's quite something how "more cost efficient" is so often cheap code for "capable of making huge profits for a handful of people while gutting said institutions intended functionality".

  2. In 40 years of working in and around government, I've never seen a contractor run anything more efficiently (i.e.--cost effectively) than a government organization.

  3. If Mr Clay states that the libraries are not for education but for recreation, he obviously has not been in one lately.
    Notice all the pre-school parents taking out arm fuels of books? Notice all the kids on computers night and day? Notice the kids with notebooks doing reports? Adults going to school or just educating themselves use the library for support.
    What is his agenda?
    why is he not long gone? Is he have an effect on the turn down rate..
    Something wrong with this picture.

  4. OK, sounds like Sam Clay needs to go. For "recreation" only? How absurd. I do understand if we are ridding shelves of unused books and outdated references to make room for more info in other than print formats, but surely gutting our wonderful libraries is not the way to go.

  5. Clay never said that the library "was not for education." Listen to the show or read the transcript at At 13:14:15, he says, "We certainly are an educational institution."

    1. Clay has run Fairfax Public Libraries into the ground for many years. We are an embarrassment to the library profession and represent the dregs among DC area library systems. For one of the richest counties in the nation this is obscene.

    2. It is not acceptable to misquote a person, whatever you may think of him.