Fairfax County Public Libraries: Version 2.0?Staff, volunteers urge supervisors to reconsider “disastrous” library reorganization plan that cuts staff and services.
In a world where the Internet has replaced newsprint, e-books have supplanted paperbacks and the latest films stream directly to laptops, how do public libraries compete?
#Like almost every other institution, public libraries are adapting. Self-check-out, online renewal and computer catalogues have replaced the fusty file drawers of index cards and leather-bound periodicals of the past.Map of Library Locations
#“I think changes have 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, on Monday, Aug. 12. She cautioned that any change, however, “needs to be done with the engagement of our staff and the community.”
#But the changes proposed by the Fairfax County Public Library administration — which include reduced staffing and cross-training staff members — have sparked outrage among library volunteers, staff and patrons who call the plan “misguided,” and a “radical reinvention” of the library system.Bond Referendum
#Passed in November with 70.6 percent majority vote.
#$25 million allotted: $10 million for new Reston Public Library, $15 million for renovations (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bond/library-bond-2012.htm.
#But critics of the plan maintain that the “sweeping changes” proposed by the library board will have “disastrous effects on the quality of library service that Fairfax County residents expect and deserve.”
#On Aug. 3, a group called “Friends of the Library” launched an online petition urging the Library Board of Trustees to halt the reorganization plans and reevaluate the changes. The petition states:
#“For the good of the community, this plan must be re-evaluated with thorough input from those who will be affected by the changes. This petition serves as a chance for library patrons, staff and friends to make their voices heard.” By Tuesday morning, Aug. 13,547 people had signed the petition.
#“The lack of input, transparency and respect is the greatest fatal flaw in the whole plan. … This entire plan is hugely unpopular with staff, volunteers and patrons,” said Charles Keener of Oakton, an information assistant at Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library who has worked in the library system for nearly 40 years.
#One widely criticized proposal in the reorganization: lowering the educational standards for librarians. Instead of requiring a master’s degree of library science for librarians, the job description will say that the advanced degree is “preferred,” but not “required.” Clay has said the change will allow more flexibility in hiring.
#Keener counters it will “dumb down” the library and take the “librarian out of the library.”
#Scott Railton of Great Falls, a long-time library patron who contacted the Connection on Monday, agrees.
#“Who would believe you can replace professionals with untrained clerks and retain quality? Current advancements in technology simply will not suffice to replace libraries and professional librarians,” Railton said.
#“We are concerned that the drive to economize in this way will not serve the library, the county or the public in the long run,” said Jennifer McCullough, president of the Fairfax County Public Library Employees Association, who addressed the Library Board at its June 2 meeting. “Will a library system that does not require any librarians on staff flourish, or will librarians prefer employment in localities that still find an MLS degree necessary…?”Fairfax County Public Libraries — By the Numbers
#Usage Statistics—2012* 495,831 registered customers.
- 5,246,854 visits to library branches.
- 13,034,816 items loaned.
- 4,162,599 visits to the library's Internet website.
- 172,630 people attended 8,934 events.
#Physical Library Visits
#Overall decreasing trend since 2008 with bump in 2009. (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/fy2012/advertised/volume1/00152.pdf)
- 2008: 5,794,036
- 2009: 6,128,289
- 2010: 5,685,827
- 2011: “over 5.4 million visits”
#Visits to Internet Website
#Overall increasing trend since 2008. (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/fy2012/advertised/volume1/00152.pdf)
- 2008: 16,732,257
- 2009: 17,483,534
- 2010: 22,025,596
#Branch Hours per Year
#Decreasing with budget.
- 2008: 65,174
- 2009: 67,473
- 2010: 58,119
#CRITICISM OF THE PLAN has been building since July, when Library Director Sam Clay unveiled a program that would test a new organization model this fall at the Burke Centre Library and the Reston Regional Library, the busiest library branch in the county. The reorganization, Clay has said, streamlines staffing while retaining a high level of service.
#“It includes a one-desk model of customer service, with cross-trained staff answering account and information questions, and increased programming conducted within the branch as well as in the community,” Clay said.
#In response to questions and criticism of the reorganization, Clay and his staff prepared a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). In the document, Clay said there are multiple factors driving these changes.
#“The way customers use the library has been changing over time; technology is having a major impact on library customers and staff with 76 percent of customers now checking out their own materials. The county is still undergoing a budget crunch, and the library is required to reduce its annual budget,” reads the FAQ document.
#“Libraries in general are at a pivotal crossroads as we are called upon to meet the changing needs of our customers, brought on by technology and the Internet while providing resources with shrinking tax dollars. Libraries all across the country are trying new ways of operating,” Clay stated in the document.
#Braddock Supervisor John Cook, who met with library supporters, said Fairfax County Public Libraries are facing the reality of budget restrictions and “are adjusting to the fact that with the Internet and electronic books, libraries are changing ….”
#LIBRARY STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS have been meeting with Fairfax County supervisors — who appoint the 12 volunteer members of the Library Board of Trustees — urging them to hold off on tests and hold public hearings on the proposed changes.
#“Those who use libraries and pay for libraries need to be included in decisions which will drastically change the character and quality of library services. Parents have a right to be part of any decision to eliminate youth services staff,” said Keener.
#“We are moving heaven and earth to delay this,” Keener said. “I have never seen lower morale or greater anxiety, fear, discouragement and anger from our staff. … We want people to contact the library board and to contact their supervisor. Tell everybody breathing what’s happening at the library.”
#It’s likely the Board of Supervisors will consider a motion at its Sept. 10 meeting, the day before the library board's monthly meeting on Sept. 11, requesting further community outreach through public hearings or other forums, according to several Fairfax County officials.
- For more information on the petition, go to www.ipetitions.com/petition/stop-and-re-evaluate-proposed-changes-to-fairfax/.