Fairfax library board suspends strategic plan pending input from public, employees

September 12, 2013

At the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale, more than 200 people turned out Wednesday night to hear the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees decide to suspend consideration of a controversial “strategic plan” for the library system. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)

As an overflow crowd of more than 200 watched, the Fairfax County library’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday night voted to suspend implementing the proposed “Strategic Plan” for the library system, pending more outreach to patrons and employees who felt left out of the process of preparing for the library’s future.

Library Board Chair Willard O. Jasper read a resolution passed the previous night by the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, asking the library board to seek more community and staff input before implementing a plan which would eliminate the requirement for master of library science degrees for branch managers, reduce staff and reduce the presence of children’s librarians in the branches. Board members noted that they had never voted on or approved the strategic plan, as I erroneously noted in last night’s item, and now will not do so until at least Nov. 15. The audience, including a group watching outside the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale’s meeting room on a hallway video monitor, applauded as the board approved Jasper’s motion to suspend consideration of the plan, which was submitted by library Director Sam Clay. Clay said he worked with branch managers and staff to devise the plan, though some disagreed with that, and Clay acknowledged he perhaps had not gotten enough public input.

The overflow crowd in the lobby of the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale Wednesday night, watching the proceedings of the library board of trustees on a video monitor. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)
The overflow crowd in the lobby of the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale Wednesday night, watching the proceedings of the library board of trustees on a video monitor. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)

The Board of Supervisors also asked the board to review the library’s policy for discarding books, “to ensure that every usable book is either resold or redistributed,” which also drew applause when Jasper read it. The issue arose because volunteer Friends of the Library, and Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence), had photographed Dumpsters full of seemingly reusable books for months behind the library’s technical operations center in Chantilly, while the Friends were pleading for books. The library suspended the sharing of books with Friends groups beginning last October when it shifted to a “floating collection” system, and has only supplied 3,000 books to the Friends since May, while discarding 20,000 per month. After Smyth removed a pile of usable books from the Dumpster on Aug. 29, the county ordered an immediate stop to the discarding. About 250,000 books have been thrown out since October, officials said.

But the discard issue is not part of the strategic plan, and the mass trashing of books was not discussed by the library board Wednesday night. Jasper said he was going to launch an “evaluation and communications committee, that now will determine where we are right now and where we want to go.” He said David C.F. Ray would head the committee and that Susan C. Thorniley and Mary Petersen would also be on it, along with members of the public and library staff.

Five members of the public spoke to the board before their vote, all urging them to put the proposed plan on hold. Kathy Kaplan of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations told the board, “Libraries are sacred space. Books are sacred vehicles that transmit our culture. You are the trustees of the library. You have a sacred trust to protect the libraries for the people of Fairfax County.” Mary Zimmerman, president of the Friends of the George Mason library and head of the group’s huge book sale for 34 years, said, “I really urge you strongly to reconsider the [strategic] plan because it will not serve the citizens of Fairfax County.”

In the lobby of the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale, the overflow crowd watched on the monitor as library board chair Willard Jasper and library director Sam Clay oversaw the board meeting. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)
In the lobby of the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale, the overflow crowd watched on the monitor as library board chair Willard Jasper and library director Sam Clay oversaw the board meeting. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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