An efficiency and cost-saving measure instituted by Clay last fall was the “floating collection,” in which no book or other item is assigned permanently to a branch. It stays where it is returned, vastly reducing the cost and wear of shipping books back to their original branch.
When the program was launched last October, volunteer Friends of the Library groups were no longer allowed to review discards. Instead, all discards were sent to the Chantilly technical operations center. Minutes from a January branch managers’ meeting state that 100,000 books were removed from shelves in the first three months of the plan.
Elizabeth Rhodes, the system’s collection services coordinator, said Fairfax adds about 20,000 items a month and therefore must remove 20,000 to make room. Some items, such as reference books, are now available online and are replaced digitally, enabling the library to create room for other things, Clay said. In the Reston Regional Library, the reference area has been replaced with a “Teen Zone” marked by neon signs and stocked with a wall of Japanese graphic novels.
As books began disappearing from the shelves, Tresa Schlecht of the Friends of Tysons-Pimmit branch and others pleaded with library administrators to allow the Friends to rescue books, their e-mails show. Then Schlecht did her own literary Dumpster dives this spring, taking photographs of hundreds of books, including “Harry Potter” books and other seemingly desirable volumes, stuffing the dumpster in Chantilly.
“This is just as wasteful as I thought it would be,” Schlecht said. “My hobby is finding new homes for books,” including after-school programs in the District, religious schools and shelters, she said.
Clay and Rhodes said that books were provided to Friends groups again starting in May, and a county fact sheet said 3,000 discards have been provided. But at a rate of 20,000 per month, another 77,000 items would have been trashed in that same period. Schlecht and others were stunned that so many books were still headed to the landfill.
So Smyth did her own investigation. Among the items she found consigned to the trash were a pristine 2010 Fodor’s guide to Mexico, some large, good-quality art and gardening books, and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
“Maybe this is a good thing,” the supervisor said as she surveyed her rescued cache, “because we finally have people’s attention to talk about the future of libraries.”