Fairfax to stop throwing out library books, drop changes that would trim staff

November 19, 2013

The trustees of the Fairfax County Public Library want to eliminate the process that led to the trashing of hundreds of thousands of books and also throw out a controversial plan to reduce the number of librarians and children’s services in county branches, the trustee board’s chair said Tuesday.

The trustees also said they were not kept informed of the major proposed changes in the library’s operations, by longtime library director Sam Clay, and that they had learned of that new discard policy through media reports. The trustees asked the Fairfax Board of Supervisors to improve spending on library materials, which they said fell from $6.33 per capita in 2000 to $2.11 per capita in 2011, far below the U.S. average of $5.90.

Library Trustee chairman Willard O. Jasper gave the supervisors two reports and a series of recommendations on calming the furor over the library’s strategic reorganization. The controversy erupted in September after Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) discovered about 250,000 books discarded in two trash bins. The books were never offered to Friends of the Library groups for resale or donation.

The supervisors voted Tuesday to implement the trustees’ recommendation and asked the trustees to give them a timeline on Jan. 14.

As part of an overall “Strategic Plan” to remake the Fairfax libraries, a “beta plan” was introduced that would reduce staff in the branches, consolidate service desks, eliminate the requirement that branch managers have master’s of library science degrees , eliminate bachelor’s degrees as a requirement for library assistants, and require children’s librarians to spend most of their time devising reading programs instead of working in the library. Library employees as well as patrons protested loudly.

The supervisors instructed the library trustees in September to reexamine the beta plan and the discard practice. The trustees held meetings across the county and said Clay and library administrators had not keep them apprised of what was happening.

“The Board of Trustees has not always been fully informed as to what we need to know,” trustee Kristin Cabral said after Tuesday’s meeting between the trustees and the supervisors. “We never voted on the beta plan. We should have been aware of exactly the details of it.” On the mass discarding of books, she said, “We didn’t know about it until it hit the press.”

Clay said he gave the board larger-scale documents, such as the Strategic Plan, but that the controversial issues were on the operational side. “The board establishes policy,” Clay said. “How you implement the policy is my job.”

In fall 2012, Clay instructed branches to send all discards to the central processing center in Chantilly, at the recommendation of a county audit, rather than having them weeded out at each branch and provided to the Friends volunteer groups.

Books are still being discarded at a rate of about 15,000 a month, according to numbers obtained by Kathy Kaplan of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations, but they are now being provided to the Friends.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998. In 2011 he launched The State of NoVa blog, a state strictly defined as the boundaries of four counties and one city: Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Alexandria.
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