By Mary Vavrina
Mark September 11, 2013 on your calendars. That is the date the Fairfax County Public Libraries (FCPL) Board of Trustees will meet and vote on the FCPL Administration’s “BETA Project” to “streamline” services at all county libraries. If approved the “BETA Project” is scheduled to go into effect initially at Reston Regional Library, the system’s largest, and Burke Centre Community Library. The changes include, but are not limited to:
• Drastically reducing the number of staff available to serve library patrons
• Eliminating the requirement for ANY staff member to have a Masters of Library Science (MLS) Degree
• Eliminating children/youth services librarians
Reduction in Staff– At Reston, the model for regional libraries like Tysons-Pimmit, the staff will be reduced from 20.5 to 13.5 positions and at Burke Centre, the model for community libraries like Thomas Jefferson, it will be reduced from 9.5 to 7 positions.
Elimination of MLS– Not only will the staff be reduced, but so will their pay grades and salaries. FCPL will be the only library system in the regional consortium of libraries not requiring any staff member to have an MLS. Librarian positions will no longer exist, because under Virginia law, librarians must have an MLS/advanced certification for any political subdivision with a population of at least 15,000. They will be replaced by “library customer service specialists.” Even the most senior “specialist” – Level V, the Branch Manager – would not need an MLS and accordingly like all the other positions will be downgraded at least two pay grade levels. A Bachelor’s Degree (four years of college) is the highest educational level required; some positions will only require experience/education/training equivalent to two years of college.
Elimination of Children/Youth Services Librarians– The BETA Project will eliminate dedicated children/youth services librarians, persons with specialized educational training and expertise in developing programs and working with children and teens. Such librarians are an extension of the school system and their expertise is especially important in Virginia where many children are home schooled. The BETA Project calls for changing the children/youth services librarians into “programmers,” who will be out of their libraries much of the time providing programs for ages from cradle to grave, as only eight hours of their 40-hour work week must be spent in their home library.
These proposed changes are on top of disproportionate, draconian cuts, to FCPL’s budget since 2009. In FY 2010, FCPL’s budget was reduced by 15 percent; virtually all of the FCPL exempt part-time staff (meaning they did not get county employee benefits) was lost; and FCPL hours of operations were reduced 19 percent. In FY 2011, FCPL’s budget was reduced an additional 6 percent, with resulting loss of staff and reduction in operating hours by 9 percent.
While Fairfax County is retrenching, D.C. is hiring 100+ new library staff. The Library Journal recognized both Arlington County and Falls Church City Libraries as Star Libraries in 2012. FCPL didn’t even make the list even though we are one of the richest counties in the nation.
Contrast Falls Church City’s approach in planning a major expansion in its library system to the way FCPL developed the BETA Project. Falls Church hired a highly respected library consulting firm that conducted extensive community research, as well as a vast number of public focus groups and online surveys before submitting an impartial and thorough proposal to their Library Board of Trustees. In Fairfax County, the FCPL Administrative team developed and began implementing changes unilaterally without consulting outside experts or gathering public or staff input – an abuse of taxpayers’ trust. It is interesting to note that FCPL’s strategic plan indicates that the Administration worked with a consultant [unnamed] and analyzed customer and staff surveys, as well as other statistical data in developing their plan; however, the Friends of the Library (Friends) are unaware of such surveys and were not consulted.
The Administration is determined to test its service delivery model at the system’s busiest library, including closing the children’s desk, purely as a cost-cutting measure without consideration of the patrons’ needs/wishes and the impact on the quality of services rendered. Once the changes are made at Reston, they will be permanent, even if proved to be unworkable. The bell cannot be un-rung. Such back door maneuvering should not be condoned by taxpayers.
Libraries are the heart of the community and an indispensable resource for county residents. Attend the Board meeting. Join the Friends and others in asking for a delay to allow for public meetings to provide input on the future of library services.
Mary Vavrina is vice president of The Friends of the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library.