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Cutting Librarians in The Old Dominion

Hopefully it’s isolated, but there’s definitely some danger to public libraries out there. Or maybe it’s just in the south, I don’t know.

A couple of weeks ago we looked at Florida, where every other county wants to cut way back on staff and services. Florida didn’t fare too well when the housing bubble burst, so maybe Florida’s just broke.

One place that shouldn’t be broke is Fairfax County, VA, but that’s not stopping some people from trying to dismantle their public library. Check out this story and this opinion column.

It’s the county with the second highest median income in the country, and yet has cut its library budget by 23% in the last five years. Now the director has a new strategic plan to save the day.

It seems to involve throwing away lots of books instead of giving them to the Friends of the Library to sell, among other things.

In a story reminiscent of the weeding scandal in Illinois this summer, a county supervisor found a bunch of books in a dumpster.

She “took her box of rescued books to the Fairfax government center, dumped them on a county official’s desk and demanded answers. The next day, Aug. 30, a directive went out to all branches suspending the discarding of books.”

250,000 books destroyed over seven months. That’s over a thousand books a day. No moss growing under their feet!

That’s probably part of their desired transition from a print centered to a digital centered library. Once you toss out all the books, it’s pretty easy to say you aren’t print centered anymore.

Then there’s the potential  “Beta Project” the column above complains about.

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

That’s a pretty big beta project. And for a beta project, it seems like the kind of thing that would be hard to back away from. Once you’ve reclassified all your librarians as non-professionals and cut their salaries, morale is going straight out the window.

Not that the library would go back. It’s easy to make big cuts, but after a while it’s harder to justify increases. If instead of lobbying for the librarians the solution is to eliminate them, you’ve pretty much shown what you think of librarians.

If you get rid of professional librarians, then no matter how the library is run, there won’t be any people around who have any professional standards by which to judge. That’s got to be good for somebody, but it’s definitely not good for the librarians, and probably not for the patrons either in the long run.

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Comments

  1. Girlbrarian says:

    Update: “As requested by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BoS) Sept. 10, the library board voted unanimously to postpone the beta project until there is adequate input from the library staff, the public, and other stakeholders. The BoS also directed the board to modify its plans to take into account the results of the outreach effort, report back to the BoS on Nov. 19, and, in response to outrage over the discovery of thousands of library books in dumpsters, give discarded books to friends groups.

    According to Library Board Chair William Jasper (Lee), the Beta project will remain on hold until there is action by the board to resurrect it or parts of it. “

  2. Sarah K says:

    I especially like the part about “eliminating children/youth services librarians.” They mean eliminating the position…right? *gulp*

    • Free2read says:

      Another columnist, writing about the FCPL weeding scandal, commented on the change in hiring standards: “Aha. Now we get another visual: discarding librarians like those books.” That means eliminating all librarians, not just children/youth services librarians. Luckily there are a lot of real MLS wielding librarians still on the staff to keep the ship at least temporarily afloat. But, once they start retiring or moving only, the leaks in the weakened vessel will start to take it down.

  3. Paying Attention says:

    Fairfax County Public Library’s problems stem from the fact that county officials do not think libraries are “essential services” and refuse to fund them. Then they go on about how great their schools are – not realizing that the students from those schools use the libraries constantly.

  4. Nathan Dale says:

    It appears that the mastermind library director behind the idea of getting rid of all MLS librarians is highlighted on the Public Library Association. http://www.ala.org/pla/tools/careers/publiclibrarians

    Wonderful.

    • Northern Librarian says:

      Interesting how this Director has had a change of opinion about the value of librarians, see his statement from the above-quoted webpage:

      I teach a class in Public Libraries at Catholic University’s School of Library and Information Sciences and I remind my students constantly that they can do anything – in the Information Age, librarians have taken on the world!

      I guess librarians are expected to take over the world —- outside the Fairfax library.

    • Free2read says:

      Interesting that he has NEVER actually worked as a librarian providing direct service to the public, but only as a Library Director. Maybe he should try walking in the shoes of those behind the information desk before he decides that anyone with a community college degree is qualified to do the job. It’s not that he is out of touch so much as that he has never been in touch with the realities of the job.

  5. me says:

    In happier news, its amazing what the community was able to do down in Miami. Saving the library from having to take any cuts. Just an awesome show of support.

  6. Free2read says:

    The Beta Project is on hold, but the reclassification of library staff is a done deal. Future new hires will be classified as Customer Service Specialists; not only is an MLS no longer a requirement for any job, but the library CSS does position not even require a college degree. An associate degree or two years of customer service experience qualifies you to become a Fairfax County librarian. Unemployed bookstore clerks are the new ideal staff recruits. After all, in the internet age, no one really needs information assistance anymore — just point in the right direction, books here, computers there, and all is well. It’s sad that librarians and the public they serve are viewed with so little respect in Fairfax County.

  7. Captain Librarian says:

    So the basic plan is to eliminate any staffing or service that differentiates the library from the magazine aisle at Walmart?

  8. Raynor says:

    No, I’m pretty sure they’re eliminating the magazines too.

  9. sharon crane says:

    Re: “Eliminating the requirement for ANY staff member to have a Masters of Library Science (MLS) Degree”
    ========================================
    Good! Library Associates with bachelor’s degrees do the same job, and don’t have their noses stuck up in the air about it.