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Fairfax County Libraries Prepare for Pilot Cuts, But Employees Say Budget Already 'Bare Bones'

Library supporters are working to delay a decision that would reduce staff and costs at Fairfax County libraries.

Reston Regional Library. Patch File Photo
Reston Regional Library. Patch File Photo

Fairfax County Public Library employees and supporters are trying to fight proposed changes to the staffing structures at libraries that would essentially combine circulation and information jobs into one position — a move that would lower costs in tight budget times but also possibly hurt the services the libraries provide for county residents, they say.

The big change in the new model would reduce the number of employees needed to run the county's libraries. 

Charles Keener, an information assistant at Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library and Friends of Tysons Library board member, said the system has already been dealing with massive cuts and that further cuts are wrong. But even when money is tough, the administration should know there are different ways to allocate money to get the best service possible, he said.

"The libraries have been budget cut relentlessly,” Keener said. “It’s already bare bones … [but] even if you have a certain amount of money, there are many ways to slice a pie.”

Officials plan to test the new structure at Reston and Burke Centre libraries before it is implemented throughout the system.

The pilot will cut the number of necessary staffers from 20.5 to 13.5 at Reston and nine-and-a-half to seven at Burke Center.

The Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees has already delayed the beta test at Reston and Burke Centre once, pushing it from Sept. 1 to sometime in October.

Many library employees, however, want to delay the process in order to gather more feedback from the public.

A particular area of concern: Librarians are currently required to hold a masters degree in library science (MLS) but the new model will make the degree a preferred qualification instead of mandatory.

Many staff members say librarians have valuable reference knowledge and that it’s unfair to them and to customers to downgrade them and not require the degree anymore.

“We’re talking about restructuring the library … and basically letting [them] all just be bookstore clerks,” said Nancy Bronez, a former youth services manager at Thomas Jefferson Library who recently resigned to work for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Library Director Sam Clay said the goal behind the change, however, was to promote a focus on management skills that could help move the library forward.

“That’s not saying that we aren’t going to consider the MLS or that we don’t value the MLS," Clay told Patch. "We’re just saying there are other degrees that, at certain points in our system, may benefit it."

Other library systems in the nation don’t require MLS degrees, Clay said, including branches in Richmond, Va.

Some library staff also takes issue with a plan to move to a single-service desk model, which means some libraries won't have specific children's librarians, though some children's specialists will still work in Fairfax County libraries. 

Bronez said youth specialists need specific training and years of experience to be able to recommend the right titles out of the hundreds of books for young people that come through the library system. 

“Leadership of the Fairfax County Public Library has never put a high value on youth services,” she said. “With the exception of our early literacy initiative, service to youth is not a system wide priority.” 

Clay said the new structure would give youth specialists more time to focus on programming for customers and their children. 

“What we’re trying to do is to increase the number of programs that we offer to our community and to make it easier for someone in the children’s area to be able to provide additional programs,” he said.

Library staff and supporters say they were given no input in the changes and they want more time to make their case to the Library Board.

Employees, volunteers and union representatives have spent the last couple of weeks meeting with members of Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and gathering more information about the potential impacts for library officials.

“The public and the taxpayers have the right to know and to decide and to have input,” said Keener, who has worked in the library system for more than 40 years.

Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said the proposal was thought through and approved by the library board, and the pilot program should be given a chance.

“This is sort of a long-term look at the strategy going forward for the libraries,” he said. “Change is never easy, but we’re not talking about jumping in with both feet. We’re talking about a pilot.”

The library board will convene again in September to decide whether to delay the pilot any longer.

“We’re doing it because we want to improve our services,” Clay said.

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