Town Center in Winter

Town Center in Winter

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

RCA Award Ceremony Comments Recognizing Kathy W. Kaplan as Reston Citizen of the Year for 2013, March 10, 2014, Terry Maynard

. . . Who doesn’t remember, “By the shores of Gitche Gumme, / By the shining Big-Sea-Water, / Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, / Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.”

I found Susan Jeffers’ illustrated Hiawatha at Reston Regional in with the other children’s poetry.  Much of that collection has been culled, sold away, or burned.  Now that my granddaughter knows from reading this edition of Longfellow that there are many more poems in the original Hiawatha, she wants to hear them all.  Luckily, I have a copy of the entire epic poem.

But this little book, the one we read at bedtime last week, I worry about.  When I take it back to the library will some wet-behind-the ears library page pull it for disposal because it’s old?  Inside the book it says it was published in 1908.  Library Director Sam Clay is having library pages pull old books.  Under the Beta Plan, a front-line librarian will not see this book again before it goes to the dumpster. Will the kid know that this is a recent printing?  Will the kid ever have heard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?   Will there ever be another child who reads these words from this very book, “Listen my children, and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”

I cannot bring myself to take it back to the library.  The fate of this one book is important to me.  It should be important to you. . . .

Those words written in a letter last August by our 2013 Reston Citizen of the Year, Kathy Kaplan, capture her passion for our library books, especially poetry and books for children. 

Kathy translated that passion into action that led to changes in the fate of the County’s public libraries.  So it was with great pleasure, honor, and admiration that I nominated Kathy to be RCA’s 2013 Reston Citizen of the Year for her exceptional efforts to stop a Fairfax County Public Library Strategic Plan to downgrade its libraries in the name of organizational efficiency.  As one of two “guinea pigs” for this strategic plan, Reston Regional Library was ground zero for this planned degradation. 

The key features of the ill-considered County library strategic plan included:

  • Reducing the library budget by a third over the last six years;
  • Culling books throughout the system, some 400,000 of which have already been destroyed;
  • Drastically reducing the library staff, including plans to reduce the Reston staff by one-third;
  • De-professionalizing  library staff requirements by replacing certified librarians with “customer service specialists” who would not need to be knowledgeable of library science; and
  • Eliminating Youth Services—children’s librarians and collections—throughout the library system.

Without Kathy’s leadership, unswerving dedication, and perseverance, the County’s libraries would likely still be on a downward spiral with our Reston Regional Library as one of two “guinea pigs” in that effort.  Her extraordinary efforts were singularly consistent with Reston’s goal of providing a high quality of life for people of all backgrounds and was, in fact, the inspiration for an August 2013 RCA Board of Directors resolution calling on the Board of Supervisors to abandon its wrong-headed library strategic plan. 

Among her activities beginning last summer:

  • She identified and worked with County librarians and other library friends deeply concerned about the County strategic plan;
  • She conducted extensive research on the County library’s plan and activities, including acquiring thousands of pages of papers through FOIA that documented the destruction of more than 400,000 books in recent years and other library plan activities and intentions;
  • She met with and wrote letters and e-mails to County senior staff and elected officials, community organizations, and media noting the ongoing and planned decimation of our libraries;
  • She encouraged residents to sign an online petition calling for the Library’s Trustees to stop and re-evaluate the Strategic Plan, a petition that ultimately garnered more than 2,000 signatures;
  • She acquired and shared photographs of the books thrown in a central library operations dumpster that led County Board Supervisor Patty Smyth to personally visit the site, bring back several current books in good condition, and direct senior County officials to stop destroying books; and
  • At the request of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations Board, she drafted a report on the library Strategic Plan that detailed its intentions and impacts.
As a result of her efforts and the efforts of those she worked with, the Library Board of Trustees recommended and the County Board of Supervisors approved on November 18, 2013, a resolution “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,” as reported by the Washington Post.

We all recognize the effort to rehabilitate our County libraries is far from over, indeed, the County is proposing further budget cuts for our libraries, but at least the worst of the hemorrhaging of books, budgets, and staff has been stopped for the time being.  We all have Kathy Kaplan and her compatriots to thank for this excellent effort.  And we know that Kathy and others will continue their extraordinary efforts to rehabilitate our once excellent library system into one that will serve us, our children, and even our grandchildren for decades to come. 

Thank you, Kathy.  You have more than earned our gratitude and recognition for your exceptional personal efforts in saving our libraries.

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