Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

E-mail calls for "something different," an independent Fairfax County Public Library survey, Charles Keener, June 4, 2014

The following is the text of an e-mail from Charles Keener to two Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees members who currently are on the Communication & Evaluation committee. That committee oversaw the public hearings held last fall in the wake of the failure of the "Beta plan".  Part of the outcome of those meetings was a commitment to conduct a major grassroots survey of library stakeholders as a foundation for writing a new Strategic Plan for our libraries. The survey, discussed at a public meeting at Oakton public library last night, is seen by many as the best hope for restoring public confidence, regaining lost funding, and charting a more community-ground course for Fairfax libraries going forward.

Karrie & Priscille,

We need a game changer here - NOT business as usual or maintaining the status quo.

As the saying goes, if you keep on doing what you are doing then you are going to keep on getting what you're getting.

SO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. Actually LISTEN to the community!

Consider the meeting last night.

There was LOTS of suspicion and outright ill will in that overstuffed room.

This is where Fairfax County Public Library is at.

The Library's image has been severely damaged in the eyes of the larger community.

And there is HUGE mistrust of the Library Administration.

Trying to railroad through an utterly misguided "beta plan" and filling dumpsters with 300,000+ books ( many of them quite usable) has taken a tremendous toll.

We need a RE-SET.

We need to RESTORE / re-build the public trust. 

We need a game-changer.

It is NOT a game-changer to ignore the unanimous public support for an INDEPENDENT survey process and instead support the Library Admin recommendation ( surprise !) that they be involved. 

I did not hear a single speaker last night advocating that Library Admin must be involved.  To ignore that community voice and instead support Library Admin's perspective is EXACTLY how we got into the Beta ditch.

Moving forward with the survey process in a way that dismisses community direction will only discredit and destroy the very TRUST in the survey which has been said to be fundamental.

Make no mistake, however personable you may find some of them, Library Admin's involvement in the survey is a poison pill which will defeat this effort before it begins.

These initial steps are where trust can be established or made impossible.

Please expand your committee to 3 trustees to guarantee Sunshine adherence .

Please add several members of the larger community to your committee NOW. The discards committee added several Friends and retirees to its ranks last fall. There is no reason the C&E Committee cannot do likewise. And doing so would do a world of good for the cause of building trust/keeping faith. 

Think of all the clever folks in that room last night. Several of them had background in conducting surveys . Surely they would enrich your committee with their presence.

We are at a crucial crossroads now.

You can decide to be brave and bold and prophetic and give this process a real shot and re-calibrating the FCPL/community dynamic.

Or you can continue the failed practices which got us in this mess and follow Admin's lead rather than listening to the community.

The result of the former could be a strong partnership between your committee and Friends, community activists, the larger community - all working together to conduct the best , most comprehensive , most community-supported survey FCPL has ever had.

The result of the latter is guaranteed continued opposition from those most active in advocating for libraries and a loss of trust/credibility in the eyes of the larger public.

You would be conducting a major community survey with a lot of ill will and crushed enthusiasm among those whose support you need to help insure the survey's success.

It is really striking to me how - after all the disappointments and bad decisions FCPL has handed the public in recent years - the public STILL cares passionately about our libraries.

It is amazing when you think about it that , in our hurried over-extended world , folks STILL turned out on a weeknight in overflow numbers to fight for quality libraries in Fairfax County.

You need to harness that energy.

You need to keep faith with that community.

Please do not disappoint, dismiss , deny, or disrespect that public outpouring for our libraries.

In the end some folks want to make this about $$. They warn we can not afford an independent consultant. They say we should not spend the necessary money in this lean budget environment.

I say WE CAN NOT AFFORD NOT TO.

We can not change the game on the cheap.

We can not restore trust and hope by giving into fear and doubt.

Have Faith!

We WILL find the $$ to conduct the survey the way we know in our hearts it should be done.

Deputy County Exec Dave Molchany - who oversees libraries - has said to me that IF the Library Board decides it wants an independent consultant to conduct the survey then the County will address finding the funds for that need.

Brian Engler , who chairs the FCPL Foundation , has said that IF the Library Board asks the Foundation for funds for the survey then the Foundation will consider that request - just as it did for the Joey Rodgers survey a few years ago.

I sit on the board of the Tysons Library Friends and KNOW that we would give $$ to help fund an outside consultant. Both of President and Vice President were among the speakers last night. Presidents of the Reston Friends, George Mason Friends, Pohick Friends and others also attended last night. They all understand there is little more important for the future of our libraries that a thorough reliable grassroots survey which the public will really trust.

The $$ will come.

Right now we need to take that first step forward in a NEW direction, to step out on faith as they say.

I believe everything else will fall into place once we do that because there is HUGE symbolic importance to these first steps and the future direction they will chart for us.

Thanks for all you do for all of us,


Charles

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