Subject: Message from Chairman Bulova regarding Fairfax County Libraries
Dear Mr. Maynard,
I read with interest the recent articles you wrote regarding the Fairfax County Public Library system. I share your feelings about the importance of having a quality public library system in Fairfax County and very much appreciate your advocacy. Annual surveys of our library patrons from the last 10 years have shown a satisfaction rate higher than 95% so clearly we are doing something very right even in these challenging times. I do feel however that it is necessary to respond to some of the claims you make in your articles.
First, the Fairfax Federation of Citizens Associations requested an “independent comprehensive fiscal audit of the Fairfax County Public Library,” a "complete collection inventory," as well as an “audit of the system gift fund.” I have taken their concerns very seriously and have agreed to follow up on their concerns. I was able to let them know that the FCPL’s business process was reviewed by the Office of Internal Audit in October 2013 and there were no reportable findings. The audit can be viewed by going to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/audit/pdf/reports/2013reports/13-12-14_fcpl_final_report.pdf
I was glad to be able to report that our Library system does conduct an annual inventory of materials. They are able to provide daily records of checkins, checkouts, transfers, new items added and items removed from the collection. These reports help identify items that are missing or lost.
On the financial aspects of their request, in my response to the Federation and subsequent Board Matter (both attached) I explained the three entities involved in the finances of FCPL: the Fairfax Library Foundation, the FCPL Departmental Gift Fund, and the Friends of the Library groups.
The Library Foundation is a separate 501(c)3 that is audited annually by a private firm. Audit reports for the last three years, as well as its fund management policies can be viewed on the Foundation’s website at http://www.fairfaxlibraryfoundation.org/aboutus/
The Departmental Gift Fund is governed by strict County fiscal policies, as I more specifically describe in my attached response to the Federation's letter. The Gift Fund was a part of the above mentioned audit. However, I thought the Federation's request for an audit was appropriate and therefore included it in my Board Matter.
Our library branches are fortunate to have the help and support of Friends of the Library groups that augment library services and activities. The Friends are also 501(c)3 organizations. As part of their responsibilities, these groups assist the libraries with the disposal and sales of surplus library books. Space is provided for the Friends in each branch for storage of books and materials. They each operate under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Library Board of Trustees and provide a stream of revenue into the Departmental Gift Fund through the sale of books.
The MOU does require the Friends to maintain financial records and to comply with open record requirements. I do not believe the Friends groups conduct audits. Additionally, their reporting practices are not consistent among different branches and they do not adhere to a single set of best practices. Because the Friends’ mission involves County assets (books) and funds flowing into Departmental Gift Fund, any comprehensive fiscal audit would require a review of both the Friends organizations as well as the Gift Fund, which is what the Board of Supervisors has directed.
I can assure you that the Board of Supervisors, in responding to the Federation’s request, was in no way seeking retribution against the Friends groups. Our Board values the service the Friends provide, and appreciates the significant contributions they make to the FCPL system. Having an independent review of both the internal Gift Fund and funds held by the Friends groups will help us to demonstrate accountability to the civic and homeowner associations that have raised concerns.
The Office of Financial and Program Audit (OFPA) is also known as the Auditor of the Board. The auditor’s work program is approved by the Board of Supervisors and monitored by an Audit Committee made up of four members of the Board of Supervisors and two private citizens. All of the OFPA audit reports from 1998 to the present can be found at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/boardauditor/. Meetings are held quarterly and open to the public. If you or your readers have evidence of fraudulent activity involving the Departmental Gift Fund, or any other matter, you may report it to the Fairfax County Fraud Hotline at 703-787-3243.
To your concerns regarding budget cuts to our Library System, I know you recognize the effect that the Great Recession has had on our community. The Board of Supervisors has had to make difficult decisions across the entire spectrum of County services since 2008 as we’ve struggled to maintain quality programs with less revenue. Recovery from the Recession is slower than anyone expected. Like all County agencies, FCPL has been asked to hold open vacancies and do more with less. I appreciate and value the hard work and dedication of all Fairfax County employees, and believe they all provide a wonderful service to Fairfax County.
Nationally, public libraries were on a decade-long upswing in circulation and visits until the Great Recession, when these two measurements peaked and have since declined, according to a study by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Public library systems across the country have been faced with the same challenges we face in Fairfax County. Still, in FY2013, the most recent survey, customer satisfaction remained high at 96%.
I found your comparison to our neighbor jurisdictions interesting. Looking at the Montgomery County library budget, I see it receives between $4,000,000 and over $5,000,000 annually in state funding for its library system while Fairfax County has received $532,949 each year for the past two years. I also noticed that their annual per capita circulation rate is well below Fairfax County’s despite having a larger per capita budget.
In Prince George’s County, state aid to its library system in FY2015 was more than $6.7 million and accounted for 25.5% of its entire budget. Similarly, their circulation per capita rate (6.05) in 2013 is far lower than Fairfax County’s despite having a larger per capita budget. While I am hesitant to compare Prince William County to Fairfax due to the large difference in population, I will point out that their system also has a far lower circulation rate (around 8.2 in 2013) than Fairfax County despite having a larger per capita budget.
With regard to the collection, following my Board Matter in September 2013, FCPL staff adopted new discard procedures. The changes included independent decision-making at the branch level with a documentation process for noting the reason for the discard. The new process includes multiple levels of review and, after they are withdrawn, materials are offered to the Friends of the Library Groups.
Library materials declined by the Friends go to the Department of Purchasing and Supply Management through the county surplus property and disposal process. In January 2014 FCPL began generating discard reports by type: condition, accuracy, demand, magazines/newspapers and leased material.
Library administration believes that “Floating” our collection will continue to assist with lowering our discard numbers, since it is customer driven and library materials goes to where they are in demand, giving the material new life versus being discarded. Details on these changes can be found at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/news/floatingcollectionstimeline.pdf.
While there is no question that the library collection does not look the same as it did 10 years ago, you may be interested to know that since FY2006, FCPL has added over 2,742,569 physical items and also provides access to over 1 million online resources. Since 2007 Fairfax County has opened, equipped and staffed three new libraries, Burke Centre (2008), City of Fairfax (2008), Oakton (2007), and has completed renovations on Dolley Madison (2011), Martha Washington (2010), Richard Byrd (2010) and Thomas Jefferson (2010) and is scheduled to complete the renovation of Woodrow Wilson in 2015.
Lastly, regarding the decision by a branch manager to limit the hours of the second floor at Sherwood Regional Library, I have spoken with Library Director Sam Clay and understand that this is being worked out.
Thanks so much for the opportunity to respond to the concerns you have raised. I, too, am hopeful that our economy will begin to improve and that we are able to more fully invest in all County services. Fairfax County is the best place to live, work, play and raise a family, and I remain committed to keeping it that way.
CC: Members, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
Members, Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees
Ed Long, County Executive
Dave Molchany, Deputy County Executive
Tony Castrilli, Director, Office of Public Affairs
Claudia Arko, Legislative Director (for distribution to General Assembly members)
Tom Jackman, Washington Post
Karen Goff, Reston Now
Ellie Ashford, Annandale Blog
Tim Thompson, President, Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations
Kathy Kaplan, Library Chair, Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations