Reston Spring

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Reston Spring

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Decade-long Deterioration of the Fairfax County Public Library System



  1. This is confusing because it is not clear if "collection" means "books" or if it's covering all materials including books on CD, book/CD kits for children, DVDs, e-books, and e-audiobooks. It also assumes that all items are equal. They are not. An outdated wiring manual is not an asset to Fairfax County or its citizens. Nor is an outdated science book for elementary school students.

    It is terrible that the collection budget was getting smaller even before the recession and hasn't improved. It is terrible that the prices of materials continues to rise. We deserve a better collection, but quantity does not equal quantity.

    I am a librarian with FCPL and appreciate the time and effort put into this analysis. Unfortunately, it is based on some faulty assumptions regarding the relative value of individual items and is confusing in terms of its scope.

  2. "Collection" means totality unless it is used with an adjective, eg--"book collection." The terminology used here is EXACTLY the terminology used by FCPL in its reports, which are confusing, contradictory, and incomplete in themselves. For example, no "materials inventory" for FY2014 has yet been published. We tried to make the best sense of them we could.
    Your arguments about "outdated" are weak when so many books (& maybe non-book materials) are being discarded--about 250,000 per year over the last decade. No one can persuade me that more than 1/10th of the library materials inventory is outdated, unused, significantly damaged or otherwise worthy of discard each year. That's taxpayer money FCPL is literally throwing away. And wouldn't it make more sense to KEEP more (not all, but more) of these valuable assets--maybe even mending a book or two--if FCPL doesn't have money to buy more? Moreover, it appears FCPL could buy smarter to maximize the value of its collection budget.
    The collection budget--and other aspects of the FCPL budget, including staffing--are getting smaller (specifically 22% over the last decade--see last graph), but County spending keeps going up, dropping only a small amount for one year of the recession. Your arguments about the budget are fallacious. There is no reason why spending on our libraries shouldn't keep pace with (a) general County spending and (b) the growth in our population if it is to serve County residents.
    There are NO assumptions in the presentation other than an assumption that the County presents accurate data (which could be a leap). It is a straightforward graphic presentation of data prepared by FCPL, Fairfax County, the US Census, and the ALA. In errors in the presentation are the fault of those who created it, not Reston 2020 for presenting it to the public.

  3. The last graph about the spending per household is vastly misleading. Arlington, for instance, is a much smaller library system and county than Fairfax. The research and graphs on this blog tends to take facts, and skew them to support your thesis. While I believe Fairfax can do better with its catalogue and collection, if you want to do correct statistical analysis by comparing library systems, you must find a system and county equal in size to Fairfax, and then compare those two. If instead you take all the much smaller systems around Fairfax and compare them to Fairfax it is hard to take what you say seriously knowing your research is completely flawed. It is statistics 101. I believe GMU offers that course.

  4. I'm not sure what a "county equal in size to Fairfax" means, but we'll assume you mean similar in terms of number of households and wealth, not geography. So let's compare with Fairfax County (2012: 388,452 HHs, $109,383 MHHI):

    Montgomery County (357,579 HHs, $96,985 MHHI) spent 32% more per household.

    Prince Georges County (302,683 HHs, $73,568 MHHI--much less than FC) spent 36% more per household.

    DC (261,192 HHs, $64,267 MHHI--even smaller than PGs) spent 116% more per household, that is, more than TWICE as much as FC.

    Now let me take one that is really DIFFERENT: Garrett County has only 12,354
    households and their Median Household Income is a mere $45,354--less than half of Fairfax County. Yet they manage to invest 53% more per household than super-rich, multi-billion dollar spending budget FC in their libraries. What's FCPL's and the Board's excuse???

    'Nuff said. And where are your statistics to show otherwise?

    1. "What's FCPL's and the Board's excuse???"

      The County Executive and the Board of Supervisors allocate funds to FCPL. Neither the library nor the Library Board of Trustees controls the amount of funding the library receives. They merely allocate what the BoS approves. That is fact.

      My opinion is that historically the Director and the Trustees have been passive recipients and should have been (and should now be) active advocates for more funding of this essential service. I'm definitely in agreement with Reston 2020 about that!

      (Anonymous December 6, 2014 at 9:35 PM)

  5. No matter how you spin it, Fairfax County Public Library has been cut and cut and cut - far beyond belt tightening to strangulation. Fairfax County does indeed fund our libraries far less than other jurisdictions in the Washington area. For some reason there is a complete lack of understanding on the part of the Board of Supervisors of the value of libraries in a community. I believe a major reason for this is the utter lack of leadership and vision provided by the Library Director and his senior staff. We need an advocate for libraries who brings the community and staff together to make a case for FCPL. Instead we get someone who discourages advocacy and passively accepts the gutting of his agency. The Library Board has long been a docile rubber stamp for the Library Director. They have only just begun to wake up to their responsibilities to advocate for FCPL and guide the Director to do likewise. Let us hope the next Director will take a very different approach. The future viability of Fairfax County Public Library demands it.


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