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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fairfax County Public Library has thrown out 2,888,982 books and other items in nine fiscal years!


In the last nine fiscal years, the Fairfax County Public Library system has discarded-- "thrown out" in common parlance--nearly 2.9 million books and other items--music, videos, magazines, e-books, etc., according to their own Collection Overview shown below.   That's a discard rate of 859 library items every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for nine years!

Books in dumpster at FCPL TechOps in mid-2013

The Collection Overview provides a break out of these discards by branch with the larger regional libraries shown in the upper part of the table.  For example, Reston Regional Library (RR) has discarded 220,958 items over this nine-year time span, the most of any of the County's library branches.  The County's two new branch libraries, Oakton and Burke Center, began operations in FY2008 and FY2009 respectively, hence their reduced levels of discards.

"TechOps" at the bottom of this list is essentially a clearinghouse for library materials coming to, circulating within, or— in this case—going out of the library system.  Even though data on its activities covers only six years, it leads the library system in disposing of nearly 350,000 library items in that time frame.  We don't know how many library items it discarded before FY2009.


The number of books discarded in FY2014 dropped substantially from preceding years--and more than half from FY2013--because of citizen complaints to the Board of Supervisors.  The Board directed the Library administration to institute a more diligent procedure before discarding books.

In response, the Library administration adopted a policy calling for multiple levels of review.  According to FCPL, there are basically three legitimate reasons to discard a book or other library item:

  • It is unused for two years or more.  
  • It is too worn to be usable.
  • It is "inaccurate."

In fact, the “multiple levels of review” actually involves one person documenting the discard and specifying the reason.  Two reviewers look at the document list and sign off on it.  These reviewers rarely, if ever, actually examine the books--or even have time to do so.  In effect, the decision is made by a single person. 


As for the standards:  
  •  Unused for two years.  By "unused," FCPL means "checked out," and that overlooks the large number of materials--especially large art books--that are read in the library branch, but not checked out.   Books that haven't been checked out in 24 months are put on a "dead" list.  Librarians are told to cull the books from the "dead" list for transfer.  The books are packed up in boxes according to the category, i.e., adult fiction, young adult fiction, etc., and the category in the box (not the book titles) are listed on the library's computer database.  Other libraries can request transfer of those boxes of books.  Those boxes not requested are discarded after 10 days on the database list.  The two-year standard itself is extremely short, especially in the face of national norms that keep materials on the shelf for five, not two, years before being considered for discard.
  • Worn out books.  Books that have been checked out 50 times are put on a "grubby" list.  A librarian checks the list and has the discretion to leave the books on the shelf if they are not worn.  Anecdotal evidence in one branch is that this new discard/transfer policy is creating four times the numbers of discards than before it was implemented.  Members of the Friends of the Library and Fairfax County Library Advocates group say that most of the books discarded can be repaired easily, which some have done.  Photos of books retrieved from dumpsters indicate that many discarded books are not badly damaged.
  • Inaccurate books.  It seems highly unlikely, in fact, nearly impossible, for a librarian or assistant to determine the accuracy of a book or other item if they are throwing them out at a rate of 40 per day per branch.  Besides, who believes that a librarian, even a well-trained and experienced one, can accurately assess the validity of a book or other item across all the disciplines that these non-fiction materials cover including natural, physical, social, computer, and formal sciences (decision theory, systems theory, logic, mathematics, statistics, and more) and engineering?  

The situation is aggravated by the fact that FCPL shifted to a “floating” materials inventory process in FY2014 meaning that individual libraries no longer “own” the books they receive initially and materials lent out may be returned and kept elsewhere.  Because the floating collection produces net receivers and net losers, collections in the branches become unbalanced.  In some branches there is a glut of books and without shelf space, books have to be transferred.  In these branches, there is a substantial risk that the library system’s discard policies are more loosely enforced with a disproportionate share of materials being discarded by net receivers.  


Still, with the number of discards cut in half last fiscal year, it appears the more rigorous discard policy may be at least having some effect.  But we have reason to worry:  FCPL has not published its annual Material Collection Inventory report for FY2014 although the fiscal year ended months.  It claims there have been delays because they are trying to re-vamp the inventory reporting because of the library's shift to a "floating" book system, but the count of discarded books is just that, nothing fancy required.  Count and report the number of discards by branch and add them up


Maybe more importantly, FCPL is throwing away material that you have paid for and often with insufficient reason.  At a bare bottom estimated average price of about $10 per item (item prices range from paperbacks at about $6 to special printing hardbounds in excess of $100 each), the County has thrown out about $29 million worth of items taxpayers have paid for.  In fact, $29 million is more that the County has spent on the library in every year since FY2011.  In short, they have discarded more than a full year's worth of spending in nine years.  (Last year's FCPL General Fund expenditures were about $26 million.)


In a meeting with Board Chairman Sharon Bulova and senior County executive and library staff on Friday, January 9, 2015, the Advocates provided a road map to the Chairman as to how the Library can be restored to its former high standing.  The first step, which can be taken immediately and requires no expenditures of funds, is simply to stop destroying books for no good reason.  A policy decision to return to the industry standard of a review after five years rather than two years would slow the hemorrhaging and allow an objective review of broader materials discard policy options.  The Advocates also encouraged the Chairman to not further disproportionately penalize the Libraries with budget cuts, to move to hire qualified employees to fill the over 60 long term vacancies and to ensure the next Director of Libraries Services is someone committed to rebuilding the Library.  We await the Chairman's decisions.  


It is our public library whether it is in Reston or Burke Center or Kings Park.  To protect it, all of us must contact our Supervisor and make sure they understand the importance we attach to our public libraries and the remaining two million items it retains. 
 
 FCPL Collection Overview, Discards by Fiscal Year

Library Branch

FY2006
FY2007
FY2008
FY2009
FY2010
FY2011
FY2012
FY2013
FY2014
TOTAL

CE
    23,031
    30,075
    32,386
    25,878
    36,369
    18,908
    12,096
      4,831
      3,916
     187,490

CH
    21,644
    23,215
    18,889
    22,733
    25,444
    25,983
    22,954
      9,464
      6,610
     176,936

FX
    25,049
    22,339
    15,975
    14,567
    19,637
    21,431
    15,584
      8,283
      4,060
     146,925

GM
    35,783
    28,313
    20,788
    26,356
    18,695
    20,062
    17,420
      9,578
      2,967
     179,962

PO
    31,904
    44,795
    25,656
    23,360
    21,111
    23,957
    28,065
    13,494
      3,756
     216,098

RR
    30,107
    28,761
    24,995
    27,948
    39,125
    31,317
    25,080
      8,675
      4,950
     220,958

SH
    21,264
    18,130
    14,942
    11,873
    17,154
    14,521
    13,320
    11,021
      3,312
     125,537

TY
    21,883
    35,455
    17,170
    20,208
    20,558
    23,577
    21,104
    11,269
      4,199
     175,423
 -----------









              

BC



      1,900
      3,666
      6,980
      7,527
      5,992
      1,090
       27,155

DM
    12,258
    25,618
    15,422
    13,283
    14,490
      4,014
      3,076
      2,135
      2,111
       92,407

GF
      8,737
      7,445
      6,685
    10,051
      6,788
      7,625
      4,264
      5,596
      1,236
       58,427

HE
      8,782
    13,279
      9,231
    10,996
      6,638
      7,484
      9,793
      3,244
      2,639
       72,086

JM
    12,975
    15,761
    10,026
    10,361
      9,596
      8,029
    10,658
    10,087
      3,924
       91,417

KN
    15,128
    17,795
    11,384
    10,272
    11,056
    12,767
    10,084
      5,613
      2,153
       96,252

KP
    14,874
    21,127
    14,919
    17,614
    14,739
    12,088
    12,129
      6,953
      4,966
     119,409

LO
    12,893
    16,500
    12,539
    11,381
      6,885
      8,882
      5,995
      2,392
      2,510
       79,977

MW
      9,960
    14,084
    14,483
    10,006
      2,360
      2,183
      5,256
      1,507
      2,039
       61,878

OK


         846
      2,336
      3,913
      5,916
      9,453
      4,301
      2,371
       29,136

PH
    17,307
    23,346
    25,142
    22,107
    17,671
    15,641
    16,172
      2,941
      2,457
     142,784

RB
    17,638
    15,592
    16,503
    13,907
      1,865
      2,845
      4,072
      2,067
      1,598
       76,087

TJ
    21,958
    14,790
    15,815
    13,529
      3,116
      2,664
      6,146
      3,199
      1,947
       83,164

WW
    13,406
    13,672
      9,130
      9,334
      8,419
    12,513
      7,714
      3,642
      1,731
       79,561
Totals
 376,581
 430,092
 332,926
 330,000
 309,295
 289,387
 267,962
 136,284
   66,542
  
2,539,069












TechOps



 12,550
   23,131
   21,588
   14,644
 185,345
   92,655
 349,913











TOTAL
 376,581
 430,092
 332,926
 342,550
 332,426
 310,975
 282,606
 321,629
 159,197
 2,888,982





11 comments:

  1. Aren't "discarded" books often sold in the used book sales? I've seen many outdated travel guides, computer books, and other "discarded" library books for sale at the Reston Library used book corner.

    Isn't it also possible that many of the books in the dumpster photo are books that had been donated to the library and were found not to be of any use?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Various people, including one supervisor, viewed, sampled, and photographed the dumpsters at various times. Their findings are documented in Library Advocacy archives. They reported that most of these ex-lib books were salable and some were valuable. Most should not have left their library.

      Delete
    2. Various people, including one supervisor, have looked at, sampled, and photographed the dumpsters at various times. These are documented in Library Advocates archives. They reported that most of those books were salable and some were valuable. Most should not have left their library.

      Delete
  2. Bruce--Actually only one Friends group--Tysons/Pimmit--accepts used library books largely becaused they are swamped with other contributions. The dumpster and the books in it are the property of the library (& us); you can tell by the indexing labels still on them. In fact, beginning Feb. 1, books will be thrown out because the firm that once took them no longer will.

    Please read Tom Jackman's article in WaPo today on the library's deterioration. Here is the start of it on our blog: http://www.reston2020.blogspot.com/2015/01/as-fairfax-library-collection-shrinks.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think "In fact, beginning Feb. 1, books will be thrown out because the firm that once took them no longer will." pretty much establishes the value of the books being "thrown out." Zero.

      Delete
  3. Just curious, but where are you getting the concept that the "national norm" is a standard of five years of use prior to weeding? You mention it, but it's not cited in anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The information came from the American Library Association.

      Delete
    2. I think that it's 5 years from purchase, not 5 years of inactivity.

      Delete
  4. Just to be clear: We didn't say five years is a standard; we said it is a norm. FCPL has a 2-year non-use weeding policy standard; the national norm is 5 years.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I do not see where ALA tracks this "norm" on a national level. What I see are links to documents, some of which include surveys of library systems and/or links to library weeding policies. But these surveys are not nationwide so there is no indication of a national norm or overall trend.

    If you are actually finding the information you claim, I would love to see it. It would be great defense for your argument, but without verification I don't see how you can possibly make a claim for a national norm. Thanks for your continued efforts.

    ReplyDelete
  6. As someone that suffers from severe dust allergies I do not want to pick up a book that has been sitting on a shelf undisturbed for two years, let alone five years. Can you imagine the dust on a book that has been sitting for 10 years?

    ReplyDelete

Your comments are welcome and encouraged as long as they are relevant, constructive, and decent.