Madam Chairman and members of the board:
I appreciate this opportunity to speak before you. I am the current chairman of the Fairfax Library Advocates. I do want to say first off that I very much respect and admire the stamina and the force of will all of you have demonstrated. I have had a chance over the past two days to listen to 30 or 40 of the different approaches and appeals for different programs, and like Kristin before me I am overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of the services this county provides and I am proud to be a member of this community and all the work you can do. So thank you for that.
I will say I am here speaking for the libraries though, and I will note that each of the speakers before me has dealt with a specific issue that was of great concern to them and to others. I am here to speak about an issue I think concerns all of us. The libraries, as you know, are one of the institutions in this county that deals with literally every person in the county. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, black or white, young or old, new arrival to this country or a long time citizen, the library is there to serve you. I know I am one of the very last speakers, so I am going to step through a couple of issues quickly, specifically an absolute, a comparative, a managerial, and perhaps a philosophic to end.
On the absolute, I am going to jump forward and say there has been a lot of review and discussion over recent years as to the role of libraries in communities. States as varied as Minnesota, Florida, Colorado, Great Britain, Korea and other nations have done extensive study in this and all of them have come to one conclusion: The library is an economic engine. The library returns on investment multiples of what is invested into them anywhere from $3.5 to $1 to $10 to $1 for what is put into different libraries. So when I hear our colleagues from the Chamber and other areas, I look and see this is an opportunity for Fairfax to continue to be a leader both in this community and in this nation.
The second part I mentioned is comparative and here I will express a little concern. I am sure that all of you are aware that Fairfax County on a per capita basis is at the very bottom of our region in terms of our contributions to the library. We have something along the lines of $24 per person. Loudon, I think, is at $38, Arlington and Alexandria are in the $40s and the district is up to $60 per person. Again, this is a contribution to the future and not just for the children and the other people who we educate, but also as a community to attract business and to be an important part of our community.
On that issue is a random note that in Minnesota a study was done on housing values and it was determined that the proximity to the library directly increases the values of housing.
On managerial, and here I think is a specific issue I am concerned about. A year ago, all of you met and approved a budget. Part of that budget was of course, was for the library. And I have to assume that when you did that, you assumed the budget you put forward would cause certain actions to take place and that there would be a product at the end of that time. Specifically, at the moment now we are faced with a situation where we have over 60 vacancies in the library system. This places an unfair burden on the remaining employees who are forced to work massive amounts of overtime, to forgo vacation and other leave, and it also affects the services that we are able to give to our citizens. At the moment, I think you have before you a proposal before you to take out 14 full time equivalent positions. I keep seeing that these are vacant positions. I want to emphasize that they are not vacant positions, they are positions which have not been filled and there is a very big difference between those two.
So I hope that in going back to last year and going forward that you encourage Library Administration to actually fill the positions so that we can, in fact, deliver what we have promised to our citizens.
Lastly, and this isn’t quite a budget issue, but it is one central to everything we are doing in in the philosophic area, that in recent days there has been a change in policy where there is, in effect, a censorship on the flows of information that the members of the library are able to use to communicate with each other. This is something that is very much not in keeping with this county and the things we believe in, and I hope someone would take a look at it and see what we can do along those lines.
Lastly, I will say that as an Advocate my expectation is that I will work collaboratively and closely with all people who are interested in the library. In the past we have found ourselves not always on the same page. This is not something we wish to have. We wish to work closely with you. We think this is important, important for our future and our society. I do want to thank all of you. I have had a chance to speak to a couple of you individually and I know you care about libraries as much as I do and the others. I look forward to working with you in the future. Thank you.