Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Letter: Will Reston’s Library Become an Internet Café? Terry Maynard, Reston Patch, August 11, 2013

Let's stick with more books and more employees who know about them.

By this time, many of Reston Patch’s readers will have become aware of the fact that the County has proposed restructuring the public library system and using Reston Regional Library as one of two guinea pigs (Burke is the other) for this “Beta Project” model.  The name itself sounds like the title of a badly written sci-fi book, but this is real and coming soon unless we stop it.

While the proposed restructuring is difficult to describe in a few words, the essence of the “Beta Project” would make our community library into little more than an internet café. 

Books—fiction, non-fiction, reference, official, whatever—will be largely set aside.  More than 200,000 books your taxes helped pay for have already been destroyed, yes, destroyed in less than a year; not even given to Friends of the Library to sell or donated to needy libraries.  What books remain will be managed on a “floating” County-wide basis, not within your local library, so you may have to wait to get the one you want—if they haven’t burned it.  You really don’t want to have too many books in a library!  I am already getting a “sinking” feeling. 

The biggest hit will be in the children’s book section, which is already decimated.  The Youth Division will be disbanded all together.  Don’t want those pesky kids to learn to read or enjoy the library as a place of excitement and adventure.   Need to keep the place quiet so people can Google or Yahoo! or Twitter.

In fact, computers and internet access, including “Wifi bars”, along with supporting equipment will be expanded.  A question:  Where can’t you get free Wifi access these days?  I get it even at the local car wash.  So what’s the tax dollar “value added” of this model?  On the other hand, where else can I borrow books for free?  I can’t even browse and buy them in Reston at Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, or the Little Professor anymore.

Food will probably be allowed in the library, maybe even your favorite coffee concoction.  At least they haven’t suggested actually selling food and beverages in the library—yet. 

Degreed librarians will disappear over time.  They would be replaced by “library customer service specialists.” Yes, you read that right; something straight out of an HR bureaucrat’s handbook.  According to the job description, even the most senior “specialist”—Level V, the one who would head Reston’s regional library— would not need a library science degree.  Here are the job requirements as stated in the job description:
Any combination of education, experience and training equivalent to:  Graduation from a four year accredited college or university; PLUS four years of progressively responsible experience working in a library, including one year of supervisory experience.
There are no license, certification, or other special requirements.  Just call them all “servers.”  Together, they will be a “wait staff” in librarian clothing led by a minimally experienced head waiter, but they won’t know what’s on the menu nor have a clue how to find an esoteric book or document.

Yet they will offer “quality customer service” FCPL says repeatedly.  I get that at most coffee shops and diners—and I have always gotten that at Reston Regional, understaffed though they are.  It is ludicrous to believe that the proposed restructuring, further staff reductions (“streamlined,” they say), position downgrading, and budget cutting is going to improve customer service despite the extensive verbiage FCPL has devoted to the topic.  Indeed, count on service getting worse, even with fewer books and probably fewer patrons, er, “customers,” to serve.

Of course, the real reason for all this is to gut the library budget in Reston and across the County’s library system—the largest in Virginia, FCPL likes to brag.  In fact, the cuts have begun.  This is helped by the fact that, according to a library customer quoted in the Fairfax Station Patch, “Sharon Bulova said that the library wasn’t a core responsibility of the county.”  Well, in case Chairman Bulova is not aware, public libraries have been a core responsibility in just about every community, large and small, across the country for more than a century. 

Yet if Chairman Bulova’s statement is to be believed, one of the country’s wealthiest counties apparently sees its libraries as a peripheral public expenditure.   Even bankrupt Detroit has a robust public library system, complete with degreed librarians and a larger budget (FY12=$31.6MM in local tax revenues, plus other funds) than Fairfax County—and, oh yes, books, the 2nd largest collection in Michigan (7.6MM books, more than twice FCPL’s collection!), including several special collections!

So, if the County proceeds as planned, soon you can bring your java and bagel to the new Reston Regional internet cafe and see where the books used to be that you could borrow and read, enjoy and maybe even learn from.  I’m sure you will be greeted by a customer service specialist much like those greeters at Wal-Mart; just don’t ask any tough questions or try to find an obscure reference or borrow a book. 

If you think this is as bad an idea as I do, I urge you to sign this petition to delay or stop the implementation of this disastrous experiment on our community.   Thank you for your consideration.

Terry Maynard

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