Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Monday, January 12, 2015

Do we need to audit the County library's inventory? You be the judge.

One of the measures called for in the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations September 18, 2014, resolution sent to Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova was:
WHEREAS there are discrepancies in county documents between 2006 and 2014 regarding collection holdings . . .
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations requests a complete collection inventory of the Fairfax County Public Library . . . .
The official summary of the Board's discussion about this matter reflects Chairman Bulova's comments on an inventory audit this way:
Fairfax County Public Libraries conduct an annual inventory that reflects holdings by audience and item type.  She attached to her written Board Matter a sample page from the 2013 inventory.
FCPL staff can also provide daily records of check-ins, checkouts, transfers, new items added, and items removed from the collection.  Staff run regular reports to verify holdings and help identify items that are missing or lost. She attached to her written Board Matter a copy of the Circulation Priority reports. Staff also regularly reviews material that has high circulation and low activity to determine its status.
In short, she rejected the FCFCA's idea that the county needed a complete collection inventory audit.  It was not included in the resolution approved by the Board.

Yet annual inventory records made available under Freedom of Information Act requests suggest FCPL has a substantial problem in keeping track of how many items it has in its collection inventory.

We can check the accuracy of the county's collection inventory by looking at two ways it counts how many materials it has in its collection:
  • The annual Collection Materials Inventory, which is the document Chairman Bulova showed the Board of Supervisors.  This inventory is an actual end-of-month computerized count of many items of various types exist in the collection system.  The types include several categories of books as well as a more diverse list of non-book materials.  The inventory shows totals for each as well as a grand total.  Subtracting the total for the previous year from the current year, e.g.--FY2010 minus FY2009, should show you the growth or shrinkage in the collection over the year.
  • The annual Collection Overview.  This overview provides a count the additions to the collection as well as the discards during the year by branch.   The net of those two numbers should show you the growth or shrinkage in the collection over the year as well.
We conducted those two small arithmetic tasks for the years fiscal years of data we were provided.  The results show major discrepancies in the counts between the two inventory approaches.  In fact, over the eight years of data we were able to obtain, the average discrepancy is 61,369 items or 2.4% of the average inventory over the period.

Given that the FCPL system is computerized, a 2.4% discrepancy between the two approaches is unacceptably high.  While we can't expect them to match perfectly, an error over one percent--or more than 20,000 items--would seem to be unacceptable.

From a taxpayer's perspective, the Library's inability to track its community assets suggests that more than $600,000 worth of materials is unaccounted for each year.  In fact, in this eight-year period, some 552,318 items valued at a minimum of $5.5 million are unaccounted for.

This is what Board Chairman Bulova referred to as "efficiency" of the library system in last weekend's Washington Post report.  

Do you believe that is an effective inventory system?  We don't. 

And now the county won't make available the Materials Inventory for FY2014 more than six months after it ended because FCPL is developing a new system consistent with its "floating" inventory system, ie--books "float" throughout the system rather than being owned by a single branch.

How effective do you believe this new inventory system will be if it's built on the kind of inventory data the Library has been compiling?  We don't think it will be effective either.  Garbage in, garbage out.



  1. There are many issues about the collection. Books are on the shelves that are not in the catalog. I find them every other time I check books out. That usually leads to the book being thrown out as the books have to go to Tech Ops to be put back in the catalog, and I am told Tech Ops tosses those books. (I don't take them out of the library. I put them back on the shelf and hope they survive long enough for a new world order).

    The last time there was a collection inventory, all the books got a new sequence of bar codes attached. They were all entered and accounted for. It was very cumbersome because the books had to be moved from the shelves to the scanners. There are portable scanners now, little wizards, that would make the process very fast. Books could be scanned on the shelves.

    The books packed away for Woodrow Wilson will have been out of circulation for 18 months when the library re-opens. Of those books, the ones that were not checked out in the previous six months will be eligible for 24 month, low demand culling. Throwing books away is a way of life at FCPL. The librarians have been trained to do it for ten years. Many librarians parrot the Library Director's words that the library is not an archive as they pitch last copies of culturally significant books. What will happen to Woodrow's collection?

    We need a good idea of what condition the collection is in now. Is it balanced? Are there enough nonfiction books in certain categories? Are there enough books about medieval history? Are there enough books about the Civil War? What about the categories of children's nonfiction?

    Yes, we need a comprehensive collection inventory. We need to know what's left after ten years of wanton destruction of our community treasure.

    Kathy Kaplan

  2. With no security on the books, many just walk themselves out the door.

  3. Why do you hate on the library system so much? I thought you wanted to help. All this ranting and raving does is create a bad scene for the library. Let's do what we can to help rather than rage.

    1. We do not "hate" the library system, but we do believe the people of the County, including the many excellent library staff, are being ill-served by a system leadership that has reduced our county library system to a shadow of its former self (staff, budget, & collection cuts), threatened and punished those who criticize it, and yet--beyond all reason--still have the ear of the Board of Supervisors.

      In this case, the Board rejected the FCFCA request for an audit of the library collection with the Chairman literally waving a copy of an annual materials inventory around. What we have shown in this post in particular is that inventory wasn't worth the ink used to print, much less the paper it was printed on.

      We need to audit the library collection now so we know what we have, what we don't have, and we can investigate why there are such large discrepancies. That will be far more productive than investigating the finances of the county's Friends of the Library groups.

      Hope that answers your question.


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