2024-06-18 3:44 AM

Fairfax County Libraries Could See $3.4 Million Budget Cut Come April

GOODImmigrants, Children Would Suffer Most by Reduction in Operations

Expected to suffer the most if Fairfax County approves a $3.4 million budget cut proposed for its public libraries are children, non-English speaking immigrants, seniors and the disabled, says Fairfax County Library Information Specialist Charles Keener.


Immigrants, Children Would Suffer Most by Reduction in Operations




STUDENTS FLOCK to Woodrow Wilson Library in Falls Church once school lets out at Bailey’s Elementary School next door to do homework and use the internet. (Photo: News-Press)


Expected to suffer the most if Fairfax County approves a $3.4 million budget cut proposed for its public libraries are children, non-English speaking immigrants, seniors and the disabled, says Fairfax County Library Information Specialist Charles Keener.

An overall reduction in Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) operations, proposed by County Executive Anthony Griffin, would include a decrease of 280 hours each week across the branches compared to FY 2009 and the elimination of a home-delivery option for library books, cutting ties with more than 300 homebound disabled customers.

The cut would also mark the end of a rotating collection of books to 35 deposit sites at senior-living facilities, nursing homes and adult care centers.

“We hate to see particularly disadvantaged groups take a disproportionate impact here,” adds Friends of Access Services President Michael Eaton, who said that a large number of war veterans who are amputees use the home-delivery service because they have no other way of getting to the library.

If the cuts are approved in late April, disabled customers “will have to physically visit a library to pick up a book,” according to a 30-page FY 2011 Agency Reductions document available online.

FCPL Director Sam Clay said the libraries will still provide “excellence service” but in a “more compressed manner.”

Adding that the cuts, if passed, will impact the libraries negatively, Clay said, “The board of supervisors identified education as the most important agency, but the library is a major part of education system. Why, then, would you cut the top priority? There’s no question students will feel the reduction.”

Also feeling the heat are FCPL employees. The proposed 15-percent budget cut in library funding in FY 2011 would result in the elimination of 107 full- and part-time employees. That’s on top of the 306 part-timers lost after an 18-percent budget cut endured by the libraries for FY 2010, although FCPL receives only 0.09 percent of the general revenue fund.

Faced with the possibility that FY 2011 could mirror the financial detriment of last fiscal year, and rumors that FY 2012 may be just as hard-hitting, Keener told the News-Press, “Enough is enough.”

He called the libraries “an easy place to go after” for Griffin and the board of supervisors, who Keener doesn’t “get the sense are library users.”


Woodrow Wilson is one of 23 public library branches throughout Fairfax County. (Photo: News-Press)

“Librarians tend to be really nice. We remain oriented toward service and even after we’ve been sliced and diced, we contort ourselves into a pretzel to do everything for everyone. They’d like us to grin and bear it, not speak up,” said Keener, an FCPL employee for 36 years.

But speaking up could mean a bittersweet end for longtime librarian Nancy Klein, who’s job at Kingstowne library is on the chopping block for FY 2011. She won the 2009 Don Smith Award for “working tirelessly with county agencies to find answers to complicated human resources queries during the budget discussions” as the former president of the FCPL Employee Association.

As irony would have it a year later, the same bridges Klein was honored for mending may soon be burned.

“I learned my position was one of the ones to be eliminated. That moment was hard to describe. It made me sad. I felt like what I had done, all that I’d worked so hard to promote, to uplift the staff, couldn’t continue. It was difficult. Emotionally, I’ve been very invested in this fight,” Klein told the News-Press.

In addition to the elimination of positions, the budget proposal says that “full-time employees will be required to work every Saturday and/or two evenings per week.”

Keener said library employees haven’t had a pay raise for two years and that none are planned for the “foreseeable future,” despite the fact a reduced staff may be asked to work more hours.

“[The County] can’t expect us to work seven days a week when they cut our workforce. People will manage, but with a lot of frustration and confusion,” said Klein. “We’re the sacrificial lamb of the economic crisis.”

Turned off by Griffin’s language of “discretionary spending” applied to the libraries, Klein said the message to her staff remains that “what they do is important and don’t let anyone else tell you differently.”

She went on to note that the changes in hours of operation could make those with limited English-speaking skills more of a “burden on society.” As of 2008, those of Hispanic origin made up 14.1 percent of Fairfax County, more than double of what it was in 1990, and growing.

Limited hours means a decrease in FCPL’s English conversation groups and access to technology, which enables immigrants to communicate with family members back home and apply for jobs online, not to mention create resumes. Klein said that library users left to their own devices as a result of a limited staff will no longer be able to benefit from the libraries’ amenities.

“Immigrants that are new to the area with a limited English-speaking ability and low income don’t have the same skills to compete with others who grew up in this country. Are we just going to let those people fall through the cracks?” said Klein.

Woodrow Wilson Library in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Falls Church is next door to Bailey’s Elementary School, which enrolls 1,000 students representing more than 40 countries of origin and speaking nearly 20 languages. Keener said the nearby library is a safe haven, “almost like a community center.”

“When Bailey’s lets out, the children swarm and they’re all headed for the library. It’s a challenge keeping them occupied, so Woodrow Wilson is obviously a very vital part of their lives,” he said, adding that he’s “sure there’s a lot worse places those kids could find to spend their time other than the local library.”

Fairfax County Public Libraries is the largest library system in the Washington, D.C.-metro area, serving more than 500,000 library users. Yet, less money is spent on FCPL than any other library system in the D.C. area, according to Keener.

“We’ve been accommodating, sacrificed ourselves and never complained,” he said. “Those days are over.”


Possible Budget Effects on Summer, Travel


As the weather warms up and more people flock outdoors, residents could see some road bumps in their summer vacation time and travel plans. Proposed budget cuts in Fairfax County include:

• The elimination of operation and management of the Martin Luther King, Jr. swimming pool. This would affect 7,500 participants each summer.

• The elimination of all restroom facilities at 15 park properties. Trash collection would also be reduced, and 12 of 72 grounds maintenance staff would be let go.

• A 19 percent reduction in unscheduled overtime for the Fairfax County Police Department. The Department’s flexibility to respond to unforeseen major accidents will be impacted.

• The elimination of nighttime court lighting at 105 tennis courts, 16 basketball courts and two volleyball courts. This would impact around 100,000 users.

This information was taken directly from the FY 2011 Agency Reductions document,  available for public viewing online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb.



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