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Op-Ed: Let's Have a Dialogue on Library Changes

Supervisor Bulova says she will ask county library board to delay beta testing, but also wants citizens to chime in on proposed changes.

Sharon Bulova / Patch file photo
Sharon Bulova / Patch file photo

By Sharon Bulova

Chair, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

Throughout the year, I am asked to give brief “State of the County” speeches to civic associations, business groups and other community organizations. When I list Fairfax County’s greatest assets I always include Fairfax County’s top-tier library system.

Not only are our libraries places for the pursuit of knowledge and information, but they also bring us together around a range of community and educational opportunities. Parents bring their children to Storytime and other children’s programs. Students use the library for research, tutoring and homework. Some residents rely on the library as their only Internet access portal. Many simply use the libraries to check out a good book. No matter how we choose to use them, in Fairfax County we value our libraries.

The way people access information has changed significantly in the past decade. Once-strong traditional book stores have closed their doors.  Many library patrons are using the electronic card catalog to locate a book and check out using the self-check-out service. More and more, people are reading books on iPads and e-readers.  Business practices have changed, too. New processes enable improved library services while reducing costs and saving staff time.

As we recover from the Great Recession, the Board of Supervisors continues to look for innovative and creative solutions to best serve our community’s changing needs and to ensure long term sustainability of our core assets. 

Recently, the Fairfax County Library Board and senior staff have proposed changes with the goal of improving and adapting library services while making sure our libraries remain high quality information and community hubs for decades and generations to come. 

The proposed pilot program consists of a new organizational structure, including a one-desk model of customer service, with cross-trained staff answering account and information questions, and increased programming conducted within branches and the community.

 Already, the "one-desk" model that is part of the re-organization is being "tested" at the Burke Centre Library and this will provide some feedback and experience that should be helpful in deciding how to move forward. 

While there is a great deal of confusion and miscommunication surrounding this proposed re-organization, community members have expressed legitimate concerns regarding some of the changes. 

I believe it is crucial that library staff and patrons are at the table to discuss this proposal and provide their perspective. This dialogue is essential to discern what changes will best improve our libraries both for the present and in the long-run.  

At our next Board Meeting on Sept. 10, I will be joining several of my colleagues in asking the Library Board and Staff to delay implementation of the "beta testing" they are doing to make sure sufficient community and workforce engagement is included in the consideration of changes. 

If you are a regular library user, or feel strongly about continuing to have a successful library system, I encourage you to attend the Library Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. at George Mason Regional Library.  

Please let the Library Board know how you use the library, how you think it can be improved, and what you think libraries need to be sustainable, accessible and vibrant for this generation and the next. Those wishing to speak must register their names in advance with the Library Administrative Office at 703-324-3100.

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