Fairfax County Needs Librarians!

It’s been a year since I last wrote a blog post, and I am breaking my silence for an issue that means a lot to me.

If you live in the Northern Virginia area, specifically Fairfax County, you may or may not be aware about changes that have been proposed to our county library system. These are potential major changes; originally it was planned to pilot said changes without any input from county residents. Granted, being a librarian, I am biased about the changes, but as a citizen, I am angry that I was not given an open opportunity to provide input.

First, you should know some facts about our libraries, provided by Fairfax, for those people who claim we don’t need libraries anymore, thanks to the internet:

  • Our system is pretty big. We have eight regional libraries, 14 community libraries, Access Services for people with disabilities, Fairfax County Archives, Public Services Support, and Library Administration. The number of locations we have access to dwarfs the neighboring counties of Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William. For those Fairfax families who cannot afford the internet in their home (they exist!), they should have a library fairly close by.
  • In 2012, Fairfax had over 5.2 million visits to its branches. I cannot find any visit statistics for Arlington, but Loudoun had 1.7 million visits, and Prince William had 1.3. Obviously, our library locations in Fairfax are greatly depended upon.
  • Not all of those visits are just for internet access. In 2013, 13 million items were loaned out by Fairfax libraries. 13 million! Loudoun residents only checked out 6.4 million, and even less in Prince William with 3.7 million.

You can consult those fact pages for further information on specific levels of services provided to children and the elderly, electronic services, and work towards early literacy and English language learners. I’m not giving these statistics to make our neighboring county libraries look bad. I just want people to be aware of how much our county residents depend on our libraries.

There are proposals involving cutting positions, but the change that concerns me is to make it optional to have a masters in library/information science. To quote the Annandale, VA blog, “A new service model is in the works to focus on basic assistance rather than professional-level research for patrons.” By completing a masters program in library and/or information services, librarians know how to find information that the regular person might not. At school, my student aides can help a patron learn how to use the library catalog, but when the search for a subject like recombinant DNA is unsuccessful, the librarian will know the resources – both books and electronic databases – that will have that information. We can also do a reference interview to focus on what exactly the patron needs to know about recombinant DNA. The library secretary I worked with recently was someone who wanted to help the students, but when she couldn’t find something, she would send the students away thinking the school library did not have what they needed. Teachers in the school began to tell students to specifically ask to speak to me or our other librarian because they knew we were the information experts, not the library secretary. Yet, Fairfax library is thinking about not prioritizing the access to information experts for their patrons. The knowledge lost by not having that master degree would have a huge effect on the books purchased, the programs for your kids.

By having staff fill the dual role of reference and circulation, you may find yourself waiting in long lines to ask for research help while the person at the desk helps check books out, answers the phone, provides direction to the bathroom, and signs children up for the summer reading program. You might bring your children to a program that is led by someone who hates kids. That will be a positive experience for all involved!

You can read more about this at the Fairfax Times in an article published yesterday.

You can sign the petition against these changes.

The next board meeting is scheduled for September 11th at my own local branch, and I plan to attend.

Do you care about the libraries in Fairfax county? Add your name to the petition and spread the word!

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