Under pressure from the public and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to suspend further action on a proposed new staffing model.
More than 200 people crowded into a meeting room and overflow area at George Mason Regional Library in Annandale to hear the board’s vote on the unpopular initiative, and they broke into applause as the vote concluded.
Library administrators had proposed beta testing the staffing model at two libraries: Burke Centre and Reston Regional. The beta programs were originally to go into effect Sept. 1, but the Board of Trustees delayed implementation to allow time for them to get more information and revisit on Wednesday.
Trustees emphasized at Wednesday’s meeting that they had never signed off on the program.
Library staff currently fall into two main categories: information and circulation. The primary change proposed in the beta tests was to use dual-trained staff members who fulfill both roles, thus reducing the number of people needed to run the library.
At Reston, this would have reduced the staff size from 20.5 positions to 13.5 and Burke Centre would go from nine-and-a-half positions to seven.
In the process of reclassifying positions and revising job descriptions, the library administration also proposed making a master of library science degree a preferred qualification, rather than a mandatory one.
Librarians and library supporters expressed concern that these changes would mean eliminating children’s librarians and other specialists and would make it harder for library patrons to get the information and services they rely on reference librarians for.
Library director Sam Clay has said the proposed changes were part of an effort to modernize the library system and to keep costs down in an increasingly challenging budget environment.
Those opposing the beta programs said they are not opposed to changes at the libraries, but that staff and the public need to be more involved with the process.
“We are all vested in making sure that Fairfax County has a world class library system,” Jane Ampah, secretary of the Fairfax County Public Library Employees’ Association, said before the trustees voted. “Please, let’s work together to achieve that goal.”
The possibility of change at the libraries has not gone away. Board of Trustees Chairman Willard Jasper (Lee District) has formed an ad-hoc committee of trustees that will also include representatives from library “Friends” groups and from the library staff association.
This committee will be charged with evaluating possible staffing changes and leading a public engagement process, Jasper said.
Public and staff engagement in the process is key, said Nancy Allard, co-chairwoman of the Friends of the George Mason Regional Library.
“I think this gives us a chance to do things right,” she said.