Walk into the Centreville Library and one is confronted with an institution in crisis. Attendance is up and demand has increased, even as the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors slashed $5 million out of the library system's budget in the past four years. Longtime Library Director Sam Clay says the library has had to make some difficult decisions in recent years, reducing staffing and hours throughout the 21-branch library system.
“We've reduced the amount that we've purchase each year for our collection, and as a result we've reduced hours,” said Clay before a meeting of administrators at the Centreville Library. “And because of that then we've reduced the number of programs that we're able to provide to our public.”
Outgoing county executive Tony Griffin has suggested an additional $300,000 in cuts next year.
"The cuts were intended to be on the edge, not his significant programs," said Griffin.
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust disagrees.
"I think we are beyond the edges already with those, at least that's my experience in my district," said Foust.
THE HISTORY of the Fairfax County Public Library can be traced to 1939, when the Board of Supervisors approved $250 to establish a free county system. These days, the county’s library system is the largest in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and the largest in Virginia. Library administrators log about 5.4 million visits a year and provide access to more than 2.5 million items. But recent years have seen a decline in funding, dropping from $31.6 million in fiscal year 2009 to a proposed funding level of $26.6 million in fiscal year 2013.
“A lot of constituents really use the libraries,” said Providence Supervisor Linda Smyth. “And they’re feeling that pinch.”
In many cases, hours have been cut back so dramatically that both users and employers have to navigate a complicated and inconsistent schedule. Some services are offered one day a month, others are offered on certain nights of the week. For researchers who have daytime jobs, it’s a constant battle to gain access to public records. For employees of the system, some say it’s a strain on families and careers.
"Showing up three mornings and two evenings and a weekend,” said Mason District Supervisor Peggy Gross. “That certainly isn't the kind of county career that somebody would want to have.”
Library officials are prepared to cut $300,000 if they must. But they're also putting together a menu of options for supervisors to restore some of the staffing and hours that have been lost in recent years. This week, county officials will receive a budget memorandum outlining a menu of options for which services could be restored and how much money it would take for each line item.