Editorial: Library Mission

Editorial: Library Mission

Further cuts to library budget must be analyzed for impacts on needy families.

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http://www.centre...">Fairfax County Public Libraries: Version 2.0?

— The current proposal to “streamline” services at Fairfax County Public Libraries comes on top of disproportionate, and some would say Draconian, cuts since 2009.

Here is a summary of those cuts from the library department’s own strategic plan:

“In FY 2010, … the library’s budget was reduced by 15 percent. Drastic adjustments to staffing levels occurred. Virtually all of the library’s exempt part-time staff were lost and with them, the flexibility needed to operate libraries under existing hours of operation. Consequently, hours of operation were reduced 19 percent. ... In FY 2011, the library’s budget was reduced an additional 6 percent. Additional staff were lost and operating hours reduced again by 9 percent. … With a more stable budget outlook, the focus has shifted from survival, to becoming as vital to the lives of Fairfax County residents as possible.”

In 2012, Fairfax County libraries welcomed 5,246,854 visitors to library branches, and loaned 13,034,816 items.

In Fairfax County, where nearly 20 percent of the households have annual income of under $50,000, about 8 percent live below the poverty line and more than 47,000 public school students are poor enough to qualify for subsidized meals, the public libraries are indispensable. Access to library resources goes beyond books, and includes the very digital access that many people cite as a threat to libraries. Public access to computers and to the Internet for those who do not have other access is a critical service.

According to a 2010 report, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

  • 44 percent of people in households living below the federal poverty line ($22,000 a year for a family of four) used public library computers and Internet access.
  • Among young adults (14–24 years of age) in households below the federal poverty line, 61 percent used public library computers and Internet for educational purposes.
  • Among seniors (65 and older) living in poverty, 54 percent used public library computers for health or wellness needs.

“People of all ages, incomes, races, and levels of education go to the library for Internet access.

“This access has also proven to be critical in times of disaster, where libraries may be the only access point still operating that can provide a delivery point for government and social services to those displaced.”

Budgeting and restructuring must take into consideration the disproportionate effect of cutting library services on lower income households especially. But it is also true that the libraries are vital to all residents.