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Reston Resident Has Easy Solution to Rescue Library Books

by Karen Goff July 17, 2014 at 9:30 am 1,405 36 Comments

Kathy Kaplan (left) and RCA president Colin Mills/Credit: RCAWith the Fairfax County Public Library facing budget cuts and system scrutiny, one Reston resident has found a strategy to save some of the lesser-used books from shelf extinction: simply check them out.

Kathy Kaplan, whose library activism earned her Reston Citizens Association’s Citizen of the Year award earlier in 2014, says going to the library and simply checking out books will save them.

“We have lost thousands of nonfiction books in good condition since February, 2014,” says Kaplan. “Especially vulnerable are large art books, which are often only used in the library and not checked out because of their size and weight.”

“Patrons can check out books,” said Kaplan. “Once books are checked out, they are protected for two years. Two years from now we will have a new library director, and hopefully the new one will value the library as a place of learning and literacy. You can check out 50 books. Check out art, poetry, philosophy, science, history, biography, ethnic cookbooks. And don’t forget the children’s nonfiction. It’s the only way we have now to protect our collection. Think of it as a civic and patriotic duty.”

Kaplan, a children’s book author, helped bring attention in 2013 to the library system’s discarding — rather than recirculating — more than 100,000 books. The library board then amended its policies and scrapped a proposed Beta plan to change the staffing structure at several libraries, including Reston Regional.

The Fairfax County Public Library system is facing a budget crunch. Both spending per library and and money from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors are down by more than a third over the last six years. The system had to slash more than $649,237 from the FY 2014 budget.

Kaplan says low-demand items are books that have not been checked out for 24 months. Currently, low-demand books are transferred to Technical Operations. When they get there, many are being discarded, she said.

“Many neighboring library systems keep their books on the shelves for five years before they are considered for weeding,” said Kaplan. “Even then, I am told by librarians in other library systems, they are very reluctant to let go of nonfiction works. Nonfiction is the heart of any library’s collection. Our children need nonfiction for their school papers. Information from the Internet is often incorrect and incomplete.”

Kaplan says she has a variety of books checked out from the library that she has saved from the “discard stream.” Among them: Art books with the works of Lorenzo Ghiberti, Susan Rothenberg, and Jack Yeats;  “The World of African Song,” by Miriam Makeba; the Collected Poems of Vasko Popa, a Serbian poet; a book about Picasso’s “Guernica,” and a cookbook about stews.

Photo: Kathy Kaplan (left) receives Reston Citizen Association Citizen of the Year Award from then-RCA President Colin Mills in March 2014

  • commuterbooks

    Dear Reston Now team, please pass this along to Kathy, aka, the literary Wonder Woman:
    This is an AMAZING idea. I love to read and will certainly be making stops at Reston Regional to save some books. Please let me know if there is more we can do,

    • Constance (Connie) Hartke

      commuterbooks – check out non-fiction books that say RR (for Reston Regional) — or if you’re at another Fairfax County Library, check out the ones with your library’s initials. Also, it would be super to have a volunteer come up with a way to let other volunteers know what sections have been covered and what still need to be checked out!

      • commuterbooks

        Connie, will do. Also, how do we find out what books need saving?

        • Constance (Connie) Hartke

          There’s no way to know when a book was last checked out. Would love a volunteer to figure out how to organize a bunch of us getting through the non-fiction books. In the meantime, just do it. I ended up reading a book that I never would have thought to look for (a good reason they need to be on the shelf for browsing!!).

  • Arielle in NoVA

    If the library database was searchable by date last checked out, it would be EASY for patrons to find books that need saving…

    • Oy

      If the library changed its stupid policy, it would be even easier to save the books!

  • NotaGG3

    The Chantilly branch has a shelf of books in jeopardy near the entrance for patrons to checkout and save.

    • Jodanyo


  • Max

    Kathay Kaplan is a troublemaker. The library is now on a policy where you can check out a book at ANY Fairfax library and return it to any branch you choose. As a result if a book is not a popular at one branch it may stay at another branch at be checked out. Also the library does not just throw out books. If a book is able to be mended it is sent to to a volunteer to be mended. If not then a request is sent for replacement or if another library has more copies then it needs then it is sent out to another library that need more of that copy. Learn the policies of the library before you just jump to conclusions think Ms. Kaplan knows what the hell she is talking about!

    • Kathy Kaplan

      If we had a 5 year low demand policy many fewer books would be discarded. Books are transferred from branches due to low demand and at Technical Operations many are discarded according to their own documents. Photographs of those discarded books were printed in the Connection and can be viewed on page 6, the opinion page. http://connectionarchives.com/PDF/2014/071614/Reston.pdf

    • Jodanyo

      I believe the fact that the library does just throw out books was documented in Library Journal last September: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/09/library-services/books-in-dumpsters-spark-debate-on-future-of-fairfax-county-va-libraries/#_. And Ms. Kaplan’s suggestion does not sound at all like troublemaking. It sounds like it would have a very positive effect on both the library and the engaged community. Finally, no need to swear, Max; it does not make your argument more cogent.

    • Constance (Connie) Hartke

      The policy to not transfer a book until it is requested elsewhere does not negate the low demand policy. We tax payers pay for these books and I see no reason to rid ourselves of non-fiction books for pennies on the dollar.

      • Alexis

        There is no “low demand” policy. Typically, books that are on the last active list either get marketed on a display or transferred to a busier library. It is up to a librarian, with a Master’s in Library Science, whether to hold on to a book or withdraw it from the system based on his or her professional judgment.

        • Kathy Kaplan

          Yes, there is a policy. Some branches pull books for transfer after 24 months of inactivity, some 36 months. Some branches discard directly without transfer. This is documented in papers given to the Library Board at their last meeting. They are online. See for yourself. Once they are at Tech Ops many transfers in very good condition are discarded. And, yes, I am questioning the professional judgement of the individual who discarded the books I photographed. I am a taxpayer and those are my books.

  • Edward

    The library has been pretty transparent about it’s policies. I agree with Max that Kathy Kaplan is a troublemaker. She may think that she’s advocating for the library, but she’s not being helpful, particularly by posting misinformation on various blogs. If you’d like to know more about the libraries collection policies, you can certainly speak to members of the staff. I’ve found the branch manger at my branch to be very helpful in correcting the inaccurate things that have been written and said about the library. There was a LOT of bad information out there. Library collection policies are also on the library’s website:


    Do try to educate yourselves before going ballistic.

    • ND

      Some ppl simply refuse to get confused with the facts. Books do have a “shelf life” and although the shelf space in our libraries is large it is ultimately limited. Ms Kaplan and her friends are welcome to “rescue” the discarded books and run their own library. I have nothing but appreciation for the librarians who carefully follow established guidelines and make these decisions. Great service with a smile!

      • Kathy Kaplan

        Library branches are following established procedures for discarding books which require four signatures. My objection is to the numbers of books that are being discarded from Technical Operations. Branch librarians are unaware of what is discarded from Technical Operations. All the books I photographed were in very good condition and had much shelf life left in them. Some were pristine. Art monographs, poetry, craft books, cookbooks.
        A waste of taxpayer resources and a loss to the community. Six of the books I came across were the last copies in FCPL collection. All in very good condition.

        • Bella

          Library branches are following established procedures for withdrawing books from the collection. Because of what Kathy Kaplan, et al did, this process now requires four signatures. Tech ops transfers at least 50% of the times sent TO THEM to other branches. The rest are discarded for 1) condition 2) accuracy and 3) low demand (and it’s very low demand). Branch librarians ARE aware of what happens at tech ops……they have held multiple open houses to inform staff of what they do. The books you photographed were in horrible condition! The history of Fairfax county book? We have 54 copies. It’s considered a rare book in the virginia room—4 copies just in that category. Whoever discarded that must have cried. Six of the books you came across were the last copy? We are not archival library. Also, please understand FCPL is now a lending library as far as Inter-library loans. No one wants crappy book. As a personal plea from a librarian: STOP TRYING TO HURT US! You’ve done enough damage:(

    • Kathy Kaplan

      The library is far from transparent. You can’t even get copies of Library Board meeting minutes without a FOIA request even though they are required by law to be posted. Troublemaker? Without my efforts and all those people and organizations who fought against the Beta Plan, Reston Library staff would have been cut by 1/3 last fall. And all the other branches would have followed. Nothing I said in my letter to the editor was inaccurate with regard to Technical Operations inappropriately discarding books in good condition. We need a new policy for low demand books and until then, the only thing we can do is to check books out and keep them circulating. And I hope when you go to the library, you will do just that. And if asking my community to check out some extra books makes me a troublemaker, then I guess I am.

      • Glenda

        You know what kathykaplan? BE GONE! Before someone drops a house on you! —Glenda

      • ND

        Perhaps you need more practice with your internet machine. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/aboutthelibrary/trusteesmeetingdates.htm

      • Max

        Sorry Ms Kaplan, but you really had NOTHING to do with getting the BETA plan dropped and I wish you would stop taking the credit for it. The employees of the library fought long and hard to repeal that plan the instant they heard about it. Long before you even got wind of it I am sure….

    • Debra

      Do try to learn the proper use of “it’s” and “its” prior to criticizing someone as valuable as Kathy Kaplan, Edward…

  • Truth

    It is disingenuous to repeat half truths and misinformation. Has Ms. Kaplan asked the American Library Association or the Virginia Library Association for their standards regarding the maintenance of library collections? Ms. Kaplan constantly repeats the message of books being discarded, without mentioning how many books in print, on cd or in electronic format have been purchased. She neglects to inform anyone that due to budget cuts reflecting the difficult economic times, that the library doesn’t have enough staff to keep up with repairing titles. Can Ms. Kaplan explain what the library policy stats as it is written vs. the nonsense she learns from disgruntled employees? Ms. Kaplan’s statements should be investigated by the county attorney for libel.

    • Guest

      Hey Truth

    • Terry Maynard

      “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men.
      With the help of Kathy’s FOIA data requests, I have compiled the complete set of FCPL additions and deletions from FY2006 through May 2014. (I’m waiting to for June’s data to flesh out FY2014.) Here are the key results:
      –For the full 8-year period, FCPL has discarded 237,877 more “holdings” (books, CDs, etc.) than it has added.
      –It purged a net 311,963 holdings in FY2011–and has spent most of the other years trying to make up for this.
      –Over the last FY through May, FCPL has added a net 56,077 “holdings” (are they books?). Only July 2013 saw a net loss (-3,863). Then Kathy and Supervisor Smyth went dumpster diving–and turned the corner.
      FWIW–An “anomaly” in the FCPL data is that the sum of the adds/discards each month NEVER once in 8 years equals the change in the total holdings number from month to month. I don’t know why, but keeping track of 2 million of anything is a challenging task.

    • Terry Maynard

      Just a thought, “Truth”, if library budget cuts were so severe (& they were because the County made that happen, not economic circumstances), why not KEEP the books you have? That has NO budget impact. In fact, the largest annual purge (see below) was FY2011 as we were coming out of the Great Recession. In fact, that same year the FCPL GF budget was cut 14%–a very good reason to keep what you have, not throw it away. The total staff year equivalent (SYE) was also cut 16% that year. Does that mean you have to keep the number of books (holdings) somehow in line with the number of staff? Wouldn’t make more sense to keep staffing in line with users and population?
      Oh yes, I have all the budget data too.

  • tcasper

    At the Fairfax Juvenile Court we have a “Books 2 Share” program where we put a basket of books in offices around the building. Children are encouraged to take a book home with them. Any person or library with unwanted books (for children and teens) can donate them by contacting [email protected]. Thanks!

  • Library Fan

    It’s pretty stunning to hear absolutely
    uninformed or misinformed people criticize a person who has devoted a year of
    her life to educating the public about the disastrous 2013 Beta Plan that was
    being thrust upon taxpayers with little notice.

    Librarians are not all in one camp or another.
    But anyone who investigates the costs & limitations of digital books
    and thinks our libraries should be totally digital or totally bound books is
    far outside the parameters of sound library planning. Our county
    supervisors are not seeking out experts in the field but are instead depending
    on a library ‘manager’ who is hell-bent on discarding the very books our tax
    dollars purchased. For what reason we ask? No answer to that
    important question has yet been given; in fact, based on county figures, book purging is denied and continues still. There are empty shelves are at many branches
    and many bookshelves have been removed to make the reduction of our collective
    property less obvious. Ms. Kaplan has published the stats showing the
    loss of 100’s of 1,000’s of books from the library’s zenith some years ago.

    Today’s Fairfax
    library standards are mediocre by national library organizations. Fairfax County funding of our library is close
    to the bottom of funding as compared to levels of all DC Metro jurisdictions. The library has not had an audit since 1988.
    Dozens of positions for librarians have been funded but not filled,
    forcing librarians to work to exhaustion at some branches. Does this sound like a system that is thriving
    and healthy???

    The library board of trustees is slowly but
    surely stepping up to protect this precious and indispensable county asset. We citizens love our libraries and thank the
    trustees and Kathy Kaplan for awakening us to the potential disaster facing the
    county if radical changes are not made in upper library management
    immediately. We are delighted that our
    supervisors now know the public is aware and care deeply.

    • Just Curious

      How come the Freinds of the Pimmit Library dumped 20.5 recycling containers of ex-library books (which they demanded) and donations this past week?

  • L

    What an odd, lopsided article. Where is the other side of the story — was there no one this reporter could interview to represent an opposing view? By interviewing a single person and providing scant background as to why it’s critical to weed out books, this story shortchanges both the library system and Kaplan. As part of their mission to remain relevant, and because physical space is finite, libraries cannot warehouse every book they receive, and must consistently weed some out. Libraries have few options available to guide them as to which books to remove; a quantitative measure of how many times a book is checked out is one of the most objective methods. Kaplan’s option, however, is highly subjective: Who is to say which book is worth saving? Famous authors have written terrible books; many excellent writers are never widely read; and books with obsolete information may still serve as a historical record. Kaplan may feel that checking out her favorites simply to “save” them is a patriotic gesture, but by doing so, she merely burdens the library while delaying the inevitable — no new libraries are being built, books keep getting published, and when the new books arrive, what then? Libraries would benefit from a longer-term, practical solution that works within the constraints of the system, not one that tries to use the system against itself for short-term satisfaction.

    • Karen Goff

      It says in the story this is just “one woman’s solution.” The library board did not return calls. Obviously, checking out books is not the only solution. But it has been documented in previous stories that the county is discarding books. And the county itself called to put an end to that last year. So there is indeed a gray area.

      • Bella

        “It has been documented in previous stories that the county is discarding books.” True!. They are stories. No big bad wolf, no monsters under your bed. It’s just a nightmare……stay strong FCPL

  • Charles Keener

    I am a 40 year employee of Fairfax County Public Library.
    I was one of the most visible and vocal opponents of the Beta Plan.
    When I began speaking out very few FCPL staff openly opposed the Beta.
    I was threatened by library Administration in a failed attempt to silence me.
    I received the Don Smith Award from the County’s Employees Advisory Council (EAC) , together with library Employees Association President Jennifer McCullough, for my advocacy against
    the Beta and for our libraries.

    One of the very first people to reach out to me with love, concern, and support was Kathy Kaplan. There is no question that Kathy Kaplan played a key role in defeating the Beta plan. Kathy also played an essential part – along with Supervisor Linda Smyth – in exposing the trashing of thousands upon thousands of library books. New safeguards were put into place as a result of Kathy’s efforts and the flood of library discards was slowed substantially. We are all more thoughtful now regarding resources paid for by Fairfax County taxpayers.

    There is no one who was truly a leader in the anti-Beta / pro library struggle who would support the ridiculous claim that Kathy Kaplan played no role in stopping the Beta plan.Kathy was honored as Reston Citizen of the Year by the Reston Citizens’ Association and was also honored by the Countywide Federation of Citizen Associations for this work. She still chairs the Federation’s Library Committee.

    I may not agree with every word or action of ANY of the leaders in FCPL advocacy.
    But I respect and appreciate the valuable contributions of each. Kathy has devoted a solid year of her life fighting for Fairfax County Public Libraries. She even finds time to mend books for the library Friends, volunteer at Friends book sales, and take discarded children’s books .to schools which are delighted to receive them.
    Kathy is loved and her passion for libraries is appreciated by many of those who
    also advocate for a better, stronger FCPL.

    Kathy Kaplan does NOT deserve the hateful insults and untruths being posted about her in these comments – largely by people without the courage or character to
    use their actual names. I wonder how active some of these folks really were in opposing the Beta. Anyone who was actively engaged in the struggle against the Beta plan would NOT urge reliance on the wisdom or transparency of the current library “leadership”. I suspect some of these name callers were in fact accomplices in supporting the very misguided policies our opposition successfully derailed.

    In any case, let us debate on policy and our understanding of the facts
    and avoid the sort of personal smears and viciousness which has been directed at
    my friend Kathy Kaplan . If you have better facts or more accurate information then share those calmly and respectfully and try to make your perspective understood. All those who care about the future of FCPL need to come together and try to build mutual understanding. We are better than what is reflected in these comments.

    Charles Keener , Oakton homeowner and Board member of the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library Friends

    • Constance (Connie) Hartke

      Charles, thank you for posting this and thank you for bravely supporting the library system you love.

  • Constance (Connie) Hartke

    If you look at a book in a library, do not refile it on the shelf! Put them on the “to be refiled” cart. It will be scanned and will be saved for at least 2 more years.


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