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Strategic Planning

Public engagement initiatives and strategic planning for FCPL

Report of the Ad Hoc Floating Collections and Discards Committee of the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees

The Floating Collections and Discard Committee was appointed by the Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) Board of Trustees on September 11, 2013 to review and recommend improvements to the Floating Collection process initiated in October 2012 and fully operational in May 2013, Collection and Management processes for acquiring new material and the discard, or weeding policy, and specifically to address the physical discard process to ensure that usable books are either resold or redistributed to appropriate parties. The Committee received input from interested citizens, including library branch managers, technical operations staff, members of Friends of the Library groups, particularly individuals involved with book sales of donated items and usable library-owned books being discarded, and the general public via email and attendance at committee meetings. The Committee met on September 26, October 17 and November 9, 2013. All meetings were publicly advertised and open to any interested member of the public. The three trustees interviewed each of the FCPL Branch Managers and many of the in-Branch staff, both professional librarians and paraprofessional circulation staff, with firsthand experience in the implementation of the floating collection and in handling discards in the branch. Members of the committee have researched specific questions.

Floating Collection

Effective May 2013 the FCPL collection, with the exception of periodicals and non-circulating reference materials, is a floating collection. Floating materials are not housed in a specific branch but become part of the collection at the branch to which they are returned. They are part of a system-wide library collection, which reflects user-driven collections at the various library branches and greatly reduces shipping of books between branches.

The Committee finds the basic floating process sound, and based on the experience of other library systems that float, that the process provides a number of benefits for county library users. However, a number of implementation procedures are not yet fully developed. Conversations with branch managers have identified several initial operational issues with floating that cannot be resolved simply without extensive staff intervention. This includes book return patterns that result in excess books at some locations and depleted collections at others, and the need to rebalance the location of books when a given library may have an excess of returned books in a particular subject area, author or title.

Other library systems which use the floating process have designated special collections that do not float from branch to branch, such as foreign language items, books donated in memory of an individual or group, multi volume sets (not limited to reference materials) and some publication series. Staff and community input along with experience to date with floating should be used to decide which FCPL collections, if any, should not float.

Branch staffs need a simple process to identify the location of books in the system, and simple procedures must be developed to balance overall collections. A new software package, Collection HQ, is intended as an aid to monitor book locations and usage to help with balance issues. Library Administration also has proposed forming a Transfer Focus Group with front line branch staff to review and improve the rebalancing mechanisms of branch collections.


The Committee recommends this Transfer Focus Group be established as soon as possible to address the charge above. Once the actual capabilities of the Collection HQ software have been identified, the Transfer Focus Group should identify branch needs not met by the software, and FCPL should address these needs. The Transfer Focus Group should also address special collection and related issues regarding whether or not to float or non-float those items.

Since reports from other library systems note that it takes about a year or so for “floating systems” to stabilize into a predictable pattern, the Committee requests an interim report in February 2014, and a one-year status report in June 2014 to examine the progress in implementing floating and to identify on-going issues. The impact of floating on the diverse population of users (such as low income, English Language Learners, children, the elderly, the low tech, etc.) who tend to use materials on-site only should be assessed as part of the analysis.

In addition we recommend the inclusion of an in-branch user survey. Many library users browse items rather than borrow them, and the statistics of this pattern of usage is important in evaluating the new floating system. The use of reference collections (i.e., the Virginia Room) and non-floating special collections (i.e., magazines) is also important information in the evaluation process.

The Committee requests the Library Director, as part of his monthly Director’s Report to the Library Board, report on the current activities and findings of the Transfer Focus Group.

Collection and Management

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors requested the discard policy of the FCPL be reviewed to ensure that every usable book is either resold or redistributed. We find that that the basic standard for acquisition and discarding (weeding) as expressed in FCPL policy manuals meet national American Library Association type standards. The standards are not an issue. Implementation is the issue.

The Committee has received a number of extensive comments on issues related to acquisition and discard policies that provide insight beyond what we are able to include in this progress report. A key to successful implementation in a multi-branch system such as FCPL is extensive and effective communication among all units — small community libraries to large regionals, branch managers and line staff, technical operations and central administration staff. The new software, Collection HQ, is intended to provide improved knowledge for all staff on the existing collection including the system-wide inventory, content and location. It will also guide decisions on priorities for both new acquisitions as well as discards to maintain the strongest system possible with available resources. However, the software capability to do so has not yet been demonstrated.

Acquisition Issues

There is broad concern from both the public and staff that reductions to the materials budget in recent years are eroding the first-class library system desired by the community. This concern is reflected in partially empty shelves, reduced children’s and non-fiction materials and, in general, more dated collections.

There are many different numbers that can be cited to show the lack of resources. The FCPL Materials Budget in FY 2000 was $6.33 per capita; by FY 2011 it had declined to $2.11 per capita, significantly below the $5.90 per capita U.S. Average Materials Budget, and it is even less today. Other metrics show the 2011 median household income in Fairfax County is $105,797, compared to the U.S. median income of $50,054. Additional resources, both in funds and staff are needed to meet community demands.

A separate issue, perhaps driven by staff limitations, is that in the past library branches had the ability to add books to their collections from donations or to “swap” the branch copy of a title with a donated copy in better condition. This is currently centrally managed and the number of “adds” and “swaps” has decreased drastically. Branch staff urged the Committee to propose increased acquisition of these items to improve collections.


Library Administration proposed a Collection Evaluation Focus Group of branch and central collection staff to “review current procedures and practices…. {for} collection development.” This Focus Group should be formed as soon as possible to address the issues and recommendations raised by the Ad Hoc Committee on Floating and Discards. The Committee requests the Library Director, as part of his monthly Director’s Report to the Library Board, report on the current activities and findings of the Collection Evaluation Focus Group.

FCPL immediately should begin accepting “add/swap” books to their collections from donations at both the Branch and Technical Operations levels.

Categories of books being discarded

There are basically three categories of books that may be discarded from FCPL-owned collections:

  • The first category is damaged books unsuitable for further use, i.e. non-usable books. Damage may result from water, food, fluid stains, mold, mildew, insect or pet attacks; physical issues such as missing/loose/torn pages, and simple deterioration from repeated use such as spine breaks and separation of pages from the spine.
  • The second broad category is adult and children’s books that have been removed because they have become inaccurate, out of date or contain misleading content. This class includes reference books in subject areas that are continuously changing such as science and medicine, computers and technology, law and geography and travel. Also included are general collection books that quickly become dated such as directories, calendar-type information, subject dictionaries and encyclopedias, atlases, travel guides and local publications. Special state requirements apply to legal and medical books to ensure the public does not receive harmful advice from dated publications. The determination to discard and replace items in this category has usually been a system-wide process with input from Branch staff. Some discarded books in this category may be usable to other groups but many will be considered unusable due to dated or unreliable information.
  • The third broad category is books that are no longer in demand by the public. The FCPL Weeding Policy Manual, approximately 150 pages long, covers all categories of books ranging from adult fiction through art books to such “classics” as the works of Shakespeare. The emphasis in collection balance is not solely on circulation but in maintaining a diverse and comprehensive collection. Many items such as history, arts and crafts, language or classic books may not circulate frequently but shouldbe maintained in the collection. Books discarded as low demand are often adult best sellers past their prime when initial high demand has slackened and fewer books are needed in the system to meet community interest. Various other categories such as trendy and time-sensitive nonfiction like some diet books have a relatively short life span. This category of discards has the highest percent of books usable to Friends groups and other organizations.

Centralization of Physical Discard

Historically the weeding and discard process was conducted by the individual branches for the majority of books in the collection. Weeding and replacingreference books wasdone centrally. Books identified for weeding in the branchfollowing policy guidance were removed from the shelves and catalog and disposed of on-site. Damaged books were considered trash and either recycled or put in dumpsters. Books deemed usable were offered to local Friends groups to sell in book sales or to donateto local charities or other community groups. Positive aspects of this process include maintaining staff familiarity with overall collection, ability to respond to local community interests, and efficient disposition of discarded books.

Two actions in 2012 led to the Library Administration to centralize the discard process in the Collection Management Division of Technical Operations at Chantilly Library. First, between June and November 2012, the County Internal Audit Office reviewed the use of SIRSI Symphony Workflow, a commercial off-the shelf library management application to support day-to-day operations. The discard process was one of five issues singled out. The audit states:“Controls over discarding library materials could be strengthened. Each library could discard the outdated or damaged library items on site with a unique library card for discarding library items. We noted that any circulation staff in the branch could use this card to discard the library items in the SIRSI application without the supervisor’s approval.” The audit report recommended that FCPL should either (1) require branch libraries to send the library items that need to be discarded to Technical Operations or (2) if library items must be discarded on-site, the branch library supervisor should review and approve the library items to ensure the discarded item is legitimate. Library Administration decided to transfer the approval and physical discard process to central operations.

Second, the decision to transition from individual library-based collections to the Floating system-wide collection was well underway as well as the development of the Beta plan/Library Redirection proposed staffing changes. The Beta plan proposed removing professional librarians from all workroom activities, i.e., where discards are processed, thus complicating the review process.

The Trustee members of the Committee visited all branches, with a large majority of the branches encouraging a return to the previous system.


The Committee recommends the decision to centralize the discard process be reversed and the discard process be assigned to the Branch libraries as soon as possible, but no later than January 31, 2014. We believe that the benefits of branch involvement with all aspects of collection acquisition and discarding outweigh any perceived central advantages. The Audit Office concern can be resolved with simple administrative changes ensuring review and approval by a library branch supervisor. Library Administration needs to report on progress on implementing this recommendation to the Library Trustees at their monthly meetings until it is accomplished.

Physical discard issues

There are two separate streams of books and related materials that come into FCPL system – (1) items purchased by the county which make up the bulk of the collections and (2) donations to the library or library Friends groups by the public for either inclusion in the collections or resale to the public to provide funds to enhance library programs.

County Owned Books

Virginia law recognizes a distinction between books which are being removed from a public library’s collection, and books which are donated on-site at a public library. The Code of Virginia was amended in 2006 to specifically authorize public libraries to give public library materials being discarded from their collections to “nonprofit organizations that support library functions, including, but not limited to, friends of the library, library advisory boards, library foundations, library trusts and library boards of trustees”. See VA Code Ann. Sec. 15-953(B) (2013).

FCPL must also follow rules that are in place regarding the disposal of county property. As noted above, the Library Director has the authority to donate discarded library materials to Friends of the Library organizations (VA Code Sec.42.1-40). Items that are deemed “surplus”, i.e., not usable by Friends groups, are governed by County Procedural Memo 12-03 administered by the Department of Purchasing and Supply Management. These remaining items are transferred from FCPL and can only be sold at auction or donated to organizations approved to receive county assets by the Board of Supervisors. The County Memorandum presumably addresses only usable assets and not worn out or damaged items. There is no expectation that broken chairs, burned out light bulbs, worn out carpeting can only be sold at auction or donated. Unusable, damaged books are in the same category. Trash is trash.

The FCPL administration made serious missteps this past year. From about October 2012 to September 2013, all discards were sent to Technical Operations which created a tremendous backlog. Technical Operations made some decisions on book disposal to deal with the backlog. No books were provided to either Friends groups or sent forward for other approved uses. This led to the major public furor over discarding usable materials.


Discards of usable books from the FCPL system must first be offered to Friends Groups through a documented process. If the Friends do not want them, FCPL must send them to the County Purchasing and Supply Management as “Items Deemed Surplus” per County Procedural Memorandum 12-03 for County-approved disposition.

To expand possible County donation venues for usable books in the future, the Committee also recommends FCPL through one or more of the statewide library associations explore possibilities to transfer usable items to library systems in the more rural areas of the state. State code clearly allows this through a number of mechanisms. This would help ensure all usable books find a home and expand collections in some of the smaller library systems.

Donated books

Donated books for years have been managed in partnership with Friends Groups and library staff, and the process has worked well. In general, donated books are treated as transferred to Friends groups on arrival. In all cases, library gift books are screened to see if they are suitable for addition to the collection, replace missing or damaged copies or increase circulation for high demand books.

The Committee asked branch managers for a “snapshot” of how Friends and library volunteers work with the library staff in dealing with donations. Responses reflected the number of staff, volunteers and Friends; their skills, capabilities and interest; and the volume of books and other materials handled. Variations appropriate to each branch and Friends Group should remain.

Although guidelines for public donations encourage donation of books in good condition, and most donations meet acceptable standards, a significant amount of damaged, outdated or unsuitable material is also provided. Friends groups then provide the sorting and discard activities without the books entering the library administrative system. The thousands of hours expended annually by Friends and library volunteers significantly exceed available staff hours for dealing with donations and significant staff increases would be required to handle donations without the Friends’ participation.

Friends book sales range from ongoing sales in branches, on-line sales, monthly sales and large event sales several times a year. After a book sale, the Friends determine whether leftover books may be transferred to other Friends groups for their use, sold in bulk to other groups, or donated to local charities and community groups.

Book sale income, several hundred thousand dollars annually, supports a myriad of projects including providing much needed support to enhance many outreach and community programs of the libraries, including support of the Fairfax County Library Foundation.


FCPL policies should reflect that the Friends Groups are responsible for the disposition of books which have been donated directly to the Friends or given to the Friends by FCPL.

The Committee recommends maintaining and expanding the diverse, but compatible, approaches to donations by Staff and Friends partnerships and their contributions to library programs.

The Committee would like to commend our Friends and our Library volunteers for the thousands of hours and often hard physical work they do for FCPL. The staff in the Branches has made them feel, as they are, part of the team. We would like to add our thanks for a job well done. The Committee also would support allocating more room for the Friends in future renovated or new libraries.

Closing Comments

The Committee will forward to the Focus Groups and FCPL Administration additional suggestions offered during their public meetings relating to collection management and discarding, maximizing use of donations to improve the collection, and other issues raised on the usability of the web site and similar matters.

We have used the term “books” throughout this report as shorthand for all types of materials in the collections including e-books, audiovisual materials, Access materials, periodicals, etc. The principles expressed apply to all categories.

We thank the public for their interest and helpful comments, library staff for their insight and views, and library volunteers and Friends groups both for their ongoing support of library operations and insight into their role in managing donated materials.

Adopted by the ad hoc Floating Collections and Discards Committee of the Board of Trustees of Fairfax County Library, November 11, 2013 for presentation to the Library Board, November 13, 2013.

Elizabeth Clements Mason District, Chair

Donald Heinrichs Mt Vernon District

Margaret Koplitz Providence District

Additional members who researched specific questions about both the floating collection and the implementation of discard criteria and procedures along with participating in all aspects of the review are:

Nancy Allard, Fran Milhouser, Teresa Schlecht, John Ball and Catherine Quigley, most of whom are affiliated with Friends of the Library groups.

Branch Managers Kathy Hoffman (Fairfax Regional Library) and Barbara Peters (Thomas Jefferson Community Library) participated on the Committee at the request of the Chair.

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