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Strategic Planning

Public engagement initiatives and strategic planning for FCPL

Understanding Library Discard Policies

Fairfax County Public Library Collection—Questions and Answers

How many items are in the library’s collection?

More than 2.3 million items are available for check out from library branches. Close to 34,000 digital items are available for download including eBooks, eAudiobooks and eVideos.

Why do you have to remove items from the collection?

Libraries always have to evaluate and refresh their collections. This is done by removing items in poor condition, items that contain outdated and inaccurate information, or items that are no longer used by our customers.

What are the criteria for removing books or material from the collection?

Materials are regularly withdrawn from the library’s collection. They are withdrawn and discarded because:

  • They are out-of-date, that is, no longer timely or accurate.
  • They are badly worn or damaged.
  • It is cheaper to replace them.
  • They are once-popular materials no longer used.
  • Space considerations. (In this case, materials may be transferred from one library branch to another.)

What types of books and material are not given to Friends groups to sell and what happens to that material?

  • Reference subscription services withdrawn from the collection (Contractual agreements with publisher preclude this).

The above items are not useable and are recycled.

Why has the collection been reduced over the last few years?

The largest line item in the library’s operating budget is for the acquisition of materials. The funding for the collection was reduced significantly in FY2010 during “The Great Recession” by $1 million to $3,053,488. In FY2015, the budget for materials is $3.029 million, essentially flat compared to FY2010. The materials allocation in 2015 is approximately 55% of the level in FY2000.

The Board of Supervisors has generously allocated additional one-time balances available during the carryover process to bolster the diminished purchasing power for three of the last four fiscal years. Also the library, as a result of continuous monitoring and reductions in contracts, has worked to redirect available balances within its own allocation to offset some of the reductions.

Why aren’t extra books donated to non-governmental entities like homeless shelters?

The library must follow rules that are in place regarding the disposal of county property. The library is granted an exception in order to donate to nonprofit organizations that support library functions.

What is Floating?

Effective May 2013 the library’s collection – with the exception of periodicals – is now a “Floating” (or shared) collection. Floating materials are not owned by a specific branch and become a part of the collection at the branch to which they are returned. These items spend less time in delivery, are available to customers sooner, and allow us to refresh collections at different branches. Should the experience of other jurisdictions who float prove true for Fairfax County, collections will circulate more and provide a greater return on investment of taxpayer funding in that purchases will reflect the customer demand.

How do you select books and material for the library collection?

The following criteria are used to select books and materials:

  1. Availability and suitability of format.
  2. Suitability of subject, style and level for the intended audience.
  3. Critics’ and staff’s reviews.
  4. Reputation of the publisher or producer; authority and significance of the author, composer, film maker, etc.
  5. Timeliness or permanence of the material.
  6. Quality of writing, design, illustrations or production.
  7. Relevance to community needs.
  8. Potential and/or known demand for the material.
  9. Relative importance in comparison with existing materials in the collection on the same subject.
  10. Availability and accessibility of the same material in the metropolitan area.
  11. Price.

How do you decide how many copies you need of a title? What happens after a popular book recedes in popularity?

The number of copies we purchase initially for a title depends on the reputation and popularity of an author, need for (and historical circulation) of a subject, reviews (especially locally), price and how it fits into the overall budget, and our projection of potential future demand for the title.

We lease copies of best sellers whenever possible so that we can meet demand (6:1 holds ratio) for a title when it is most popular, and then extra copies of those titles can be returned to the leasing company when the demand dies down. We then would be able to lease additional copies of newer best sellers to meet demand for the new titles. When demand for non-leased materials goes down, those items are eventually withdrawn from the collection.

How can I suggest a title be added to the library’s collection?

You can suggest a title to add to the collection using our online form. We welcome suggestions for books and other materials; however, our ability to purchase has been greatly reduced due to budget constraints.

If you have additional questions about the library’s collection or specifically our policies about what we do with books that are no longer part of the collection, please email us at

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