Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Letter to Library Trustee Miriam Smolen

July 13, 2017
UPDATE:  Trustee Smolen has advised Ambassador Hays that she will holding small group meetings with the Friends in August to discuss resolving the various issues that have arisen about the proposed MOU.   The Advocates appreciate Ms. Smolen's prompt and gracious response to our concerns.   Information on the proposed meetings will be posted as it becomes available.   

July 10, 2017

Dear Ms. Smolen:  
Thank you again for organizing the May 30th public meeting of your ad hoc committee on the MOU. This resulted in a useful discussion.  I've read the two different versions of your minutes and as such minutes serve as the official record of the meeting I'm taking the liberty to add some additional detail to present a bit more perspective.  

In addition to yourself and Director Hudson, around fifteen representatives of various Friends groups spoke.  It is worth noting that none of them spoke in support of your presentation.  None of them.  Far from it.  Emotions were heated, although proper decorum was maintained.  A large number of issues were raised by the Friends, but none of them were answered to the satisfaction of the 50 or so individuals present.  

Speaking generally, there appears to be continuing confusion of the part of the County and maybe even one or two of the Trustees about what the Friends are and do.  This is not just unfortunate, it is dangerous - and inevitably will lead to serious miscalculates.  Presumably you are familiar with the fable of the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs.   If so, you may remember the story did not end well for either the goose or the farmer.   

Fortunately, there is a quick and easy path forward to deal with this confusion - you could START by talking to the Friends before huddling with County attorneys and embarking on a rewrite of a set of agreements that have served the County, the Libraries and the general public well for over a decade. After all, the MOUs are between the Trustees and the various individual Friends groups.  Shouldn't the other equal party in an MOU be consulted?  

It appears from your remarks you envision a single MOU will apply to all Friends Groups.  Is this so? Please remember that each Friends group is an independent organization with its own Board, history, mission, volunteer base, goals, financial resources and relationship with its respective Branch.  Some Friends groups are large and well funded, others are much smaller and more constrained as to what they can do.  An attempt to have a "one size fits all" approach seems inappropriate.  In any event, any new MOU will need to be negotiated with each Friends group individually.  

It also appears there is confusion about what an independent 501 (c) 3 organization is.  For starters, such organizations are not part of the County government.  The Friends work WITH the County, not FOR the County.  The whole point of an MOU is to define the relationship between two entities.  It does not, however, give either entity the right to interfere in the internal operations of the other.  As noted in my earlier message, each Friends group is in full compliance with all State and Federal laws and regulations and produces regular financial reports which are public documents.  Please let me know if you believe the Trustees or the County have a legal right to dictate the internal operations of an independent 501 (c) 3 organization.   

There was universal and vehement rejection of the proposal to place a cap on the Friends funds. Speaker after speaker noted the County has no right or justification to take such a "Big Brother" approach.  One Friend stated the County was proposing to "punish success".  Several speakers noted one of the main reasons funds accumulate is the inability of the Library to use the funds offered.  For example, the County won't accept donations that have a "tail", that is, ongoing maintenance or service contracts or a need for updated software, etc.  Several different Friends jumped up at this and said they repeatedly have offered to cover all such costs.   There are restrictions on buying books, restrictions of buying machinery, restrictions on programs.   

The Friends exist to support the libraries.  Many of us have long urged the Library Administration to work with the County Administration to broaden the ways the Friends can help.  And finally, there may be a glimmer of hope here - the message Director Hudson sent out to the Friends Presidents last week, calling on the Friends to consider contributing in areas previously not allowed, is a solid step in the right direction.  The fact that the tone of that message is professional, problem solving and respectful is a bonus.  

The issues of liability and insurance are complicated and deserve further study.  

There was a brief discussion of a need to update the Friends Handbook which presumably prompted the following Q&A in the Attachment to the first set of minutes: 

  1. The Library Handbook needs updatingShould the update of the Handbook come before the update of the MOU?

    Yes, the Handbook needs updating to reflect procedural changes as well as Library Board of Trustee policy changes. The current Handbook can be found at and it is anticipated that it will be updated in the coming fiscal year. 
I assume that by "the coming fiscal year" you mean 2018?  This is encouraging news.   By dropping further discussion of the MOU until the Handbook is updated we all have an opportunity to avoid the mistakes and false starts noted above and begin anew - perhaps this time engaging with the Friends first and advising where you believe revisions are needed.  And, of course, the Friends will likely have areas where they believe revisions would advance our common objectives.   Please confirm you are suspending further action on the MOU until the Handbook is reconsidered.  Or is the statement in the Attachment incorrect?  

The Friends have a long and proud history of supporting the Fairfax County Library system.  As the previous Director noted:

The "Friends have played a pivotal role in the support, expansion and enhancement of this library system. Friends have raised community awareness of the library; campaigned for new buildings; paid for children's programs; lobbied for increased funding and purchased important branch supplies and equipment.

Friends are critical to the library's mission. As you know, the economy is ever-changing, and unpredictable events impact the public funding allocated to county agencies. Through boom times and lean years, we count on our Friends to help us provide consistently excellent service to one of the most literate communities in the world."

Why would anyone want to risk all of this?   

Very best regards, Dennis 

Ambassador Dennis K. Hays (ret.)
Chairman, Fairfax Library Advocates

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Proposed Alternative Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

Dear Friends:  Two and a half years ago while we were involved with the County's attempts to "audit" the Friends Groups I drafted a updated version of the MOU many of us were operating under at that time (and continue under today).  There were several key points I tried to capture, which I believe are as pertinent now as they were then. 

1.  Each Friends Group is an independent 501 (c) 3 organization with its own relationship with the Branch it serves.  

2.  We work closely WITH the County (through its libraries), but we don't work FOR the County.  

3.  Our goal - a strong healthy Library system that serves the whole community and provides a essential service in educating, informing and entertaining all residents of Fairfax County - is identical to the stated goals of the Trustees and the County Administration.  

4.  The Friends are certainly willing to discuss any issues concerning the MOUs we operate under, but as with any contract between two parties, both parties must be involved from the beginning of such discussions. 

5. As 501 (c) 3 organizations, each Friends group is in full compliance with all State and Federal laws and regulations and produce regular financial reports which are public documents.  There has never been an issue of mishandling of funds by the Friends.  

6.  It is our desire to continue to work closely with the Trustees and the Library Administration to support the Libraries.  We can best do this if our contributions are recognized and appreciated. 

Anyway, as a recovering bureaucrat I know the importance of getting the first, best piece of paper into circulation.  It will be much better if the coming discussions start from our proposal rather than the County's.  (Yes, I know it technically will be the Trustees proposal, but our understanding is that this is coming from the County, specially the County Attorney's Office)

I have updated the draft of two years ago, specifically incorporating some of the "best practices" pulled from the examples of other jurisdictions' MOUs.  This includes the Trustees keeping the Friends informed of their strategic vision and giving the Friends an opportunity to speak at their monthly meetings, like the Library Employee Association does.  

I should stress the attached reflects just my thoughts at the moment.  Please read this over and let me know if I have forgotten or misstated anything.  There probably are more details we could include, but I think there is an advantage in keeping it short and somewhat "fuzzy".  The key issue, however, is the independence of each group.  I don't believe we can compromise an inch on that.  

Ideally, if we reach agreement on the language here we would send this to the Trustees (and maybe the Supervisors) prior to the 30th.  

Thoughts?  Comments?  Objections? 

Very best regards, Dennis Hays
Fairfax Library Advocates

Memorandum of Understanding
Between the
Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees and
The Friends of the ____________ Library

The Friends of the Library provide important financial and volunteer support to the library branches and departments of Fairfax County, adding substantially to the limited resources available from the County budget.

It is therefore the policy of the Library Board of Trustees (the Board) to encourage and support Friends of the Library organizations. “Friends of the Library” are civic-minded individuals who know that quality library service is important to the community and who organize into groups to support, improve, and promote the library.

The roles of the Trustees, Librarians, and Friends are related but distinct.  Trustees represent citizen control and governance of the library.  The Library Director represents the administration and management of the library.  Friends of the Library represent citizen participation and assistance to the library.

In order to achieve countywide consistency and fiscal accountability, all Friends of the Library groups shall conduct their fiscal affairs through non-profit, non-stock 501(c)(3) tax exempt corporations and in accordance with all State and Federal laws.  Each organized group should be structured through articles of incorporation and bylaws to support, assist and promote the activities of a Library branch or department.

Friends are organized with one or more of the following objectives:

a.                   To increase community awareness of and use of the library;
b.                   To provide direct financial assistance to purchase goods and services to promote the mission of the library;
c.                   To educate officials on the crucial role libraries play in the health of the community;
d.                   To encourage gifts, endowments, and memorials for the library;
e.                   To sponsor programs designed to add to the cultural life of the community; and
f.                     To volunteer on specific projects proposed by the Branch Manager.

The Friends endorse and will comply with Fairfax County’s policy of Open Meetings, Open Records, Affirmative Action, and general code of Ethics. 

Each Friend’s Group will develop with its respective Branch Manager a statement of purpose outlining expected program activities and related utilization of Library facilities, personnel, utilities and equipment.

Each Friend’s Group will designate a coordinator or liaison with the respective Branch Manager.  The Branch Manager or designated representative shall be an ex officio member of the Friends Board and shall have authority to administer this agreement on behalf of the Fairfax County Public Library.  Friends Groups will receive appropriate staff support.

Each Branch with a Friends Group will provide public display space for Friends membership brochures and promotional materials. The Library will also provide adequate space for book storage and sorting, book sales, and office needs.
Funds raised through various Friends initiatives will be used to support the Fairfax Library System, the Library of Virginia and Library based educational and cultural programs. 
Branch Managers will periodically present “wish lists” (budget requests) for Friends consideration.   The Friends Board will discuss and vote on these requests. 
The Library Board will include the Friends in the long-term planning process to ensure the Friends are aware of the goals and direction of the Library, and are involved in the preparation of major efforts in community and public relations. The Library Board will invite a representative of the Friends to speak at the Board's monthly meeting.
Friends' gifts to the system will be considered in accordance with the policy stated in the Policy Manual, Section M, " Policy Regarding Gifts to and Alliances with the Library System."  As independent 501 © 3 organizations, Friends Groups have authority to solicit, retain, and expend funds they determine are appropriate to their program goals.

With respect to the donation of library materials to Friends organizations:

In accordance with the Virginia Code 15.2-953-B, the Library Board will donate library materials to Friends organizations for sale to the public. Revenues from such sales will be used to support the programs and services outlined above.  When a sale is coordinated and operated by the Friends organization, all proceeds accrue to the sponsoring Friends organization.

If the sale is an "on-going" event, i. e., sale of donated books by the staff on a continuous basis, the proceeds are divided with 40% retained by the library system and 60% retained by the Friends organization.  Branches with Friends organizations will provide space for the display of on-going sales items.

This Memorandum of Understanding will be in force unless and until modified by mutual agreement. 

The Library Board and the Friends believe the Fairfax Library System to be a cornerstone of our community that provides a vital and essential service to help educate, inform, empower and entertain all of our citizens, whatever their situation.  


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Doug Miller Letter to Fairfax Library Advocates on New Library Strategic Plan Process

Good Morning,

This past year the Fairfax County Public Library launched an ambitious public engagement initiative. Many of you were contacted by our consultant, Civic Technologies, regarding your interest in participating in a focus group, a one-on-one interview, or public forum. The public engagement initiative was completed this past spring. You can find the data, information and recommendations from the consultant available at the link below.

We hope you will take the opportunity to read through the results as this information will form the basis for the library’s next phase of planning, the Strategic Planning Process which is now underway. Your participation in last year’s focus groups, interviews and public forums was invaluable to the library. We would like to keep you updated on our progress and would like to ask for your feedback as we draft the various components of our strategic plan.

For the past three months and continuing over the next several months, a committee of library staff from all levels of the organization will be meeting to draft this plan. With direction from the Library Board of Trustees and the vision of the Library Director, the committee has begun work. Using data gathered from the public engagement initiative and in conjunction with Fairfax County’s vision and Strategic Plan to Facilitate the Economic Success of Fairfax County, the committee will draft a plan charting the library’s course for the next 3-5 years.

We would like to hear your thoughts on the various pieces of the plan (Mission, Vision, Values, Goals, Objectives, and Initiatives) as they are drafted and will notify you as each draft becomes available. You can also follow the progress of the committee through the link below.

Fairfax Library Advocates played an important role during the public engagement process and we hope to continue that strong participation during the strategic planning process.  Thank you for your assistance, we look forward to hearing from you as this process moves forward.  Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions or concerns.

Doug Miller
Douglas R. Miller
Strategic Planner and Customer Research Manager
Fairfax County Public Library
12000 Government Center Pkwy, Suite 324
Fairfax, VA 22035

Sunday, March 12, 2017

FCPLEA President's Statement to Library Board March 8, 2017

 Deb Smith-Cohen, President
Fairfax County Public Library Employee Association 
Statement to Library Board of Trustees March 8, 2017

I had a really packed hour on the information desk the other day. A computer user was having trouble printing from Google Docs. A parent needed books on eclipses for a second grader.  A student was doing a report on the Navajo code talkers of WWII. A civic group representative came in to pick up the key to use our meeting room after hours. And that was just what I did.  My colleague at the desk was kept hopping too. Her questions included help finding tax assistance, registering someone for our 1:1 English conversation program, locating a multi-author children’s series, and instructing someone searching our catalog for historical novels set in a specific time period. Everyone waiting was eager but patient. It was the best kind of busy you can dream of.

On a quieter day, I was able to spend more time with someone looking for books on handling bereavement, someone doing research on Internet security issues, a preschooler looking for books about cavemen, and an avid mystery reader in need of a new detective. Each of these had a slower pace and required more fine-tuned listening. It was also a great way to be busy.

In each case, I felt the uncertainty that comes with facing questions you didn’t get in advance, but no sense of disorder or anxiety. Each person, staff or patron, was patient and present in the process.

My dream for staff and for our system as a whole is to continue to build a culture that sees uncertainty as opportunity, not as chaos or as frightening.  Uncertainty can be the best kind of motivator and the best laboratory for creativity.  And really, it’s just the way things are: permanence and certainty are illusions and yearning for them inevitably disappoints and creates unhappiness.

It takes work to build the resilience, operational and experiential agility, and mutual trust that enable us to function at our best in the midst of uncertainty. If youve ever had that kind of work experience, you will always remember it and yearn to reach it again.

When public movements face high odds but, undaunted by uncertainty, achieve small, substantive, and decisive progress toward their goals, they are succeeding. Some will encourage the false choice that we should either define the new reality as sufficient victory and stop fighting or reject it as insufficient and refuse to celebrate. Neither attitude serves us well.

That our situation is uncertain is neither new nor news. Our budget is flat at best.   Users’ expectations are growing. Our competition (by various definitions) is expanding. What we need is not so much to reverse those changes as to reverse their outcomes by leaning into uncertainty with shared confidence, fierce determination, and unity of purpose.

Let’s embrace uncertainty with the sense that there is no known limit to our potential, not merely that nothing is guaranteed. When you meet with our Supervisors and other stakeholders, please remind them that every success counts and that a track record of small, consistent successes has always been the hallmark of real progress. Thank you.