Friday, August 4, 2017
Letter from Dennis Hays to Fairfax County Friends of the Library
"If we don't hang together we will surely all hang separately" .
Benjamin Franklin, America's first Friend of a Library
Dear Friends: For decades the Friends and the County have enjoyed a cooperative and mutually respectful relationship to the great benefit of the Fairfax Library system and its patrons. The Friends have given freely and generously of their time and expertise to make our Libraries a more welcoming and efficient destination for the entire community. Our contributions include hundreds of volunteers, thousands of uncompensated hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars of direct financial support each year.
Given all of this, you would think the County would would be eager to work with the Friends to further strengthen and intensify this relationship. Sadly, and from my perspective inexplicably, this isn't the case. The new MOU proposal being put forward by the County is, if anything, worse than the original version. Have we done something to warrant being threatened and insulted? The County's MOU proposal will steal the independence and sap the efficiency of every Friends Group.
The County has asked us to "update" the individual MOUs the Friends work under. No problem with this request, but shouldn't the objective of such an effort be to strengthen the Friends so that we can even better serve the Library? Shouldn't the Trustees, who technically are our co-equal partners in this first sit down with us and explain what they are trying to accomplish? (Note: I know the MOUs are with the Trustees but every indication is that this is being directed by the County Library Administration, not the Trustees themselves. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, please let me know.)
The County's current MOU proposals are ill considered, inappropriately intrusive and demeaning. The concerns of various Friends groups were clearly and loudly expressed at the May 30th meeting, but have been ignored. Before anything else, there are a number of things we can do right away to try to rebuild the cooperative and mutually respectful relationship we - and they - need. The following are actions already being taken by different Friends Groups.
1. Insist on a meeting with your Trustee. Request an explanation for the County's actions and ask your Trustee to support their Friends;
2. Go in person to see your Supervisor and/or their staff and alert them to the damage the Library Administration is causing to their volunteer base;
3. Inform local media about the issue;
4. Send multiple members to the County's MOU meetings (these are public meetings, the County has no right to set an arbitrary limit on who can attend);
5. As each Friends Group has its own unique situation and concerns, request the Trustees schedule an additional meeting at your branch to discuss your specific issues;
6. The County's proposals are all take with no give. Insist on adding to the agenda items of concern to you and your Group (see examples below);
7. Maintain a firm and absolute line against bureaucratic overreach. The County has no legal, ethical or operational right to dictate how an independent 501 (c) 3 organization conducts its affairs. This is a slippery slope issue - there can be no give on this without endangering everything.
County's Information Sheet:
The Information sheet provided in advance of the next meetings has little material different from the proposal given on May 30th. A few quick thoughts:
Sections 1, 3, 4, 6 and 8 are generally already spelled out in the existing MOUs.
Section 2 erroneously states all Friends Groups must register with the Virginia State Corporation Commission. One Friends Group researched this and found there is no such general requirement. This section should be deleted.
Section 5 deals with insurance and is a significant departure from the standard practice of past decades. The County needs to provide copies of the "County Volunteer Insurance Program" and provide context as to who this does and doesn't cover. It is not clear that all (any) Groups need this.
Section 7 is unacceptable in its entirety. The County itself states in section 1 "The Friends are independent, separate entities apart from the Library Board of Trustees and the Fairfax County Public Library". No need for a long discussion of this - if the County can't provide a legal basis for dictating or controlling the internal operations of an independent 501 (c) 3 organization, this is off the table.
Section 9 is the same as 7.
Section 10 is potentially devastating to all Friends Groups. What exactly is the County proposing here? Are we going to be charged to provide a free service to the County? If so, how much? What will this do to our ability to donate to the Library (as opposed to throwing money into the General Fund)? The County needs to provide specific information about their intentions before this goes any further.
Additions to the Agenda:
As noted above, we are fully entitled to bring up our own issues for discussion in any review of the MOUs. The following are illustrative, each Group may have its own Items to propose.
On request, each branch will provide sufficient space in a prominent area of the library for a display of books and materials for ongoing sales.
The County will provide, on a semi-annual basis, a detailed account of how funds received from ongoing sales have been spent and how this directly benefits the Library System.
A representative of the Friends will be invited to speak at the beginning of each Trustee meeting.
Each Friends group will be provided sufficient space in their respective Library for collecting, sorting, storing and preparing books for sale. The Library will provide adequate space for holding sales. The Friends will be given first priority on the use of space; space may be reserved up to a year in advance.
The County will compile and publish an annual report detailing all the contributions made by Fairfax Friends Groups over the previous year. The report will include an estimate of the funds saved by relying on Friends volunteers rather than paid staff.
At the request of Library Management, over the years the Friends have assumed responsibility for services that strictly belong to the County. The Friends have freely and cheerfully assumed this responsibility. These services include paying for sprinkler systems, pest control, gardening and landscaping, funding volunteer appreciation events (!), etc. The County will assume responsibility for and the cost of all such activities. The County will reimburse the Friends for the cost of such activities incurred over the past five years.
In keeping with the point immediately above, the County will certify that no funds provided by the Friends will be used to offset expenses properly attributable to the County. Exceptions may be made with the express authorization of the appropriate Friends Group.
The Friends provide funds for the purchase of books and materials and physical property with the understanding that the County will be a good steward of such donations. The County will annually certify the donations continue to be used for their specific purpose. The County will notify the Friends as to the final disposition of any major donation.
Best regards, Dennis
Dennis K. Hays
Fairfax Library Advocates