Librarians close book on fines

County librarians criticized their governing board’s decision last month to impose overdue fines on them, and that led to a reversal of the vote last week.

Denny Daugherty, the Brentsville representative on the 10-member Library Board of Trustees, proposed library staff not be exempt from overdue library fines to set the example for the public. At its June 26 meeting the board voted 7-3 to impose fines on staff but kept the exception for volunteers so as not to hurt recruitment.

The issue grew out of board discussions on changing fines and the hiring of a collection agency for its worst offenders.

But board trustees did not anticipate the huge response they received from library staff, who said the action indicated the board did not appreciate them.

“We’re working along to keep our standards high and then, boom, the library board votes to impose fines on us,” said library employee Judy McAloon during citizen’s time at the July 24 meeting. “This came as a big shock that is really bad for morale.”

Opponents of the staff fines said most libraries — none in the region — do not fine their employees. Also, the county does not have a problem: Of 3,438 items overdue at one point this summer, only 39 were held by staff.

The $13 million library system with its 10 branches that also serve Manassas and Manassas Park is the highest rated county agency according to citizen surveys, staff said. Prince William for its population category was third in the country according to local support and usage.

“Now you want to nickel and dime me to death to set an example for patrons after all I’ve given to the system?” asked Dolores Bowman. “Why not charge for parking? My car is in the Bull Run lot 40 to 50 hours a week.”

The board voted 7-2 to reinstate the exception for staff, with Daugherty and at-large representative Faisal Gill voting against. Both are active members of the county Republican party.

Daugherty and Gill did not discount the hard work and dedication of library staff, but they said few employees actually use the exception as the statistics showed.

“I think we ought to be looking at ways to express our appreciation that most of our employees can benefit from and we should not be holding out this only perk,” Daugherty said. There are perks, but not exceptions for other government employees, he said. “We’re talking about the forgiveness of fines.”

Gill said the argument that the public does not know about the exception is not a reason to keep it. “We should set the example,” he said.

Library Director Dick Murphy said the 39 items by staff is just a snapshot and varies, so the impact of the fines would be greater on staff than what the snapshot indicates. Nationwide, the average time for everyone keeping a library item is five days past due, he said.

Bull Run librarian Jessica Schwab in a letter to Daugherty said checking out books is how staff do their job after hours.

“If you knew the demands of our daily job, you would understand there is no time to read this widely when we’re at the job itself,” Schwab wrote. She runs a mystery book club and assists parents and children picking out young adult fiction, and to do so takes time to read, she said.

Daugherty, who works for the U.S. Department of Interior, said park rangers have to pay full price for hunting and fishing licenses. But when asked if he could make personal copies for free, he said to some degree, and staff pointed out and corrected Gill in his comments that library staff have to pay for copies they make.

The other big issue for the library board is the election of its chairman.

For the second consecutive month the board could not break a 5-5 tie to elect one. Manassas trustee Sheryl Bass has served as chairman for two years. She has five votes: Coles trustee Eugenia Ryner, Dumfries trustee Frances Chavez, Gainesville trustee Chris Suprun, Neabsco trustee Patricia McCoart, and herself. Vice-chairman Burk Andrews, the Occoquan trustee, has five votes: Gill, Daugherty, Woodbridge trustee Joyce Holmes, Manassas Park trustee Vera Au, and himself.

Bass will remain chairman as long as the vote is a tie. The board votes against next month.

Andrews has served on the board for three years and his supporters say the chairmanship should rotate to take advantage of other talent on the board. Bass’s supporters said term limits should not be political and should be implemented in the board’s bylaws, not an actual vote for chairman.