Virginia county library system destroyed 250,000 of its own books

The Fairfax County Public Library system in Virginia reportedly destroyed 250,000 books as part of an effort to revamp its system and cut costs.

The Washington Post reports that the books were discarded as part of a plan to reduce costs and bring the county’s library system into the digital age.

But in the past, discarded books were donated to a group called Friends of the Library, which would then donate them or sell them to raise money for the libraries, which have faced steep budget cuts in recent years. This time, seven months went by with no books going to the group — and no explanation why.

County Supervisor Linda Smyth told the Post that when she heard about the disappearing books, she traveled to a local branch to investigate and found a dumpster full of volumes that had been recently trashed. Many of them were still considered highly relevant, like a book from the “Harry Potter” series, a Fodor’s travel guide book and a copy of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

“If I didn’t pick up some of these books,” Smyth told the paper. “no one would believe it.”

After Smyth’s discovery, a directive was sent out suspending county libraries from discarding any more books until a new solution can be found.

Elizabeth Rhodes, the system’s collection services coordinator, said Fairfax County adds about 20,000 items each month and must remove an equal number of items in order to preserve space in the crowded libraries.

Fairfax County library director Sam Clay also defended discarding the books, saying it was a necessary part of bringing the libraries from “a print environment to a digital environment” and an unfortunate consequence of budget cuts. “We’ve got decrease after decrease,” he said.

The American Library Association keeps track of library systems across the nation that have been affected by budget cuts. The Fairfax County Public Library system had a 2013 budget of approximately $27 million, with about $2 million of that offset through revenue generated by the libraries themselves.

Smyth told the Post that despite the thousands of books lost, she hopes the news will lead to a renewed effort to fund public libraries.

“Maybe this is a good thing,” she said, “because we finally have people’s attention to talk about the future of libraries.”